Water & Drought

Water Files – To-Do List: Reducing consumption is great, but you can do more

Many residents in the state, such as these people in Roseville, have cut their water use by replacing lawns with drought-resistant plants.
Many residents in the state, such as these people in Roseville, have cut their water use by replacing lawns with drought-resistant plants. rbenton@sacbee.com

California's drought in context

California’s water crisis has been years in the making, the consequence of shifting weather patterns, economic forces and lifestyle choices. This story is one of five published as a primer by independent digital media project Water Deeply, a Sacramento Bee multimedia partner, on how we got to this point.


There are all kinds of things you can do to save water. Many are free and easy and can make a big difference

Conserving water is always a good idea – but it becomes critical during a drought. California has ordered all residents to cut their water use by 25 percent, on average, compared to 2013. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Californians in 2010 consumed 108 gallons of water per person per day, on average. This is on the high side compared to other states. The national average is 88 gallons per day. Only about 20 percent of California’s “developed” water supply is consumed in urban areas. The rest is used by agriculture. Even so, there are all kinds of things you can do to save water. Many are free and easy and can make a big difference.


▪ Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth and washing your hands. This could save up to 10 gallons per person each day.

▪ When shaving, plug the sink instead of running the tap to rinse your razor. Savings: 300 gallons per person every month.

▪ While your shower heats up, collect the cold water in a bucket and use it to water plants. This could save up to five gallons per shower.

▪ Take five-minute showers instead of 10-minute showers. This could save 25 gallons of water per shower.

▪ In the toilet: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” Flushing toilets is the largest use of water in the home. Savings: At least five gallons per day per person.

▪ When traveling, opt to reuse your linens instead of having them changed daily. You don’t wash your towels and sheets every day at home, and there’s no need to do it in a hotel, either.

▪ Use a dishwasher if you have one. Washing dishes by hand generally consumes more water.

▪ Run only full loads in the dishwasher and clothes washer, and choose a shorter cycle. This can save 16 gallons per load in the clothes washer and eight gallons in the dishwasher.

▪ Water plants only early in the morning and late in the evening when temperatures are cooler. This saves 15 gallons or more each time you water.

▪ “Train” your landscaping to use less water (water less often but deeper). This can save hundreds of gallons per week.

▪ Stop washing your car. If you must, use a bucket and sponge, and a spray nozzle on your hose that shuts off automatically. Savings: Up to 18 gallons per minute.

▪ Use a broom instead of a hose to clean sidewalks, driveways and decks. A hose can use as much as 18 gallons of water per minute.

▪ Only take as much water as you need at restaurant tables and other settings. Any water you don’t drink goes to waste.


▪ Talk about the drought and water conservation with friends and co-workers. You might learn new ways to save water, or help someone else.

▪ Learn who your area water provider is, the boundaries it serves and how to contact them. This is important for reporting cases of water waste you might observe.

▪ Report water waste and leaks in your neighborhood, on public land or private, to the local water agency. Many water agencies are understaffed and depend on the public to be their eyes in the community.

▪ Be able to define your watershed: Learn where your water comes from, how much is left and what steps are being taken to protect this supply and secure more. A watershed is the land area that gathers storm runoff flowing through your community. You might be surprised to learn that some of your drinking water is imported from outside your watershed.

▪ If you live in an apartment, urge management to fix leaks promptly, cut back on landscape watering and install water-saving faucets and appliances.

▪ At work, report leaky or broken faucets, appliances and sprinklers to management. Follow up to make sure they get fixed.

▪ Offer to organize a workplace water conservation committee to suggest other steps. People from different departments may have fresh ideas. If a raw material like water can be trimmed from a production process, it could even boost company profits.

▪ Urge your employer to post water-saving tips in bathrooms and common areas, such as the cafeteria, drinking fountains or employee gym.

▪ Learn about water conservation activities at your children’s schools and other community groups, and offer to help. Is your school already teaching kids about conservation, or do they need some new ideas?

▪ Be open-minded about using recycled water. Reusing the water we run down the drain or flush down the toilet may seem undesireable at first. But treating this wastewater is a promising and abundant water source that is untapped in most communities, and often cheaper than other new water supplies. And it may actually be cleaner than the water you’re drinking now.


▪ Install a showerhead with an on-off valve and switch to a three-minute “Navy” shower. (One minute soak, turn off water while you soap up/shampoo, one minute rinse). This could save five gallons per shower.

▪ Fix leaky faucets and appliances. Even a slow drip can waste dozens of gallons of water in a week. It can also cause other problems, like mold, unwanted smells and slippery sidewalks.

▪ Replace appliances and faucets with water-efficient units. A high-efficiency toilet can save 19 gallons per person per day; dishwasher, up to eight gallons per load; clothes washer, 16 gallons per load.

▪ Replace your irrigation timer with a “smart controller,” which sets watering times based on soil moisture and weather. Savings: 9,000 gallons per year.

▪ Replace your lawn with drought-tolerant plants. This can save as much as 60 gallons of water each time you irrigate.

▪ Put a thick layer of mulch around trees and other plants. This prevents water loss from evaporation, keeps plants cool and can save as much as 100 gallons of water per week.

▪ Switch to a drip irrigation system, and remember to turn it off when it rains. Savings: 15 gallons each time you water.

▪ Install a gray-water drain from your clothes washer to irrigate non-edible landscaping. This can reuse as much as 100 gallons per week and ensure the survival of plants that might otherwise suffer in a drought.


▪ Water Files – Supply: Moving water only works when there’s enough to go around

▪ Water Files – Demand: More people, agricultural trends aggravate drought

▪ Water Files – Environment: Drought is life-or-death struggle for many species

▪ Water Files – Law & Politics: Drought-focused regulations prove hard to enforce


▪ Interactive timeline of California’s historic drought

Visit The Sacramento Bee’s new multimedia partner WaterDeeply.org for ​additional drought coverage, including daily updates and analysis from around California.