Blog: Pam Labadie

As you make your river, so you must row in it. Pam Labadie, marketing director for the Huron River Watershed Council, opines on the River Up! pilot project and why us residents of the Great Lakes basin aren't as flush with water as we think.

Post 1: Save Water, Save Energy, Save Money, Save the Planet

Many Michiganders take water for granted. We think our water is abundant, that it is constantly replenished and ever flowing. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

While our water supply might seem abundant, the facts tell a different story. Between 1950 and 2000, the U.S. population nearly doubled, while our use of water through public supplies more than tripled. According to the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency, at least 36 states anticipate some degree of water shortage by 2013. Even communities in the Chicago area face supply issues and are investing planning resources to ensure the availability of clean water for household and commercial use in decades to come.

In Southeastern Michigan, water supply concerns due to population growth do not have the same urgency as in other parts of the country. However, scientists tell us that climate change is a factor that could impact our water supplies in the future. Over time, our region will likely see longer, hotter summers, changing precipitation patterns, longer droughts, bigger storms, more widely varying stream flows, altered stream channels, changing floodplains, earlier snow melt, and more invasive species. The Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) considered these impacts of climate change on the watershed from a variety of local perspectives in its quarterly newsletter, Huron River Report, Climate Change Edition, Winter 2009.
We have an interest in ensuring the future of our drinking water – the Huron River provides 85% of the water for residents of the city of Ann Arbor. Other Huron River watershed communities get their water from underground aquifers or surface waters such as the Clinton River, the Detroit River, the Rouge River, and the Ecorse River in the U.S., and from several rivers in Canada. If you want to know where yours comes from, my fellow HRWC staff members have posted a new map here.

Right now, there's a lot of local conversation about reducing energy use. Home weatherization, hybrid cars, compact fluorescent and LED lighting are at the top of the list. Yet, most people do not realize that the energy used to pump, heat, deliver, and treat the water we use every day is much more than a drop in the bucket. In the U.S., it accounts for more than 13% of our total electrical energy.

In addition, water has its own carbon footprint. Gas emissions from water-related energy consumption account for about 5% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions annually, or 290 million metric tons. This is the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 53 million passenger vehicles or the annual electricity use of over 40 million homes.

By using a little "water sense" we can all use water and energy more efficiently and preserve our nation's energy and water supplies for future generations. The key to saving our water is thinking about our habits. Each American uses an average of 100 gallons of water a day. We can cut that by as much as 30 percent through a few simple steps.

First, we need to be more aware of how we use water. Most of us don't realize that leaving the tap open during a daily ritual like brushing our teeth can use up to eight gallons of water. That's the same amount as the average person drinks in 16 days. By turning the tap off, you'll use just half a gallon.

Second, technology is making water efficiency easier than ever. Efficient appliances and fixtures are cost-effective and can dramatically reduce your daily water use.

High-performance, high-efficiency toilets can cut your indoor water use by about 16 percent. A new crop of dishwashers and washing machines are using considerably less water than conventional models. Point-of-use water heaters prevent excess water use while waiting for the hot water to reach the faucet or shower.

Third, we can change the way we use water outside our homes too. Many people don't realize that 30 percent of household water is used outdoors, typically for irrigation. Use drought-tolerant native plants that thrive on rainfall; rain barrels for capturing and reusing rooftop runoff; and if you have to, a well-maintained sprinkler system that produces droplets, not mist, and which includes timers, rain shut-off devices, and moisture sensors, will reduce excess water use and runoff.

HRWC is launching a new Save Water Save Energy campaign that seeks to educate homeowners about water-efficient plumbing products, water saving habits and practices, and shows how saving water at home translates into saving money and energy, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It includes a website with top water saving tips, and helpful tools and calculators. Future plans are to offer a "showerhead tryout week," how-to workshops, an online pledge and monthly tips and information by email.

A key component of the Save Water Save Energy effort is our new partnership with an EPA program that seeks to help protect and preserve the nation's water supply by promoting efficiency. WaterSense® offers a simple way to make product choices that use less water. Just look for the WaterSense label at your local retailer. Toilets, faucets and shower heads that meet EPA specifications are independently tested to perform as well as or better than conventional models with no sacrifice to quality or product performance.

To learn more, join HRWC at an upcoming Save Water Save Energy Breakfast on Tuesday, August 2, from 8 to 9am.  We're teaming up with the Clean Energy Coalition for this "free bagels and coffee" event at HRWC's offices on the Huron River, 1100 North Main, just south of the M-14 exit.

We'll teach homeowners about how easy it is to reduce water use. Water efficiency kits will be available for demonstration and for purchase, including a water-saving shower head, three faucet aerators, a toilet tank bank (reducing flushes by 0.8 gallons), a toilet leak detection kit, and information on other ways to save. The $25 kit can save an average Ann Arbor family of four over $300 on their annual water and energy bills!

You can sign up at Save Water Breakfast or on find the event on HRWC's Facebook page.

If you look at the numbers they certainly add up. Saving water is smart, cost-effective, and easy. In short, it's a good idea!