Conserving water for the planet

Low-flow, motion-sensing faucets like this one in Wilson Hall save hundreds of gallons of water each year. Photo: Rod Walton

The water level in Lake Michigan is down a foot, the Colorado River peters out before it even reaches the Gulf of California, and the supply of clean drinking water around the world is shrinking, even as population levels increase. Many ecologists consider the lack of drinking water the number one future global environmental and public health problem. In addition to the problem of increased water pollution, warmer climate reduces the amount of liquid water on the planet, further decreasing the available amount of this critical resource. Since getting additional water is costly and/or environmentally damaging, an important strategy for addressing this problem is water conservation.

In the U.S., the average daily consumption of water that is safe to drink is 69 gallons per person. Here at Fermilab, we purchase almost all of our drinking water from the city of Warrenville, and we currently use roughly 30 gallons per person per day. Since 2007, Fermilab has reduced our consumption of drinking water by over 50 percent, largely by aggressively finding and repairing leaks in our water distribution system. An additional advantage at Fermilab is that we use very little drinking water for industrial processes. Almost all process water is drawn from surface water, including fire protection and landscape water.

Part of our water-saving strategy is to invest in faucets and toilets that use less water. Of the 69 gallons per person used in the U.S., 41 gallons come from faucets, showerheads and toilets. As part of our High-Performance and Sustainable Buildings program, Fermilab is installing faucets that have maximum flows of 0.5 gallons per minute and toilets that use much less water per flush in new buildings. The new toilets will replace some existing ones.

These practices can be applied at home as well. Installing water-saving faucet fixtures and showerheads, such as the EPA’s WaterSense label products, can save up to 30 percent of water use over older fixtures. You can save an equal amount of water by installing water-saving toilets, which have low flush volumes, dual-flush toilets or, for the ultimate in savings, a composting toilet that uses zero water!

Rod Walton