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Easy Everyday Tips to Reduce Your Water Footprint

By KELLY PLOWE

You'd be hard pressed to read any form of media these days without coming across an article on the dire water situation occurring in the West, which spans from Texas north to Oregon and Idaho. Hardest hit has been California. As of a few weeks ago, about 98 percent of the state was classified as being in a severe, extreme or exceptional drought and is breaking records.

But what does this mean for you? If you live in the West -- and California specifically -- then your awareness is likely increasing as water-preservation ad campaigns fill billboards and television commercials, or maybe your city has imposed water-usage restrictions with potential fines for violators. If you live in another part of the country, you may not feel the pinch on water directly, but you may begin to feel it in your wallet. California agriculture includes more than 400 different commodities, including almonds, pistachios, carrots, strawberries, lettuce and even cattle and dairy. The state produces almost half of U.S.-grown fruits, vegetables and nuts. Although fruit and vegetable prices have yet to increase as a result of the drought, the current situation is not sustainable, and, without improvement, it's quite possible we may see a rise in food prices.

While the situation in the West will require cooperation and movement at corporate and government levels to manage and improve the water situation, there are ways to modify your everyday activities to help reduce your own personal water footprint. According to a 2013 study, Americans need about 13.2 gallons of water per day for basic human needs -- drinking, sanitation, food prep and hygiene, etc. But what we use is about seven times that -- almost 100 gallons a day! Here are steps you can take inside and outside of your home as well as changes to your diet to help cut down on your overall water footprint:


Inside Your Home

– Fix a Leak: A leak may seem small, but it can mean gallons of water lost each day, totaling up to more than 10,000 gallons each year per family on average. You can check for leaks at any time, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated Fix a Leak Week in March.

– Showers: Choose showers (10 to 25 gallons per five minutes) over baths (70 gallons per full bath), and try and be efficient with your time spent behind the shower curtain. Also, switching out your old showerhead for a high-efficiency version will save water too.

– Washing Machines: When washing clothes, do only full loads. If you have to do a smaller load, make sure to adjust the settings so you are using the appropriate amount of water. Also, like showers, switching to a high-efficiency washer will help cut down on water usage.

– Brushing Your Teeth: Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth and you could save up to eight gallons of water each brush.

– Dish Washing: Use your dishwasher if you have one, and make sure the machine is always fully loaded before starting. If you wash by hand, plug the sink and wash that way versus continually running the faucet.


Outside Your Home

– Watering Outside: Make sure your sprinklers are watering your grass and gardens only -- streets and sidewalks don't need extra H20. Also, watering in the early morning instead of midday helps to reduce evaporation.

– Gardening: Use climate-appropriate plants in your yard. Use plants that are native to where you live and that don't require much water. Your local nursery should be able to help you with this selection. Also, using mulch around trees and plants will help cut down on evaporation.

– Cleaning: Use a broom versus a hose to clean off your driveway and sidewalk.


In Your Diet

– Eat More Plant-Based Foods: Cutting down on your meat intake and replacing it with more plant-based foods will help reduce your overall water footprint. A pound of meat requires almost 1,800 gallons to produce, whereas a pound of potatoes requires 119 gallons. If you're a big meat eater, start with just one day a week with the Meatless Monday program.

– Cut Down on Food Waste: It takes 13 gallons of water just to produce an orange and about one gallon to produce a single almond. Being more aware of the resources that go into producing our foods makes them more valuable.

– Simple Swaps: Making easy switches in your diet, especially when they're daily habits, can have a significant impact on reducing your water footprint. Swapping your cup of coffee for a cup of tea each day reduces your footprint by 10,585 gallons each year. Opting for water over orange juice each day saves more than 16,000 gallons each year. With meat, if you eat a pound of chicken instead of a pound of beef each week, you'll save about 60,000 gallons per year.

Readers -- What do you currently do to try and reduce your water footprint? Was there anything here that surprised you that you might try after reading the article? Are there other things that can be done? Please leave a comment below and let us know.

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD, CSSD is a nutritionist and food and health communications specialist. As a registered dietitian and certified Sports Dietitian, Kelly helps consumers put health and nutrition research into practice. She believes diet is at the center of a healthy and fulfilling life and is dedicated to helping others be their best. Kelly lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their bulldog, Sunny. She is an avid runner and CrossFit enthusiast. Living in SoCal, Kelly spends most of her free time outside ocean swimming, riding her beach cruiser and going to concerts.

Follow Kelly on Twitter and on Instagram.

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