How You and Your Community Can Help
Everyone can help to restore and protect our rivers by using water wisely in their own home and yard, and by supporting water conservation and efficiency measures in their community. But you can also do a lot more.
Many organizations are working to protect our rivers. These include the Massachusetts Audubon Society and numerous watershed associations. Supporting these organizations is a good way to support our rivers. Find out how to contact your watershed association and other environmental organizations working to preserve our rivers. Many state and federal government agencies are also directly involved in river research, management, and protection.
You can also help our rivers by letting your state representatives know that you want them to support river-friendly legislation. A good way to do this is to join the Massachusetts Audubon Societyís Action Alert Network. Joining the Network is free and by doing so you will be informed when important environmental legislation is being considered and provided with information on how to contact your legislators to urge their support.
What You Can Do
There is a lot that the average homeowner can do to reduce the threat that summer water use poses to our rivers and streams. Some of the actions individuals can take require little effort and are cost free. In fact, some save money.
Reduce Home Water Useuse constitutes a greater portion of the water used in summer in many communities, the potential water savings of indoor water conservation are substantial, and can greatly contribute to keeping our rivers and streams healthy and flowing in summer and during droughts.
Conserving water used indoors is important, even if indoor water use isnít the major threat to our rivers and streams. Although outdoor water
A recent study by the American Water Works Association Research Foundation found that households that install water-efficient pluming fixtures, including low-flow toilets and showers, and fix leaks, can achieve substantial water savings year round. Simple and effective water conservation measures can reduce water use by a third or more.
This can mean saving about 25 gallons of water a day, per person, in each home. A household of four will save 100 gallons a day, or 36,500 gallons of water a year, enough water to fill a swimming pool six feet deep, 20 feet wide, and 40 feet long. Not using that much water means you donít have to pay for it. It also means healthier rivers and streams. By replacing your showerhead and faucet aerators with high-efficiency models, you will also save energy. As you will be using less water, your hot water heater wonít be working as hard.
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A dripping faucet or a running toilet may seem like a minor thing, but little things add up. A recent study by the American Water Works Association Research Foundation found that leaks in residential homes averaged about 8,000 gallons per year. Yet most leaks are easy to fix. Leaking faucets typically just need a new washer, and running toilets, frequently just need a minor adjustment. If it takes more than that to fix your leaks, and you find you need to call a plumber, consider having the faulty fixture replaced with a more efficient model.
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Efficient Plumbing Fixtures and Appliances
Beginning in the early 1990s in Massachusetts, and now across the nation, all new plumbing fixtures are required to be water efficient. Toilets must use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, and showerheads no more than 2.5 gallons per minute. As compared to older fixtures, these new models can achieve remarkable water savings. Replacing older toilets with modern ultra low flush models can reduce water use by more than half, or 10.5 gallons per person per day; see efficient toilets for more information. Using a low flow showerhead can reduce per person water use by a third, or 4.5 gallons per day. Just these two changes can save as much as 5,500 gallons of water per person per year.
Additional savings can be gained through the use of modern, water-efficient appliances. Clothes washers, which account for the second largest category of water use in the typical home, have been greatly improved in water efficiency in recent years. Twenty years ago, the average clothes washer used approximately 50 gallons per load. By 1990, the average clothes washer was using about 40 gallons per load. Today, high-efficiency models use less than 20 gallons per load. Think about how many loads of laundry you do in a week, and the approximate age of your clothes washer. It is likely that if your clothes washer is more than five to ten years old, you could save a lot of water by purchasing a new, more efficient model. You will also save energy, since clothes washers use a lot of hot water. Modern dishwashers can also save water. In 1980, the average dishwasher used about 14 gallons per load. Today that figure is seven gallons per load, with some dishwashers using as little as 4 gallons per load.
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Another easy way to save water is to simply think about how you use it, and make sure you use it efficiently. Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth; use a broom, not the garden hose, to clean your driveway. Think about water whenever you use it Ė and use it wisely.
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Practice River Friendly Landscaping
It has been estimated that lawns cover somewhere between 30 and 50 million acres of the United States. That is an area six to nine times the total land area of Massachusetts, and about five to seven thousand square feet of lawn for every person in the United States. If even a quarter of this area were allowed to revert to natural conditions, it would create additional wildlife habitat at least equal in area to the combined areas of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. If the total lawn area is actually as high as 50 million acres, the additional habitat gained by allowing a quarter of this lawn to go natural would equal the combined areas of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Delaware. Thatís a lot of land.
In addition to simply eliminating a lot of habitat, all that lawn has other impacts on the environment as well. An estimated 600 million gallons of gasoline are used each year to mow all that lawn. Studies have also indicated that homeowners may apply up to ten times more pesticide per acre on lawns than are typically applied to agricultural crops. Lawns are also very thirsty. Typically, lawns are planted with cool season grasses that have relatively high water needs. They are also frequently poorly constructed on soils that lack adequate depth, structure, and organic matter to store natural rainfall and support good root development. As a result, lawns in Massachusetts are often heavily irrigated in summer, and this is very bad news for our rivers.
There are river friendly landscaping alternatives to large lawns. It is possible to create attractive home landscapes that combine reduced lawn area with plantings of native and non-invasive, non-native plants that enhance wildlife habitat, reduce pesticide and fertilizer use, and eliminate the need for regular irrigation.
For more information on how you can make your yard river friendly, download our pamphlet The Greening of Your Lawn*, or see the landscaping section of our resources page.
The Massachusetts Water Resources Commission has developed a draft policy on lawn and landscape water use, and accompanying guidelines. See Massachusetts Landscape Guidelines.
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Educate Your Neighbors and Friends
Share your knowledge and encourage others to take action.
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