The Garden City Telegram
6/26/2014
SOUTHWEST LIFE

ZOO TO YOU: Smart ways to save on water bills

Smart ways to save on water bills

We have been blessed this year to be the recipients of rain! That wonderful moisture that we hear about but so often don't get to experience in our corner of Kansas. Yet inevitably the hot, dry days of summer will once again become the norm and many residents will hook up their hoses and sprinklers in their never-ending summer quest to achieve a green lawn. Pools will be filled, flowers will be watered, and gardens and crops will soak up that blessed moisture on which we all depend. Even with the recent rains we need to make sure to proceed with caution. Our water usage comes with a price, and while there is nothing wrong with wanting beautiful landscapes or a pool to escape the summer heat, it is important that we are also mindful of where that water is coming from.

As you may already know, all of the water that we use in Garden City and the surrounding communities comes from the Ogallala Aquifer. An aquifer is basically a big, underground lake. This specific aquifer is one of the largest in the world and spans eight different states of the Great Plains. One hundred percent of the water we use, from washing our dishes and laundry to watering our grass and flushing our toilets, comes from this aquifer. Without the Ogallala Aquifer, we would have to pipe our water in from another source since there are no rivers or lakes nearby that we can draw from.

The water in the aquifer can be far below the surface, depending on the different hills and valleys of the terrain. Once water is reached, the water can be anywhere from less than a foot to more than 1,000 feet deep. The amount of water we can extract that is usable is called "saturation." Garden City is located above a saturation right around the 200 feet mark. That may sound like a lot, but the truth is the portion below Garden City is declining at the rate of about 20 feet every three years. Some estimates suggest we will run out of usable water in this area as early as 30 years from now. Since aquifers can take hundreds of thousands of years to recharge (refill), you can see why we should pay attention to our water usage.

The majority of the water in our area is used to help crops grow. For years agricultural research has been working to develop crops that take less water, but water is still vital for plant growth. There are also a lot of things we can do in our own homes to conserve this precious resource.

Our area of Kansas really does not receive enough rain to maintain a green lawn without supplemental watering. Even when using native, drought-tolerant grasses like Buffalo grass or blue grama, an occasional dousing from a sprinkler is usually necessary. However, to conserve the most water, make sure to water your grass in the early morning or late evening to avoid the hottest parts of the day. If you water your lawn in the heat of the afternoon, the water usually evaporates before it has a chance to soak into the soil, which leaves your grass thirsty and your water bill high. Also, make sure to adjust sprinklers so the water lands only on the plants and not on any sidewalk, driveway or other non-vegetative material. An even better idea is to collect water in barrels when it rains and use that water for your garden, lawn and potted plants.

Toilets account for about 26 percent of a household's water usage. The water that you use to flush is the same clean, fresh water that comes out of your sink. Literally you are flushing up to three gallons of perfectly fine water down the drain every single time you push that handle. By placing a filled water bottle in the tank of your toilet, it displaces water in the tank so it takes less to fill it up after you flush. You can save water each time you flush, reducing your water usage and putting some money in your pocket.

You can also save water by only doing the dishes or laundry when you have a full load and purchasing low-flow and water-efficient appliances and toilets. Taking a short, seven-minute shower using a low-flow shower head instead of a bath can save about six gallons of water each time. Using an aerator on your faucet will reduce the water used by this source by 50 percent, and by turning off the water while you brush your teeth (saving up to 4.5 gallons each time) or filling up the sink basin and using that water while you shave (saving up to 14 gallons) you can greatly decrease your water usage.

So by all means: enjoy the water as a cool way to beat the summer heat. Just be mindful of what you are using and try to be creative about how you can cut back. If we all work together, we can all enjoy a fun, water-filled summer without excessively reducing our natural resources.

Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org or "like" us on Facebook to stay up-to-date on zoo happenings!