Don’t be a drip

Lucy, waiting for a drink

You know that feeling when you’ve forgotten to do something but you can’t remember what? Our cat Lucy developed the peculiar habit several years ago of drinking out of our bathroom sink, which was cute at first until it became incredibly annoying. Now she is so old and set in her ways that she refuses to drink water in any other manner and certainly not from the conveniently placed bowl next to her food dish. Every time I pass by the bathroom upstairs, she races in shrieking, jumps onto the counter and then meows until I turn on the water. If it’s 2am and I’m trying to sneak a sleeping baby back into his crib, her thirst intensifies. So, I’ll turn the sink on and then walk away while she drinks her fill. Usually I remember to turn the water back off again a minute or so later. Sometimes, though, I wake up in the middle of the night wondering, “Did I forget to do something?Last week a water main broke in downtown Minneapolis releasing 14 million gallons of water onto city streets. The water drowned cars parked in a nearby ramp and transformed roads into ice skating rinks. Several businesses had to close down due to a lack of water pressure. When the story hit the nightly news, I couldn’t help thinking that some guy in the public works department was probably drumming his fingers against his kitchen counter at home thinking, “Did I forget to do something before I left work today?”

Accidents aside, water conservation experts estimate that a typical family of four loses 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of water a year to leaks and outdated plumbing fixtures. When 14 million gallons of water flood downtown Minneapolis, it makes front page news, but a small town could easily waste as much, if not more, freshwater during the course of a year thanks to drips, leaks and oversized toilet tanks. Here are five common household water guzzlers and tips for stopping the drip:

  1. Leaky faucets: The dripping sink that keeps you up at night could be wasting 20 gallons of water a day. A new faucet washer costs less than a dollar and is so easy to replace, even I can do it.
  2. Leaking toilets: Here’s an experiment your children can help you out with. Put a few drops of food coloring into the toilet tank and wait half an hour. If any color appears in the toilet bowl, it means there is a leak. See for directions on how to fix this problem.
  3. Hidden plumbing leaks: After you’ve taken care of the dripping faucet and running toilet, it’s time to employ some more sophisticated investigation techniques. A rising water bill with no explanation is usually the first sign of a hidden plumbing leak. Check out eHow’s video series Home Water Conservation & Residential Tips for simple instructions on how to find and check your home’s water meter, as well as how to find and fix some of the most common household plumbing leaks.
  4. Showers and sinks: Installing aerators on faucets and low-flow shower heads is an easy way to reduce your household water use. Then again, simple practices like turning the water off while brushing your teeth and washing dishes (or not leaving the bathroom sink running for the cat all night) can also help to conserve water.
  5. Oversized toilet tanks: If your toilet tanks hold more than three gallons of water, place plastic bottles or float boosters in the tanks to cut down on the amount of water used per flush. Put an inch or two of sand or pebbles in the bottles to weigh them down, fill with water, and then put them in your toilet tank away from the operating parts. Be sure that enough room remains in the tank to hold at least three gallons of water so that the toilet still flushes properly.

Worldwide, freshwater is becoming an increasingly precious resource and even here in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, we are starting to see the impacts of groundwater overuse as many municipalities are forced to drill new wells and White Bear and other local lakes see record low water levels. Simple water conservation measures inside the house might not seem like much, but when everyone does their part, the benefits really add up. Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe I have a sink to turn off!