One of the world’s most valuable natural resources, the conservation of water is essential for our survival. There are many things that individuals can do to reduce their consumption, and this section will try to outline a select few of these practices.
A project that was undertaken by PCEI that can and should be repeated when making personal lifestyle choices is the construction of a composting toilet. A composting toilet uses little to no water, and is a sanitary, effective way of managing waste if used properly. According to the EPA, an old toilet can use up to 200 gallons a day! A human needs anywhere between 20-50 liters of water a day to survive, so one toilet can use enough water to keep over 40 people alive per day. Considering over 700 million people in the world still do not have access to clean drinking water, conservation practices such as a composting toilet seem like a globally responsible decision.
In a relatively dry region like the Palouse, responsible landscaping is of the utmost importance when considering water conservation. The concept of xeriscaping, which examples can be seen at PCEI, is the decision to plant organisms that require little to no supplemental irrigation in order to survive. Reducing or eliminating the amount of water used for irrigation can drastically decrease the amount of water used by each individual. If you are interested in more information about good choices for Palouse landscaping, feel free to check out the Palouse Prairie Foundation!
If one chooses to grow vegetables and fruits themselves, a great opportunity to reduce water consumption for irrigation of these plants is to utilize a water harvesting system. There are many different ways to implement water harvesting, but the most common choice is the use of rain barrel. One can use a recycled barrel and simply connect it to a spout that collects rain off of your roof during a rain event. Instead of allowing the water to simply run into the grass, you are utilizing it for irrigation. This will reduce overall consumption dramatically. For a more in-depth discussion of the ways to implement this type of rain harvesting system, check out the EPA.
Humans require a lot of water every day to survive, and so do plants. There are nine simple techniques that one should use in a garden or permaculture system, the first being the composition of the soil used in the garden. By putting compost on the soil, the earth becomes healthier and richer for plants to grow in. Compost in soil typically adds a good texture to the earth, making sure that it’s not too sandy — which lets water run through quickly and past plants — and doesn’t have too much clay — which holds the water, preventing the plants from soaking it up instead. A good, healthy, soil composition is the basis for a healthy garden or permaculture system.
The second method that can be used to conserve water in the garden is to lay mulch around the garden bed. Mulch has many benefits, such as slowly providing nutrients for the soil and plants. It also prevents most wind erosion of the soil, and helps enough water to reach the plant for nourishment. The presence of mulch also prevents excessive evaporation of water before it reaches the plants. Another technique to try that can help save water is to plant native species in the garden. Native species are naturally suited for the climate and conditions of the local environment, and therefore will grow healthier and stronger. By planting several native species that have symbiotic relationships with one another — for example, one plant’s roots growing deep in the ground to aid another’s water collection, while the other plant provides shade for the first — can further save water.
Also take into account the design of the garden. Whether one uses native or nonnative species, the garden should be designed according to the water consumption of the various plants. For example, place low-growing plants that require a lot of water in lower areas of the garden, where water will flow to. Place plants that require less water up higher, where the water flows from, and plants that provide shade in spots where water evaporation seems to be common. In designing one’s garden in this manner, the plants are allowed to carry out their natural behaviors and water evaporation is further reduced.
As detailed above, rainwater collection using a rain barrel or other means also saves water. This provides natural water that won’t be consumed in the home anyway. Therefore, by harvesting the rainwater that falls in areas where its unneeded — for example, on the roof — is a very efficient way to conserve water. Another conservation technique is the reuse of household graywater. After steaming or boiling food, the water can be saved, cooled, and added to the garden. This can also be done in certain instances with other water from the house. Yet another technique that can be used in direct correlation with rainwater collection and the reuse of graywater is the installation of a drip-irrigation system. By installing a pipe with open valves near the base of the plants or underground near the root systems, collected rainwater or graywater can be poured or fed directly into the irrigation system. The water will travel along the pipes and out of the valves in drops, providing a slow, consistent amount of water to all of the plants that the system is connected to.
The final two techniques for water conservation in the garden have to do with when and how much to water the plants. In deciding when to water the garden, try to plan according to the day’s weather. On rainy days, allow nature to do the water. This can even provide enough water for several days. When it’s required to manually water the garden, though, do so in the morning or the evening, when water evaporation will be less likely to occur. However, do not water plants too late in the evening, as the foliage of many plants requires time to dry out before nightfall in order to prevent fungal infections and diseases.
Also avoid over-watering the garden. This is a conservation technique because it not only avoiding flooding of the plants, but saves lots of water in the process. As a general rule, the first few inches of soil should be dry and the soil beneath wet. When the soil several inches down is not wet is a good time to water the garden. Remember that, if plants are flooded or waterlogged, other essentials for their growth have little room in the soil, such as oxygen and other nutrients.
1. Indoor Water Use in the United States, United States Environmental Protection Agency
2. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, United Nations Water
3. Planting Your Land With Native Palouse Plants, Palouse Prairie Foundation
4. What is a Rain Barrel?, United States Environmental Protection Agency