The Western U.S. is no stranger to drought and warm, dry summers. Five of the driest states in the nation—Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming—are here in the West. But record-topping temperatures and yearly rainfall shortages have led scientists to warn that we may be in the midst of an extended megadrought (a rare event where dry conditions last more than 20 years) fueled by climate change.
In the middle of June, Lake Mead dropped to its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was completed in 1935. The Colorado River—which supplies water to 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming and the West’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry—has not flowed into the ocean at its terminus at the Sea of Cortez in Mexico since 1998 (though it did briefly during an experiment in 2014).
Drought and water shortage are expected to become more frequent in the future as global demands rise and climate change alters weather patterns. The good news? Saving water at home can make a real difference—and doesn’t have to be hard.
“Conservation actions are one of the easiest and most cost effective ways that we can collectively help stretch our water supply,” says Julie Ortiz, water conservation manager for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, “and that, in turn, makes us more resilient to shortages from climate change, drought, and other causes.”
Here’s what you can do at home to help conserve one of the West’s most vital resources.
1. Know what you use.
It takes less than five minutes to find out how much water your household normally consumes throughout the year. Your current and historic water use are typically included at the bottom of your water bill, and some utility companies will also share this information in your online account.
However, while your water bill will tell you how many gallons you use, it can’t specify where the bulk of your water is going. Online water use calculators like Water Footprint Calculator can help you estimate your breakdown of indoor and outdoor water use, and suggest targeted ways to cut back.
You can also schedule a free WaterWise evaluation through your local utility. A conservation expert will help you find leaks, determine the best ways to save, and tell you about any water-saving rebates or incentive programs you may be eligible for.
Smart Tip: Before you invest in a new water-saving product, check your local utility’s website for rebates, discounts, or incentive programs that may make your upgrade more affordable.