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Conservation Confusion: Do You Know How to Save Water?

PHOTO: Indiana University research finds most people look to curtailing water use instead of improving efficiency of their habits and appliances as the best method to conserve water. Photo credit: M. Kuhlman
PHOTO: Indiana University research finds most people look to curtailing water use instead of improving efficiency of their habits and appliances as the best method to conserve water. Photo credit: M. Kuhlman
March 31, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS - There appears to be some confusion about when it comes to water conservation and how best to do it, as a new survey finds many people underestimate how much water they use in various daily activities. According to study author Shahzeen Attari, assistant professor at Indiana University Bloomington's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, most people believe curtailing their use is the best strategy to save water, but efficiency measures are more effective.

She said water is an essential but neglected resource, and people need a better understanding of how to save it.

"Indiana, at least this past year, has been pretty water-rich, but we've experienced drought in the past two years and we need to know what actions are really impactful when it comes to decreasing our water use. That would be important, especially in a short-term or in a long-term drought."

According to the survey, a large percentage of people cited taking shorter showers, which Attari said does save water but may not be the most effective action. Very few participants cited replacing toilets or flushing less, even though toilets use the greatest daily water volume.

The survey found men and older people, and those who have a good understanding of numerical concepts, were more likely to have an accurate perception of water use. But Attari said most people have no idea of, for instance, how much water is needed to produce everyday foods.

"A lot of water actually went into growing the coffee beans that went into making my coffee, so how is it that people will adapt to the drought and climate change if we have no understanding about how much water goes into making our food?", she asked.

Attari said the goal of the survey was to correct perceptions, and encourage people to adopt more effective efficiency measures to save water at home.

"If you have the money, install a low-flow flush toilet, install a water-efficient clothes washer," she suggested. "If you can, try to reduce the amount of time you spend in the shower. Only wash a full load of clothes, and try to think about reducing the number of times you flush a toilet."

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and is available online at PNAS.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN