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Water-Saving Research: Flush Less, Save More

PHOTO: New research finds most people assume curtailing water use is the best way to save it, when making habits and appliances more efficient actually works better. Photo credit: M. Kuhlman
PHOTO: New research finds most people assume curtailing water use is the best way to save it, when making habits and appliances more efficient actually works better. Photo credit: M. Kuhlman
April 7, 2014

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. - Jackson County commissioners have asked the governor to make theirs the fifth Oregon county so far this year with an official drought emergency. As the state faces low snowpack levels and another hot, dry summer, new water conservation research out of the Midwest could be helpful to some.

It is research from the Indiana University-Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Author and assistant professor Shahzeen Attari has found most people believe curtailing their use is the best strategy to save water, but efficiency measures are more effective.

"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."

In the survey, very few people cited replacing toilets or flushing less as good ways to save water, although Attari said toilets use the greatest daily indoor water volume.

The survey found that 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. However, she added, 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," she said. "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?"

Attari explained the goal of the research is to correct perceptions and encourage people to adopt more effective efficiency measures to save water at home.

The Oregon counties already eligible for drought disaster relief are Harney, Klamath, Lake and Malheur. A drought disaster declaration can mean prioritizing water use for human consumption and livestock, but also can prompt some federal resources to help farmers.

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

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR