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I believe that water is our most precious and endangered natural resource. As you can imagine then, water management is a vital task for each and every person, especially in Western society. Water conservation helps reduce the impact of water pollution and depletion on our water systems, and it’s something you can easily do wherever you go. Water management just takes a little planning and thought to reduce your water use and get smart.

The water management lessons have been my blessing over the years. Landscaping and water conservation were forced upon us during the droughts in Oklahoma. The smart shower was learned during the Berkeley, California droughts of ’77. But the most intriguing and possibly the most versatile water conservation training received to date is washing dishes with minimal water.

I had a cabin in the mountains above Boulder that I used as a retreat for many years. It is a one room cabin, with enclosed porch; a wood/coal stove heated the cabin and cooked my food; there is electricity and cold running water in the summer. It’s a great little place.

During the summer I could open a tap in the “kitchen” sink for cold spring water. I had to heat the water before washing dishes with it, to get the best result on clean dishes. That taught me a little care in my use of water. But in the winter I had to collect snow to melt and heat before I could do the dishes (at least until the spring opening was discovered and I was able to trudge through the snow to collect ice cold water to heat the dishes). Winter dishes is when I really gave my water conservation lesson. You could wash oven dishes with a gallon of water, half for washing and half for rinsing. At first I was glad I didn’t have to collect, melt, and heat water to clean my dishes, but then I realized it was a wonderful lesson in saving water.

When you have to collect your water, or have a limited supply, you learn to treat your water with care. Campers and RVers probably share the same passion for ways to conserve water, at least while on the trail, as I developed at the cabin. Part of the secret is the recycling of water. And another secret is to adopt that philosophy wherever you are.

Now, I don’t expect you to move to an undeveloped area and start collecting your own water to join my water conscious group. But you could start your water conservation program by pretending you have a limited amount of water to work with and learn how to get by with less water, not just for washing dishes, but for bathing/showering, laundry, and lawns, not to mention. the other ways we use water on a daily basis. Once it becomes a habit, you’ll find that you conserve water wherever you go.

When it comes to dirty dishes, the big question is which saves more water: washing the dishes by hand or in the dishwasher? Most people use much more water washing dishes by hand than using the dishwasher. Germany’s University of Bonn studied this issue and reports that dishwashers are more efficient (although their partner in this was a dishwasher manufacturer, which may have tainted the study) with water, power, and soap. A dishwasher uses one-sixth as much water as a hand washer, a dishwasher uses half the energy, and less soap is used. Of course that depends on how old your dishwasher is and it assumes you have a full dishwasher.

The average dishwasher uses six gallons of water per cycle (the average E-Star rated dishwasher uses 4 gallons per cycle). If you have a sink faucet that uses only two gallons of water per minute and you can run the water for less than three minutes, you can wash dishes as efficiently as an average dishwasher (two minutes of running water gives you a match with an E-Star rated Dishwasher). Older dishwashers use more water and energy than newer ones, so that factors into your personal analysis on this machine vs. hand wash issue.

Washing dishes is just one way to use water in the kitchen. This is where it gets really exciting and good! There are other sneaky ways that water is consumed in the kitchen without you realizing it. Here are a couple of tips to help you master water conservation in the kitchen:

  • Do not let the water run when you wash by hand.
  • Soak dirty pots and pans after use. Put a little water in the bottom of the saucepan and then cover it; cooked food “soaks” as if by magic.
  • Fill two containers with water, one for washing and one for rinsing.
  • Run the dishwasher only when it is full.
  • Do not rinse dishes before placing them in the dishwasher; just remove the larger particles and let the dishwasher do its job.
  • Fix leaks and don’t let the faucet drip.
  • When you need hot water, collect the cold water and use it for other things. Or heat water on the stove.
  • Use as little detergent as possible because dishes rinse faster.
  • Do not thaw food under running water.
  • When cleaning vegetables, do not let the water run. Instead, rinse them in a saucepan or sink of water, using as little water as possible to get the job done.
  • Use the garbage disposal less. That means scraping up food scraps in the trash can or compost pile.
  • If you like to drink cold water, store it in the refrigerator instead of running the water to get the coldest water possible from your faucet.

You may have even more tips to share, in which case, do it!

This is just one room in your home where you can focus on water management, and it’s an important one. Take these lessons and extend them to your bathroom and laundry room to make an even bigger difference.

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