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Less than 0.3% of the planet’s water supply is available for our use.  The rest is salty, polluted, frozen, or out of reach. That's why we need to conserve water . More....

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Note: Also see State of CT DPH guidelines for Private Well Users and Public Water Supply Users.

We typically take water for granted.  We can turn on the faucet 24 hours a day and plenty of clean water comes out.  However, scattered shallow wells in the Quiet Corner have gone dry in the past few weeks, according to Pat Beckenhaupt, Director of Health for the Northeast District Dept. of Health.  The Quinebaug River is at near historic lows for this time of year.  

Drought. Photo by Bet Zimmerman.
We welcome the first clear day after a rainy spell. Rainless days continue for a time and we are pleased to have a long spell of such fine weather. It keeps on and we are a little worried. A few days more and we are really in trouble…. no one knows how serious it will be until the last dry day is gone and the rains have come again.” - I.R. Tannehill, Drought: Its Causes and Effects, 1947.

In a normal summer, we get about 8.36 inches of rain during August and September.  We only had 2.99” total precipitation in the past two months.  (Source: NCDC data for Worcester MA)  Town officials in Bristol, Manchester, Norwich, Sprague, Greenwich and Sharon have enacted emergency rules regarding water conservation. Governor Rell issued a Drought Advisory on October 5th.

Water shortages have wide ranging effects. Droughts cost an estimated 6-8 billion dollars a year, on average, in the U.S. (Source: FEMA)  Agricultural impacts can include reduced crop yields or the increased expense of trucking in water for livestock or irrigation.  Impacts on the environment include increased risk of forest fires, dust which affects air quality, and a lack of food and water for wild animals.

Every summer the CT DPH gets calls about shallow wells going dry, says Ray Jarema, Section Supervisor for the Private Well program.  If you are on well water (versus a public water supply), and have a drilled well, the odds of your well going dry are lower.  Drilled wells may be several hundred feet deep, and the water may be coming from miles away in many directions, providing better opportunities for consistent flow. 

A shallow or “dug” well is typically only 10-20 feet deep.  Unless it is fed by a spring, or near a major stream or river, it is vulnerable to low levels of precipitation.  Shallow wells in till soils in the uplands are the first to go, according to Bill Warzecha of the CT DEP.  Water levels there can fluctuate from 9-15 feet in a season. These wells often begin to function again when groundwater levels rise.  Some homeowners choose to put in a drilled well for a more reliable supply.  That might cost about $3,000 to 5,000, depending on the location. 

Less than 0.3% of the planet’s water supply is available for our agricultural, manufacturing, community and personal use.  The rest is salty, polluted, frozen, or out of reach. (Source: USGS). That is why each of us should take steps to conserve water every day, regardless of where our water comes from or how much rain we have had lately.

About two-thirds of the water used in your home is associated with the toilet (27%), washing machine (22%) and shower/bath (17%).  The four main ways to reduce water use are fixing leaks, changing the way you use water, buying water saving equipment and appliances, and recycling water where possible.

Leaks can account for 14-25% of all indoor water use.  A leaky faucet can waste more than 10-20 gallons per day.  The repair may be as simple as changing an inexpensive washer or O-ring. About 20% of toilets leak, and can waste a shocking 200 or more gallons a day. To see whether your toilet is among the guilty, put a few drops of food dye in the tank.  If color shows up in the bowl after about 15 minutes, you have a leak. You may just need to replace the toilet flapper or adjust the water level.  

Pre-1995 toilets may use up to 8 gallons of water per flush. Toilet dams, 1.6 gallon flappers, or water-filled plastic containers can be put in older toilet tanks, but the reduced flow can affect flushing.  Do not use bricks that crumble and affect operation.  New toilets use 1.6 gallons per flush, relying on pressure, vacuums and jet action to improve waste removal. 

Older showerheads use up to 6-8 gallons of water per minute (gpm) at full blast.  Showerheads made after 1993 use no more than 2.5 gpm at 80 pounds per square inch.  That can mean a difference of 30-50 gallons of water.  A quick (e.g., four minute) shower uses less water than a bath, especially with newer showerhead, and also saves on heating costs.  Turning off the water during shampooing or soaping saves even more. 

Front loading clothes washers only use 25-33% as much water as top loading washers.  Adjust water levels in top loaders to load size and soil.  If you have a shallow well, you might want to do your laundry offsite during a dry spell. (More info)

Be creative by conserving water in a way that is safe and sanitary, especially during a drought.  Next weeks’ article will be about setting up rain barrels and rain gardens. Depending on your roof area, a 65 gallon rain barrel can fill up with as little as 1/10th of an inch of rain.  Minimize watering the lawn, avoid powerwashing (sweep off patios and sidewalks instead), get a solar cover for a swimming pool (which reduces the amount of make-up water needed by 30-50%), go to a carwash that recycles water, and run the dishwasher only when it is full or wash dishes by hand.  Shut off the water while washing hands, shaving and brushing teeth.  Put out some water out in a birdbath for your feathered friends. And drive a little slower on dirt roads to help keep the dust down. 

Kid Riddles:  What's full of holes but still holds water?  A sponge.
Where can you find an ocean without water?  On a map.


Originally published in the Villager newspapers on October 12, 2007


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