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AROUND THE HOME: Homeowners are key to local water supply


"Not another article about water conservation," you may be thinking. Well, this one isn't about buying a front-loading washer, installing low-flow showerheads, adding aerators to sink faucets and the like.

Not that these aren't good ideas. In fact, many Seattleites have done these things with the result of significantly lowering water usage in the area.

It is amazing to realize that Seattle Public Utilities water consumption in 2000 was 148 million gallons per day, which is the same amount that was used in 1978.

Meanwhile, the population in the service area has grown by 29 percent during that time! A lot of water conservation measures have been successfully implemented over the past two decades.

Yet, this year the lack of winter rain has put a crimp in the local water supply. A recent news release from Seattle Public Utilities states: "Looking towards summer and fall, SPU has determined that there is a 20 percent chance of a water shortage that could significantly affect customers and fish." ... A "Voluntary Curtailment Stage would improve those odds by allowing SPU to keep more water in storage for use later in the year."

That's where all of us homeowners come in. The SPU reports that the average water consumption in early August, the peak usage time of the year, is almost 70 percent higher than it is in mid-winter. Another way to look at seasonal water usage is seeing that an average Seattle single family household uses an average of 225 gallons per day during the summer months (June-September) compared to 175 gallons per day during the balance of the year. That's an average of 50 gallons per day per household - most of which ends up on lawns or in gardens.

Conservation can be accomplished in three areas: the amount of grass, the type of grass and the water system.

As it takes more water to maintain green grass than to nourish shrubs, tastefully minimizing the amount of grass in a home's landscape is a first step.

Then, with the help of any local nursery, select a type of grass that will respond well, in the site's soil conditions, to a limited amount of water.

Finally, the most efficient watering will be done by a preprogrammed automatic sprinkler system, whose heads are cleaned and maintained regularly. This allows short watering cycles to be done during the night, when the water will soak into the lawn and garden, rather than evaporating into the air under the warm daytime sun.

While the cost of an automatic system is significant, the savings can also be great during a dry summer period.

Of course, there is always the ultimate conservation plan, for homeowners who water plants by hand or with a pressure-controlled nozzle on the hose, and skip watering the lawn all-together in the summer. The brown lawn will green up again in the fall!

There are other alternatives, of course. Most of the local nurseries and landscapers are willing to help plan water-free (or just about) yards. These involve such things as rock rivers, garden art and plantings that require very limited amounts of water.

Homeowner or not, SPU would like every individual to think about the water used each time a faucet is turned on. Just one example for consideration: An average person uses a half gallon of water when brushing teeth because the water is left running during the 3-4 minute process. A lot of that water could be saved if the faucet were turned on just when needed. (