Lethbridge and southern Alberta are facing a severe drought situation in 2024. But there are some things you can do in your home or business to ensure we’re working together to conserve as much water as possible. To make it as easy as possible, we’ve put together a chart that shows which conservation measures will give you the greatest water savings. Click here for a PDF version. To learn more about drought in southern Alberta, visit abwater.ca.
You’re probably not going to do everything on the list and some items are more challenging than others. We recommend the following approach:
1. Understand your water usage – knowing what you use is the first step to conserving. See below for tips on how to do this.
2. Check for leaks – there’s no point in paying for water that will be wasted.
3. Do all the low effort/zero cost items – these are the things that are free and easy, so knock them off the list.
4. Review all high impact items and select 1 or 2 that are most relevant or you are best able to accomplish – pick a priority that best matches your lifestyle for the best chance at success.
5. Make a triage plan for your garden under extreme drought conditions – gardens and lawns use the most water. Make a plan now for how you can reduce your water but still keep your plants alive.
We’re not going to include instructions and information for everything on the list – we’re pretty sure you know how to turn off your kitchen faucet. But here are some things you may not have thought about:
KNOW WHAT YOU USE
Review your past water bills, either in paper copy or online through the Lethbridge Utility website to get a picture of your monthly and annual water usage. Knowing what you use can help you to set a conservation goal.
CHECK FOR LEAKS
Performing a relatively simple test can tell you if you have leaks in your household. The average homeowner loses 37,000 litres every year from leaks. Don’t forget, as well as the impacts of wastage from an environmental perspective – you pay for leaking water!
Step 1 – Shut off all your water-using appliances and fixtures on the property. These include:
- all water taps inside and outside the house,
- washing machines, and
- any appliances that use water, e.g. fridge.
Step 2 – Remove the lid from your water meter box. It is usually concrete or metal – about 10 x 15 inches. Take care not to damage the wires! Your water meter is typically located in your basement where your water line comes into your home.
Step 3 – The water meter will either have a black triangle above the digital readout or a red dial below the numerical readout. If the black triangle or red dial is moving even slightly, then you have a leak. Even a small leak in a service line can add up to a significant amount of water.
To detect a slow leak, record your meter at a suitable time when you know water won’t be used and all water outlets are off, and then measure again after a few hours have passed. (Do not do this is weather temperatures are cold enough to freeze your pipes). If the water meter shows usage during that time there is a slow leak somewhere in your house.
Step 4 – If you have a leak, you will need to play detective to find the source. The most likely culprits are toilets, faucets, showerheads, service lines and sprinkler systems. Toilets are a common source of leaks. To test if your toilet flapper is leaking put some food dye into the toilet tank and wait 20 minutes. Check in the toilet bowl, if there is evidence of the food dye in the bowl then you have a leak.
INCREASE YOUR EFFICIENCY
Everything from taps to appliances can be upgraded to be more efficient.
Taps—By installing an aerator on your faucet you can reduce wasted water by 30%. They usually cost between $5 and $12 and are easy to install.
Toilet— If your toilet is more than 30 years old, installing a new one can save up to 37,000 litres a year.
Shower—By replacing your shower head with a more water efficient model it is possible to reduce your water consumption 2 litres for every minute you run the shower.
Appliances—If you are looking to replace dishwashers or washing machines, be sure to look for models with high water efficiency ratings. An efficient dishwasher will save 20 litres of water per use compared to standard model, while an efficient washing machine saves 38 litres.
DISHWASHER VS SINK
It’s a question for the ages, is it better to wash dishes using your dishwasher or in the sink? If you have an efficient dishwasher it will generaly use less water than washing by hand, as long as you run full loads. When washing by hand only fill the sink as full you need, for example, you don’t need a full sink for just a few items and try to minimise additional water use when rinsing.
WASH OR WEAR
The average water consumption of washing machines is about 50 litres per wash. Clothes washing accounts for 13%-40% of the water that we use in our homes, so by reducing wastage in this area we can make significant water savings – the average family washes 274 loads a year.
Whenever possible, only run your washing machine with a full load. If you need to wash a few items, check if your machine has a half load or eco-load option.
If you plan to buy a new machine, make sure that it is water efficient and preferably a front loader. Front loading machines use less water and energy and have a gentler washing action which is less damaging to your clothes, meaning they will last longer. Finally, front loading washers are more efficient at removing water from washed clothes, so it will take less energy when you are drying them.
Consider washing your clothes less frequently, can you wear an item more than once before it goes into the laundry? In addition to saving water, this will also extend the usable life of your clothes as the fibres break down during washing and drying.
WHY WAIT AND WASTE?
Use the time it takes for your tap water to warm up to collect water for your houseplants or to top up a water jug in your fridge. Keeping a jug of drinking water in your fridge is another small way to prevent water from being wasted while the tap runs.
MAKE A SIMPLE CHANGE
There are lots of water conservation measures you can do for free, some of which result in signficant savings.
Turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, shaving, or rinsing vegetables, saves 8 litres of water per minute.
Running full loads of laundry reduces your overall water usage, as does avoiding the use of a garbage disposal.
SHORTEN YOUR SHOWER
Showering is more water efficient than running a bath but even an efficient showerhead can use 100 litres of water for a 10 minute shower. Consider timing the length of your showers and working to shorten their duration. Going from 10 minutes to 8 minutes or even 5 minutes will save about 10 litres of water for each minute you reduce.
CATCH THE RAIN
Do you have gutters on your house? Installing rainbarrels to capture rainwater for use on your lawn or garden. Rainbarrels are available at most garden centers or you can get creative and repurpose another large container.
LAYING DOWN THE LAW[N] MAINTENANCE
In a severe drought situation, we will need to embrace brown instead of green lawns. Make a plan now for how you will maintain your yard with a minimum amount of water.
Most lawns only need an inch of water once per week in summer, and are often overwatered or lose a lot of water to evaporation. Even an inch of water is a significant amount, watering with a sprinkler can use up to 10,000 litres with each watering. To be more efficient, consider using a drip irrigation system which apply water only to the root zone are the most efficient alternative and use 50% of the water of a sprinkler.
Water in the morning or the evening to minimise the evaporation in the heat of the day, this also helps to start plants and grass being burned. Watering in the morning or evening can save 30% of the water that would be lost to evaporation. Evaporation from wind is also a significant thing in Lethbridge. Depending on windspeed, 30% of your water may disappear when it’s windy.
Also, remember not to cut your grass too short as this also increases evaporation and is hard on the plants. Leaving the grass clippings on the ground helps to increase organic matter in your lawn and increases water retention.
Green grass is the most water intensive form of landscaping. Consider replacing your lawn with a water-friendly alternative such a clover or xeriscape your yard, which is a landscaping techinique that uses drought tolerant plants in place of lawn grass. You can also consider using gravel or rock, but remember to choose a permeable substrate that will absorb water.
WATER IN YOUR GARDEN
Like our lawns, many of our tree and garden species require a lot of water. If you are planting new trees or shrubs, be sure to choose drought-tolerant species that can withstand our climate. Remember, though, that even drought-tolerant plants need water while getting established.
Mulching is one of the best ways to save water in your garden. Mulching holds water in the soil and can reduce watering by 1/3.
Did you know there is a by-law prevent residents from washing their cars in driveways in Lethbridge? While it may seem counter-intuitive, washing your car at a self serve car wash is more water efficient than in your driveway. Or, even better, embrace the dirt and wait for rain.
In addition to using a lot of water, washing down your drive or footpath washes all the debris into the storm water which ends up in the river. Using a hose is very water intensive and can use as much as 45 litres of water per minute. Try sweeping if your drive or sidewalk is dirty.