Managing water from primary sources to the kitchen sink
Rep. Ronald Grantland, Guest Columnist
As the drought continues, our landscape begins to look like early autumn rather than summer. Trees and fields are turning brown with the heat and lack of rain, and no matter how much we seem to water our gardens and lawns, they seem to wither under the strain of the drought and high temperatures.
This unprecedented dry and heat spell is putting our state's water supply under the most strain as well. In many areas wells that have never gone dry are starting to, and reservoirs and other water sources are at all-time lows. Our lake levels are several feet below where they normally are during the summer months. And it has been so hot that one of Alabama's largest nuclear plants, Brown's Ferry on the Tennessee River, had to shut down because the water it uses to cool the reactors is just too warm.
Before the water shortage turns into a crisis we should do what we can to reduce our water consumption during the drought. Every gallon we save helps avoid drawing down our dwindling supply.
Most households use more water indoors than outside, and that is where we can save the most. By fixing leaks and drips we can reduce our water usage. Research shows about 8 percent of home water is wasted through leaks. Stopping that loss will have a real impact on your water usage.
It is easy to think nothing of a small drip, but small leaks can add up quickly. A faucet that doesn't shut off completely can waste thousands of gallons of water a year. And drips with hot water means you are paying for wasted energy too.
A leaking faucet is usually caused by a simple rubber washer. A washer is relatively easy to replace on a sink if you have the right tools, while faucets for tubs and showers are a bit more complicated. Check local hardware stores or home centers for help on how to replace a washer, and if it seems too big a job a plumber can do it pretty quickly. Even if you have to pay a plumber you will end up saving money in the long run.
A small toilet leak can easily add $50 or more to your water bill, and often can't be heard or seen. One easy way to detect a leak is to add a little food coloring to the water tank, if you begin to see the color in the bowl before the next flush you have a leak. Most leaks can be fixed by putting a new flapper at the bottom of the tank, or if necessary you can replace the whole mechanism in the tank with a kit from the hardware store. Again, even if you have to call a plumber the savings you'll get will more than offset the costs.
There are many other areas we can save water and money. When you are going to buy a new washing machine, look for those new designs that use much less water, energy and detergent per load.
And as for water use outside the home, when you water plants, lawns or gardens try and do so in the evening or early morning, where the evaporation power of the sun and heat are much less. You'll get more out of each gallon.
Conservation by each of us is a significant part of getting beyond this water crunch. Yet this drought has also shown the need for better water management from state government. Alabama doesn't have a statewide comprehensive plan for its water resources and it is time we start making one.
At the Legislative level, each geographic area, the Coosa River, the Tennessee Valley, the Black Warrior Basin, and other state watersheds have been concerned mostly with its own resources; we've not looked at the broader Alabama picture. With the drought I see a lot more interest in developing a comprehensive statewide water plan that will guide us in managing our watersheds, especially as our state continues to grow.
The problems with water go beyond our state borders. After more than a decade of negotiation and court action we still do not have a comprehensive deal between Georgia, Florida and Alabama for the water resources we have in common. Much of the river systems in eastern Alabama originate in Georgia, and because of the growth of Atlanta, less and less water from those river sources has been flowing into our state.
Recently the governor demanded the Army Corps of Engineers release more water from the Georgia dams so more could flow downstream into Alabama, and the Corp complied. However, our case with the Corps and the ongoing dispute with our bordering states would be greatly strengthened if we had a comprehensive statewide water plan.
At home and as a state, the days of not thinking about water seem to be over. Months without steady rain and weeks of triple-digit temperatures seemed to evaporate any idea that an unlimited supply of water will always be there. It is time we manage our water better, from its primary sources right down to the faucet in the kitchen.