Colorado is a semi-arid state, and 80 percent of our water supply comes solely from melting snow that flows into our rivers and fills our reservoirs. This natural process of water formation and drainage is called a watershed. Four regional watersheds, including the Arkansas, Upper Colorado, Rio Grande and Missouri (South Platte) originate in our mountains and supply water to millions of people in Colorado and 19 other states.
Watersheds are sensitive ecosystems that are greatly affected by climate change – less snow means less water and lower reservoir levels. They provide drinking water, recreation and wildlife habitat, but only when water is available and unpolluted. Small actions at home can help maintain our water quality and ensure that there is enough water available for all uses.
Easy Action Tips
Conserve Water Outside
54% of residential water use is for landscaping. Make sure you’re following Denver Water’s operating rules and water landscaping only before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. The ideal time is early morning between 4-7 a.m. Take care to turn off automatic sprinklers during periods of rain or windy weather, and only water when necessary. Avoid over-watering your lawn so that runoff does not flow into the street, alley or gutters. Remember to use a broom or a blower to clean sidewalks, driveways and patios rather than water and do not let debris go down stormwater drains.
Use Xeriscape Plants
Xeriscape uses low-water-use plants to create a landscape that’s sustainable in Colorado’s semi-arid climate. Choose native and adapted plants that are naturally drought-tolerant and resistant to regional pests and diseases.
According to the U.S. EPA, the benefits of Xeriscape landscaping include reduced water use, decreased energy use (less pumping and treatment required), reduced heating and cooling costs because of carefully placed trees, decreased storm water and irrigation runoff, fewer yard wastes, increased habitat for plants and animals, and lower labor and maintenance costs. All that, and you can slash your landscaping water bill in half.
Contact the CSU Cooperative Extension, the Colorado WaterWise Council, or Denver Water for information about demonstration gardens, landscaping techniques and designs, plant types, and other helpful resources.
A steady drip can waste 20 gallons of water per day! Replace worn washers and install aerators, which mix air with faucet water to reduce water use by as much as 60 percent. The average leaky toilet wastes about 200 gallons per day. Check to see if your toilet has a slow leak by adding some food coloring or dye tablets to the water in the tank and wait thirty minutes. If the color seeps into the toilet bowl, you have a leak. To fix the leak, follow these handy repair instructions from Denver Water.
Retrofit the Toilet
Toilets use the most water of anything inside the home. Older toilets can use anywhere from 3.5 to 5 gallons per flush, and new models use only 1.6 gallons per flush or less. If you’re not ready to replace your toilet, install a tank displacement device to use less water with each flush. They can be purchased for about $8, or make one yourself with two one-quart plastic bottles. Fill each bottle with 2 inches of sand and then water, and place them inside the tank away from moving parts.
Go Low Flow
An older showerhead uses between 3-8 gallons of water per minute, while a new model only uses 2.5 gallons per minute or less. For a small investment of about $10 at your local hardware store, a family of four can save approximately 20,000 gallons of water per year. Choose a low-flow showerhead with a shut-off valve, which allows you to turn off the water while soaping up and turn it back on easily without re-adjusting the temperature.
Use Only What You Need
Avoid letting the water run while washing dishes, brushing teeth or shaving. Use sink stoppers for rinsing dishes or washing vegetables instead of letting the water run. The average shower length is 8 minutes. By reducing that to 5 minutes, you can reduce the amount of water you use by nearly one-third, or roughly 10 gallons per day.
A significant source of watershed pollutants is runoff of oil and grease, road salt, fertilizers, pesticides, pet waste, and other contaminants that enter our stormwater drains. Unlike wastewater, stormwater is not treated at a sewage treatment plant, and it empties directly into local creeks and rivers.
Keep leaves, grass clippings, and other yard wastes cleared off driveways, sidewalks, gutters and streets so that they won’t wash into storm drains. Instead of washing your car in the driveway, use your local car wash. Commercial car washes collect and recycle water, filtering out dirt, soap and oil and preventing runoff. Dispose of household hazardous waste properly, and never pour chemicals into the storm drain.
Hide and Toss Old Medications
Don’t flush unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs down the toilet unless the label says it is safe to do so. Instead, federal guidelines recommend mixing them with undesirable substances, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and throwing them in the trash in nondescript, sealed containers. This helps prevent prescription drug abuse and protects our watersheds from chemical contamination.
Clear Choices for Clean Water
For more tips, check out these brochures from Denver’s Wastewater Management Division’s Keep it Clean campaign: