Smart Water Use
Fresh water is precious
We can all do our part to conserve it
Our region has more than 100 lakes, over 20 rivers and about 1,400 streams. We are also blessed with many underground aquifers. Together, they provide fresh water for agriculture, industry, power generation and, of course, water for use at home.
It’s easy to take our fresh water for granted, but in the drier summer and autumn months we need to be particularly careful to conserve it.
If too much water is taken from rivers and streams
Water levels and flow patterns – like riffles and pools – will change, altering the condition for life there. In extreme conditions, small watercourses could run dry.
The temperature of water is likely to rise and adversely affect fish, plants and other aquatic life. Higher temperatures also limit the use of water for industrial cooling.
There may be a higher concentration of pollutants like silt and nutrients, causing algae to grow.
These changes may affect the cultural value of the water body as a food source and for its own life essence. Recreational uses, like fly fishing and kayaking, may also be at risk.
If too much is drawn from groundwater
The flow to springs, streams and rivers can be reduced.
Neighbouring wells can be affected.
Levels can decline over the long term, reducing the availability of water for future generations.
For coastal aquifers, over-extracting from them increases the risk of saltwater being drawn into the fresh water reserves. This can make them permanently unsuitable for drinking and many other uses.
Playing Our Part
There are lots of simple things we can do around home to conserve water.
In the House
Did you Know - Typical water use at home is about 25% in the bathroom, 25% in the kitchen and laundry, 30% for toilet flushing, and 20% outdoors – so there are water-saving opportunities everywhere!
Five R’s of smart water use
Look for ways to use less water.
Fix leaks fast.
Put aerators or flow restrictor on older taps, install a flow restrictor on the showerhead or replace with an inexpensive low-flow model.
When upgrading or building, choose a water-efficient toilet and appliances.
Catch rainwater or use water from sinks and the shower to irrigate the garden.
In the bathroom
Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth or shaving. Leaving the tap trickling with water wastes about five litres a minute.
Install an aerator or flow restrictor on sink or basin taps.
Install of a low-flow showerhead can save the average household 1,000 litres of water per week – and save energy costs, too.
Did you know? … Using the half-flush on the toilet when appropriate will save about 5,000 litres of water per person each year. To reduce water use in old, single-flush toilets, install an simple, inexpensive water-saving device.
To check for a leaky toilet, stick a small piece of toilet paper to the back of the bowl just above the water line. Check it in about 10 minutes. If it has slid into the bowl from water running down on it, you’ve got a leak! Get it repaired immediately. Little leaks add up to big losses over time.
Time your shower - it may be longer than you think. Twenty-five percent of water use at home is for showers and baths, so there can be big water savings here. Bribe your teenagers to shower less!
In the kitchen
Put water in the sink to wash fruits and veggies or for rinsing dishes. Running the tap for this can use 10 litres of water a minute.
Defrost frozen food in the refrigerator (or leave out on the counter). If it needs to be done quickly, use a microwave. Avoid running it under hot water.
Use only as much water as you need to cover vegetables when boiling them. Reuse the boiled water in soups and casseroles (this also adds extra nutrients).
Do full loads in the dishwasher – this saves water and power.
In the laundry
When washing clothes, run full loads in the washing machine or be sure to set controls for a partial load if you are doing less.
- For cool drinking water, fill a jug and keep it in the fridge. Running water to cool it down can waste 10 litres a minute.
- When running the water to get it hot, collect it in a container, let it sit, then use it to water indoor plants or the garden.
- Grey water (from the sink and bath) is great for in ground irrigation in the garden. Re-plumbing for this isn't that expensive. Check it out!
- Promote shorter showers and shallower baths.
- If the toilet leaks or a tap drips, fix it right away.
On the Farm
Farms on council-supplied water with a volume charge have the most to gain from smart water use. Overflowing stock water troughs lose a lot of water. So do leaks from water pipes. If not repaired promptly, leaks will add significantly to your water bill as shown in the example in the chart.
It's easy to lose lots of water - about 14 cubic metres a day, for example, though a hole the size of a small nail
About 20-30% of power costs on the farm are water related - pumping water into storage, down the farm, wash-down and effluent pumping. Improvements to reduce water use cut power costs which will save you money year-on-year.
Annual costs for animal health remedies are significant. If an in-line dispensing system is used for delivery, any leaks out on the farm means those remedies are not getting to your stock in the right dose. This is a cost to you in lost remedies and ultimately to the health and performance of your stock
Easy ways to save water
- Establish an 'alert' system. Check it regularly for signs of a problem.
- Set the float in tanks at a level to avoid waste.
- Guard against hot water cylinder overflows.
- Turn off taps and switches after use. 'Loss-proof' the farm dairy.
- Watch for troughs losing water. Fix 'em fast.
- Look for leaking pipes, especially at "weak" spots.
- Protect pipes that go under races or across drains.
- Deal with problems immediately. Don't let repairs be delayed.
- Use a water meter to check for slow leaks.
- Water - it's too precious to waste.
All that water! What’s the problem?
Looking out on large water volumes like Lake Taupo or the flowing Waikato River, it’s easy to wonder why we need to conserve water. Neither of them are about to go dry, that’s for sure. What’s important is the overall volume of water – to maintain the quality of it.
While municipal water returned to the river is treated to a high standard, water from diffuse sources remains a problem. This includes run-off in urban areas (oil on roads, for example) and from rural and forestry land. Maintaining high water levels and volumes helps dilute the contaminant load entering the water bodies and assists in maintaining water quality.
So, small efforts around home – and at work – to conserve water all add up. If we all do our part, it makes a difference.
Reasons to user water more efficiently and reduce water loss...
- Saves money
- Part of good farm management
- Helps protect the local environment
- Good for the industry and good for New Zealand.
Map it. Check it. Fix it.
Use your farm map to outline details of the farm water system. This can help you find "weak" spots - areas more prone to leaks and losses - and where improvements might be warranted.
Monitor water use to manage it
If you have a meter, read it once a week to track trends in water use. Late-night/early-morning readings could detect small leaks an alert system might miss. The overnight difference should be near zero unless there is some refilling during that time.
Prevention Pays Off
Avoid damage to vulnerable spots in water lines.
Where they go under races, place them inside a larger pipe for protection. Where lines cross streams or drains, strap them to the bottom of a pipe or post.
Find leaks. Fix 'em fast!
Having a simple 'alert' system - like a pressure gauge on the line or a pilot light on a pump - and checking it regularly is one of the best ways to reduce water loss.
Capture rainwater for double benefit
Rainwater draining onto the yard increases the volume of effluent that needs to be managed. Capturing and storing it will prevent this and provide extra water for yard wash down and for stock.
In the Garden
Did you know - A swimming pool cover can cut evaporation by as much as 90%, reducing the need for top-ups in the dry summer season.
To check for swimming pool leaks - Use a pencil to mark the water level at the skimmer. Check the mark 24 hours later to see if it’s gone down.
In the garden
For smart use of water … Plant native or drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, ground covers, and grasses. Get advice from your garden centre about the best types.
Pull weeds regularly – they compete with your plants for water!
Check your garden hose regularly for leaks. Store it on a reel to prevent kinking and damage.
Use a trigger nozzle on your hose to reduce water loss. Repair or replace the nozzle if it leaks. It should shut off completely when you let go of the trigger.
For a water-wise garden
- Favour native plantings and those requiring less water.
- Group any plants that need more watering together – for easy watering.
- For open areas, go for ground cover rather than lawn.
- Set windbreaks to protect delicate plants and reduce water needs.
- If you are planting a lawn, use drought-resistant varieties such as Fescues and Bluegrass.
- Rely on your local garden centre for good advice.
When buying potting soil, look for bags that include water-storage crystals in the mix. This will help cut down on the need for watering.
Soil-wetting granules help the soil hold water and will reduce the need for garden watering. So will water-storage crystals used in pots and on the lawn and garden. Good garden centres stock a range of products and can give advice on what’s best in your setting.
Tips for efficient garden watering
Water sparingly – every four or five days – to encourage roots to grow deeper. Aim for a total of about 25 mm of water per week.
- Water on calm days so it hits the target!
- Keep the water to lawn and garden areas. Don’t water paths and driveways!
- Check soil moisture after rains and only water when necessary. Plants benefit most from a thorough watering when the soil has dried out.
When watering trees and large shrubs, soak as far out as the drip-line – not just around the trunk. This will get water to the root ends.
When using a sprinkler, fit a tap timer to make sure you don’t water too much. If you don’t have a tap timer, put on the oven timer to remind you when to shut off the sprinkler. Leave the water running too long and it can waste as much as 1,000 litres an hour.
When watering sloping areas, sandy soil, or in the shade, sprinkle lightly and more frequently. The sandier the soil, the more freely the water runs through – so a sandy garden needs to be watered more often.
A good watering system delivers water to the plant roots in the proper amounts. Tap timers, trigger nozzles, soaker hoses, and micro-irrigation systems can all be used to deliver water efficiently. Look for advice from your local garden centre or irrigation professional.
When planting a new lawn choose drought tolerant grasses, such as Fescues or Bluegrass. Don’t apply too much fertilise as this only increase the need for water.
Mow your lawn as little as possible. When you do, don’t cut it too short. Four to five cm is a good length. This length will help the grass grow longer roots, keep sun off the soil, and help reduce weed growth and retain moisture.
Don’t worry about the lawn drying out over the summer. Grass goes dormant during periods of drought but rejuvenates naturally with cooler and wetter weather.
Lawn watering tips
If you water in the summer, aim for no more than 25 mm a week.
Water no more than twice a week, and only when needed.
Apply the ‘step test’ – if grass springs back after you walk on it, it doesn’t need watering.
Compost improves soil quality in the garden. It helps sandy soils hold moisture and clay soils stay moist in the summer and drain better in winter. It improves plant growth and means the garden needs less water and fertilizer. For best results … mix it into the soil to a depth of about 12 cm.
Build a compost heap at home with lawn clippings, leaves and trimmings, and fruit and vegetable peels, ends, and leftovers from the kitchen. When the mixture breaks down, apply the compost back to your garden to promote healthier plant growth.
Singing the praises of home-made compost, one garden expert says, “It can transform even poor soil into a nutrient-rich, moisture-holding marvel”.
The marvels of mulch
- It discourages weed growth, prevents soil erosion, and helps reduce variation in soil temperature.
- It cuts the need for herbicides, pesticides, and fertilisers.
- It gives a nice clean look to the garden.
- It reduces evaporation by as much as 70 percent!
To get the most out of mulch … Cover gardens with a generous layer – at least 10 cm. Use coarse mulch such as bark chips, coconut fibre, pine needles, and fallen leaves. Add more as the mulch breaks down over time. Check with your garden centre for good supplies.
The definition of water-smart irrigation: The right amount of water to the right place at the right time.
Drip irrigation for shrubs and large plants is proof that “low flow is the way to go”. By slowly dripping water into the soil at the base of plants, water is released where it is needed and at a rate that’s easy to absorb. A properly designed and operated drip irrigation system can reduce water use by as much 70 percent.
Benefits of drip irrigation
- Suits all soil and plant types.
- Great for everything from plants on slopes to vegetable gardens.
- Causes less erosion and compacting of soil.
- Loses the least amount of water from wind, evaporation, and run-off.
- Doesn’t waste water on weeds!
Water only when it’s needed
For automatic irrigation systems, including a rain sensor or soil moisture sensor will ensure water is used efficiently. These devices act as an ‘override’ to stop the system from going on when there is enough moisture in the soil.
Rainwater collection works
Anyone who relies on rain for their sole source of water knows how well a collection system works. Every 10 square meters of roof area capturing 25 mm of rain yields about 300 litres of water – certainly enough to keep a garden in fine form.
Rainwater harvesting tips
- Repair all leaks in gutters and downspouts to maximise water capture.
- Keep gutters clear of debris.
- Include a tight-fitting cover on the tank. This prevents evaporation and keeps debris out of the tank.
- If possible, use gravity rather than a pump to get the water around.
Three cheers for using rainwater
- It reduces demand on the Council water supply.
- It cuts the use of chemicals and energy needed for treating and pumping water.
- It lessens run-off and erosion during heavy rains by providing temporary storage.
- Use a bucket to wash the car. Rinse with the hose before and after. If you can, wash the car on a lawn to soak up the run-off water.
- Check taps, pipes, and connections regularly for possible leaks.
- If you water the garden, do it in the evening or in the early morning to reduce evaporation.
- Keep the water to lawn and garden areas. Don’t water paths and driveways!
- Put a trigger nozzle on the garden hose to shut off the water when you don't need it - a hose left running can waste up to 15 litres a minute
- If you are doing any clean-up around the home that will require a lot of water - like water blasting - avoid the peak summer season.
- When you empty the paddling pool, put the water on the garden.