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Reduce your water footprint

The average family in Medford uses nearly five times as much water in summer as they do in winter, according to the Medford Water Commission.

"The majority of that (difference) is what we apply to our landscapes. Indoor use is fairly constant," says Laura Hodnett, public information coordinator for the water commission.

Whether this summer use is for watering lawns or filling swimming pools, the extra demand for water comes when the water supply is lowest, exacerbating the ever-present threat of drought here in Southern Oregon.

Total water use in the Rogue Valley has dropped in the past decade, due in part to water-saving equipment and a recession-induced cut in industrial use, according to Hodnett.

"A big part of the drop is differences in hardware. Really, when you talk about our water footprint, it's impacted by our behaviors and our habits and by the hardware we use. Some people groaned when the federal government stepped in and mandated what the hardware would be (like low-flush toilets), but the truth of the matter is that it has shown results," Hodnett explains.

Small changes in areas with hot, dry summers — like the Rogue Valley — can reduce an individual's water footprint significantly. The term describes the total water used to sustain each person's life and lifestyle, both at the faucet and to produce the products we consume.

How you water your lawn offers perhaps the biggest opportunity for water savings. The commission offers several brochures on watering tips, some available through its Web site, www.medfordwater.org.

"What we encourage is that you don't water too many days a week, particularly in spring. To grow deep root systems, don't try to do a little bit each day, try to do deep watering," says Hodnett.

One of her favorite tips for families with automatic sprinkler systems is multicycling.

"Instead of doing one long cycle, instead run three five-minute cycles, separated by an hour, at 2, 3, 4 in the morning. "… We recommend you start watering by midnight and be done by 6 in the morning."

"With our clay soils, what happens is when you do a long cycle, it runs off; it just doesn't absorb," Hodnett explains.

Misting is a common problem.

When a sprinkler is misting instead of watering, it's a sign that there's too much pressure. When you're misting, a lot of your water evaporates and you'll need to water more to achieve the same results.

The water savings can add up quickly.

According to commission records for 2009, the average person in Medford in a single-family residence used 355 gallons per day in the hottest part of summer, almost five times the winter use of 73 gallons per day.

The commercial sector used nearly three times as much last year in the summer, so landscaping patterns, especially the use of desert-loving plants — xeriscaping — can significantly lower water use without sacrificing aesthetics. Lower water use also means lower water and sewer bills, something especially important in today's economy.

Leaky pipes also waste a lot of water, and finding those leaks can take a bit of detective work.

"If you're significantly above the average use or you see a big increase from one month to the next in the winter, you've got something going on. We send these (notices) out to high-use residential customers in the winter. When you're using more than you have been using, check for a leak," Hodnett says.

The easiest way to investigate is to go to the commission Web site and click "My Usage." Enter the account number on your water bill, and you'll be presented with information to help you compare your water use to others in your neighborhood and around the Rogue Valley.

Lowering indoor use can be an important savings for businesses, especially those with multiple toilets and several employees. Many toilets locally are more than 20 years old and often use three times the volume of water per flush as the newer low-flow toilets.

The commission offers a rebate program for replacing old, inefficient toilets and offers free water aerators to help reduce water wasted at the sink.

Even though Americans' individual water use has declined in the past decade, we're using more water overall because there are more of us. In a hot, dry area like the Rogue Valley, small changes can make a big difference.

For more information, visit www.medfordwater.org and click the "Conservation" tab.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org

How you water your lawn offers one of the biggest opportunities for reducing your water footprint. Photo illustration by Jim Craven - Jim Craven