Special to the Tribune-Star
Only 3 percent of Earth’s water is fresh water. Of that, 1.7 percent of the world’s water is frozen and therefore unusable. Clearly, water is a precious resource, its importance only magnified during a drought.
“We woke up one morning, the toilet wouldn’t flush and the sink faucet didn’t turn on,” 21-year old Terre Haute resident Brandee Knight said.
Not knowing what happened, she flipped on the water pump breaker. The pump started working for a second, then kicked back off. The result: her well was dry. Knight had to live without running water for a week and a half, an experience she described as terrible.
“We couldn’t wash our hands, we couldn’t go to the restroom and we couldn’t shower. We basically had to go somewhere else to do all of that stuff,” Knight said.
Even though a new well has been drilled and water is flowing freely from the faucet once again, Knight is more aware of how precious of a resource water is.
“You don’t really realize how much water you use, or how much you really need it, until you don’t have it. One night we were cleaning up and somebody got something on their hands. They went and turned on the water, they then realized we didn’t have water. They had to wipe their hands off on a towel and use hand sanitizer,” Knight said.
Knight has even made a few lifestyle changes after living without water for more than a week and offers some words of caution for those who still have water in their well.
“Don’t take as long of showers. Whenever you’re washing dishes don’t let the water keep running. Be careful of how much water you are using, especially right now going through this drought,” Knight said.
The only puddle in Terre Haute sits at First and Elm streets. Slowly driving through that puddle is a line of trucks waiting for their turn to fill their tanks up at Indiana American Water. Many travel from West Terre Haute because the line is even longer over there to get water. One of those people is Max Flinn who was hauling water for his cattle after the pond on his property dried up.
“It is not real expensive, it is just the inconvenience of having to drive in, drive back, every night, day after day,” Flinn said.
Next in line was Ron Heyen who inserted one quarter at a time and watched as the hose jiggled back and forth while water flowed into his 200 gallon tank.
“I have hauled water for years, but only once in a while. This year it is more than once in a while. I will probably be here four to five times today. I am hauling for some other people out that way,” Heyen said.
Heyen is not out of well water yet, and hopes it never comes to that.
“I am preventing it from going dry. I typically haul once a week. I don’t want it to go dry. If it does then you have to go in and prime the well,” Heyen said.
He is taking every possible measure in making sure his well does not go dry. He says he generally conserves water around the house and also makes sure the toilets and faucets are not leaking.
“A lot of people lose a lot of water from a toilet that is leaking. They have a flapper that goes down and shuts off the water. Sometimes that is worn out and doesn’t work right. Or the water is running through the flapper real slow,” Heyen said.
Small adjustments, big water savings
1.6 billion gallons of water are wasted in the U.S every year because of inefficient toilets. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 established water conservation to save the United States an estimated 6.5 billion gallons of water per day. Older toilets use four to eight gallons of water per flush, while all new toilets must have a maximum flush volume of 1.6 gallons.
While replacing a toilet is a costly fix to save water, there are some cheaper adjustments one can make. First, see if your toilet is leaking water. You can test this by putting a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank. Wait 20-30 minutes. If the food coloring is showing in the toilet bowl, then you have a leak. It could be a simple fix by getting a new flapper.
Once your leak is fixed, you can start reducing your water consumption by changing how many gallons you flush every time you use the toilet. This can be done without buying a high efficiency toilet. While this is a costly fix there are cheap tricks to save water. Place a sealed water bottle filled with sand in the toilet tank. By doing so you will be displacing that amount of water. A quick warning, this method will not work on all toilet models.
A family of four who each take a seven-minute shower can save 7,700 gallons of water per year by swapping their 2.75 gallons per minute showerhead with a 1.75 water-conserving showerhead.
For a few dollars you can switch out the aerator on your faucets with a low flow aerator. You will go from using 2.2 gallons per minute to 1.5 gallons per minute. For the average household, this can mean more than 14,700 gallons of water saved each year and a reduction in monthly water bills.
Safe in the city
Indiana American Water customers in Terre Haute receive water from an aquifer (an underground water source). IAW officials say the wells where they draw water from are in good shape and are not having any problems currently meeting customer demand.
“We have made investments that increase capacity to make sure we are able to provide service even in situations like this,” Indiana American Water External Affairs Manager Joe Loughmiller said.
While they are still running full steam ahead they have made some small adjustments. They are using less water when flushing out a new line and are making sure they do not have any leaks in their system.
“Obviously there is a finite supply of water. There is not any new water being made. So the water that was here years ago, is the same water that is here now. It is the ultimate recycling process, water just gets recycled over and over. The more well water we use, it is a little bit more difficult to recharge those supplies because it takes time for the water to go through the water cycle to get down into the aquifers. It makes sense for customers to do what they can to use water wisely,” Loughmiller said.
There’s a lesson we can all take away from living in a drought with no foreseeable end.