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Water conservation tips for drought, flood and other disasters

March 20, 2019

While flying over Omaha, Jessica Corman, assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, captured this image of Missouri River flooding.

 

On March 17, residents of Lincoln, Nebraska, home to the National Drought Mitigation Center and University of Nebraska-Lincoln, were ordered to conserve water not because of drought, but because of flooding. The disastrous floods that have impacted much of the state also affected production at the Lincoln Water System.

“A levee breach near Thomas Lakes increased the floodwaters near and around our wellfields,” according to a city press release. “The evening of Sunday, March 17, Lincoln Water System experienced a temporary loss of pressure from a producing wellfield to the water treatment plant. Work crews isolated the issue, and water is currently being produced. However, this occurrence, combined with some power loss due to flooding at the wellfields, has created a tenuous situation.”

The city mandated that commercial and industrial users curb water use by 25 percent and that residential users curb indoor use by 50 percent until the water use restrictions are lifted. Outdoor water use was prohibited. Car washes were shut down. Restaurants were required to serve food and beverages in disposable containers. In the event that conservation efforts failed to temper water usage, the city’s mayor could have ordered the city to raise water rates, which the Lincoln Journal Star reports was “originally intended for drought-related emergencies.” 

Update: Mandatory water restrictions were lifted after repairs were made at Lincoln Water Systems and 7.6 million gallons were conserved over three days compared to average use. Car washes reopened on March 21, though voluntary water restrictions remained in place.

The drought center works locally and around the world to help people prepare for drought ahead of time and to recognize emerging drought as soon as possible, and recommends that people follow the guidance of their local water provider as to when and how to conserve water.

Here is a collection of water conservation tips from across the U.S.

  • In Lincoln, city officials this week released a 50-tip guide to conserving water during the mandatory restriction period. Tips included steaming vegetables rather than boiling them, washing only full loads of laundry and collecting tap water for other uses (watering plants, hydrating pets) while waiting for it to heat.
  • Recently, California experienced its first drought-free week in over seven years, but residents have adapted to life in a state prone to dry spells or worse. In 2014, the state’s governor asked residents to curb water use by 20 percent, and the state’s public utilities commission released tips on how to conserve water. A year later, the New York Times asked Californians how they had adapted. Among the answers: collected shower water saved for outdoor plants, low-flow toilets and native plants in lieu of lawns.
  • This week marks an annual conservation event on the Environmental Protection Agency’s calendar. March 18-24 is Fix a Leak Week. According to the EPA, 10 percent of homes in the U.S. have leaks that waste 90 gallons of water or more a day. Repairing or replacing leaky faucets, toilets or spigots can save homeowners up to 10 percent on their water bills and help toward reducing the 1 trillion gallons of water wasted in the U.S. each year.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers advice on residential water conservation as well. A collection of tips can be found here.
  • The Center for Disease Control notes that, even during times of restricted water use, hygiene and sanitation should not be neglected. In a guide for protecting public health during times of drought, the CDC recommended installing low-flow faucet aerators on sinks to reduce water use while also providing enough water to wash hands and produce.

Have your own water conservation tips? Respond to NDMC climatologist Deborah Bathke, who asked her followers on Twitter what conservation practices they implement.

- Cory Matteson, National Drought Mitigation Center Communications Specialist