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One Drop at a Time: Water conservation at home

LAWTON, Okla._As Southwest Oklahoma goes through one of the worst droughts in years, many wonder what kind of impact their daily water use has. Officials say the average family uses around 7,000 gallons of water each month.

As we begin our month-long series of reports on the water crisis, 'One Drop at a Time,' 7News reporter Lauren Halvorson did some investigating to see how they reach these numbers, and what can be done to reduce them.

When most people hear "conservation," they think more about not doing yard work and outside activities, instead of conserving in the home. But after spending a day in the home of a local family of five, it was easy to see how quickly water usage can become excessive.

Like many local families, the Edwards stay busy balancing work with raising their three children, which understandably can leave little time to worry about water conservation.

"I mean yes, it's important to conserve. Honestly I didn't think about it too much before this," said Heidi Edwards.

Water usage in their home begins when they brush their teeth. But Assistant City Manager Jerry Ihler says even this routine habit gives families an opportunity to conserve.

"I used to do this all the time, I would turn the faucet on and brush my teeth and leave it running while I'm brushing my teeth. Don't turn the faucet on until you're ready to start cleaning the sink," suggested Ihler.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average bathroom faucet flows at a rate of two gallons per minute, and by turning the tap off, individuals can save more than 100 gallons of water each month.

But what about daily chores like dishes? The Edwards boys love being helpful around the kitchen

"This goes on top."

"Yes that lays right there on the top Jacob."

But once again, their practice of leaving the sink running is not ideal for conservation. The EPA suggests filling the sink or bowl with water to wash dishes instead of running the tap. They claim that alone can save an average of 25 gallons of water per day. And then there's laundry; with three active young boys the Edwards family washes their clothes almost every day.

"The amount of laundry and dishes that we use is kind of absurd whenever you think about water usage," said Edwards.

However, their washing machine is one of the most efficient options on the market. New high-efficiency top-loading machines use anywhere from 14 to 25 gallons of water per load. Replacing old washers with these newer and more efficient options can reduce water use by more than 6,000 gallons per year.

Ihler says there is even more you can do to take their efficiency to the next level.

"Have a plumber come in and re-plumb it such that you can reuse that greywater to irrigate some of your plants around your house and so forth," said Ihler.

These greywater rerouting systems have become popular in dry states, like California, and can be as simple and inexpensive as hooking up a hose and a bucket to your machine. More complex systems use piping to route the water directly outside.

And then there's bath time. Their parents take showers in the morning, but each night the three boys take baths. Even though two of them share a bath, the amount of water used still adds up. The EPA says a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons of water, while a full bath tub requires about 70 gallons, meaning that those two baths in the Edwards household sends 140 gallons of water down the drain each night.

"It seems like a small amount, but as you utilize all those conservation measures, over time it adds up," said Ihler.

Edwards says she and her family were aware of the drought and thought about conserving, but never really thought about how these little things can add up until now. Ihler says they aren't the only ones in their generation who have a hard time grasping the magnitude of the situation.

"1980 to approximately 2010 were the wettest years in history for the state of Oklahoma, and those were the major years that most parents grew up in and water was available at the surface level of lakes. Raw water was available, so conservation wasn't an issue that was really discussed much and as a result of that we did get into some bad practices," said Ihler.

So, now he says it's up to the next generation, like the Edwards boys, to set a precedent of conservation for years to come. Even though they may be young, they're already aware of what the drought is.

"When there's not enough rain."

In order to keep educating children about the drought, the city has started working with local schools to drive home the importance of saving water.

"I'm a very strong believer that the kids are a very good way to help the parents become educated. Even though the parents are educated, the kids will go ahead and push the issue a little further and stuff like that will cause water conservation."

But is the education working? Ihler says that when you look back over the years you can see the difference. In 2002 the city of Lawton used 22 million gallons of water per day and now about 18.5 million gallons are used per day.

"As time is moving forward and we better educate citizens about water conservation, we are seeing the overall usage and demand go down. So it is working, but there is a lot more that we can do," said Ihler.

And if a family of five like the Edwards starts practicing those water conservation habits, they can save about 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water per month. If you would like more conservation tips, you can check out the city's website.

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