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A white, oval shape logo, with the title WaterShare centered in green letters.  There is a blue drop of water and the title.

Junior High School Lesson Plan
by Leslie Comnes, M.A.

Personal Water Audit

For 24 hours students keep track of their water use. After considering ways they could reduce the amount of water they use, they keep track of another 24 hours while applying improved behaviors.

Subjects:

Math, Science, Social Science

Materials:
  • a glass or clear plastic gallon jug of water
  • large piece of butcher paper
  • marking pen
  • writing paper
  • pens
Background Information:

Earth often is called the "water planet" because oceans or ice fields cover nearly three quarters of its surface. This abundance might make water seem an unlimited resource. Yet, less than one-hundredth of one percent of the earth's water, less than one cup-full out of every ten thousand cups, falls upon the land each year as fresh water. Less than two-thirds of one percent of Earth's water resides underground, much of it too deep or too brackish to be useful and little of it replenished as fast as it is pumped to the surface. Water good enough to drink, to farm with, to use in factories, or to share with lake and river life, is a rare and precious substance on this most watery of planets in our solar system.

To urban dwellers, water seems particularly abundant because it is nearly effortless to come by: just turn on the faucet and out it pours. The convenience of pressurized plumbing makes it easy to overuse water without thinking about the consequences. Most of our water consumption results from cultural and economic habit, a part of the way we live. Physically, the active adult human body requires only about a gallon of drinking water per day to maintain health in a moderate climate. Culturally, we average about 125-150 gallons per day domestically in the United States, per person, most of this for washing, flushing, and watering. While drinking less water than we need for our health is a bad idea, using more water than we need for our residential purposes is a bad habit. We could get the same jobs done using half as much. Improving the efficiency of our water use will provide water to share with all the diverse demands for this limited resource.

In the western states where the climate is dry, the necessity of water for human activities has been inscribed upon the land with public works. Here, people rely on extensive (and expensive) systems of dams and diversions to deliver fresh water from where and when it occurs naturally, to where and when it is used by people. In California, for example, most of the fresh water collects in the Sierra Nevada mountains as winter snow pack; a network of reservoirs, aqueducts, and pipelines regulates and transports the Sierra runoff hundreds of miles to metropolitan areas demanding far more water year-around than local sources can supply. For Los Angeles, the reach for water extends across the Mojave Desert, up the Colorado River, to the Rocky Mountains a thousand miles and four states away.

In the West, rapid population increases throughout a relatively recent history of urbanization have continually strained these distant water supplies, leading to successive waves of waterworks construction. Finally, however, we are approaching the limits of availability. During extended periods of below-average rainfall when many of the region's reservoirs and underground aquifers seem in danger of being drained dry, water conservation becomes a common, even required, practice. With a growing population has come a growing realization that usable water is in finite supply, and that nature itself needs water for ecological health. We have only so much, and we have to share it.

By following a few straightforward water conservation steps, a typical family of four can save 50,000 to 100,000 gallons of water a year. Outdoor purposes account for two thirds of the water consumed by suburban households during summer's heat. Simple measures can save thousands of gallons a month: watering in the morning to reduce evaporation, watering lawns no more than what the climate requires, maintaining turf sprinkling systems, leveling turf areas, landscaping with low-water plants, sweeping instead of hosing driveways, and turning off the hose between rinses when washing the car.

Conserved water is the most cost effective, environmentally benign source of "new" water. WaterShare means there will be water to share with all, when we all practice water management care.

Sources:

California Water Issues. Sacramento, CA : Water Education Foundation, 1997. Fact Sheet: 21 Water Conservation Measures for Everybody.

Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water.

Layperson's Guide to Water Conservation. Sacramento, CA: Water Education Foundation, 1997.

Water, by Luna Leopold, Life Science Library, 1966

Preparation:

Print out the following table. Cover up the Water Conserving Method column for later use. Save the table for step 3 of the procedure.


Task Average Uses Water Conserving Method
Bathing

Full tub

40 gallons

Low level

15 gallons

Showering

Water running

60 gallons each ten minutes

Five minutes with low-flow showerhead

12 gallons total

Flushing Toilet

Old regular tank

7 gallons

With displacement device

4.5 gallons

Ultra Low Flush toilet

2 gallons

Washing hands/face

Tap running

2 gallons

Half-fill bowl

gallon

Getting a drink

Tap running

gallon

Pitcher in fridge

1/16 gallon

Brushing teeth

Tap running

10 gallons

Wet brush, rinse

gallon

Washing clothes

Top water level

40 gallons per load

Adjusted water level

25 gallons per load, ave.

Shaving

Water running

20 gallons

Half-fill bowl

1 gallon

Watering outside

2/3 of a large water bill,

about 10 gallons per minute

of a smaller water bill,

about half the watering time

Cleaning driveway or patio

Hosing off

10 gallons per minute

Sweep with broom

0 gallons

Washing car

Water running

10 gallons per minute

Bucket, sponge, choke nozzle

5 gallons total

Washing dishes by hand

Tap running

30 gallons

Sponge wash and dishpan dip

5 gallons

Automatic dishwasher

Full cycle

15 gallons

Short cycle

7 gallons

Other

You estimate

 

(This data is adapted from The Official Captain Hydro Water Conservation Workbook, Teacher's Guide. Oakland, CA: East Bay Municipal Utility District, 1992.)

Questions for discussion: Responses to seek:
Where does our water come from? Concept of natural and engineered systems
What happens to the water that goes down the drain? Concept of water treatment and pollution
Why is water important to people? Awareness of diverse uses and values
Why do you think we should be concerned about saving water? Awareness of social impact of individual behavior
What water saving ideas did you learn from the WaterShare web site? Opportunities for taking personal responsibility

Procedure:
  1. Ask students to name all of the ways that they use water in a typical day. List these on the board. Show students the gallon jug of water, and ask them to estimate how many gallons of water they use in a typical day. Use some metric containers to make comparisons between gallon and liter measures.
  2. Have students write down on a piece of paper the different water uses listed on the board. Tell them that over the next 24 hours, they are to keep track of the ways they use water by noting them on the paper. For example, one student might flush the toilet 5 times, take a 10-minute shower, brush her teeth three times, and water the garden for 15 minutes.
  3. The next day, show students the chart (with the Water Saving Methods covered). Tell students that these are the average amounts of water for some typical water uses at home. Point out that some of the averages may seem high, but that is because most people let the water run to let it get hot or cold before they use it. We may not drink 1/4 gallon every time we get a drink of water, but we probably use 1/4 gallon.
  4. Have students use this information to estimate the number of gallons of water they used in the 24-hour period.
  5. Lead a discussion about the class's findings:
    • How much water did you estimate you used personally in the 24-hour period?
    • People in the United States use 125-150 gallons of water per person, per day for domestic purposes. How does our use compare with the average?
    • Imagine that you did not have plumbing in your home, but had to carry water from a well. How do you think your water use would be different?
    • What simple, routine steps could we take to reduce the amount of water we use in a day?
  6. Uncover the Water Saving Methods column of the chart, and talk about the methods listed there. How hard would it be to actually follow each of these methods?
  7. Have students log their water use for another 24 hours, this time trying out as many water-saving methods as they can.
  8. Ask students to calculate their water usage and compare the two days. Lead a discussion about the results:
    • How much did your water consumption change from the first 24-hour period?
    • What were the biggest reasons for the change?
    • For which tasks was it easy to save water?
    • For which tasks was it hard?
    • If you were allowed only 25 gallons of water per day, how would you use your 25 gallons? How would you cut back?
    • Choose three different water saving methods that you could use routinely. How much water would you save in a month if you were to apply these three methods consistently?

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