With the official start of summer just days away and drought conditions choking major portions of the West, it's a good time to take measures to make sure you're not unknowingly wasting water.

Severe to exceptional drought conditions are being experienced across Utah, Nevada, Arizona, northern New Mexico, southwestern Wyoming, southern and western Colorado, according to the National Weather Service. And it doesn't look like the conditions will let up this summer. In fact, much of the Rio Grande is dried up.

And just last week, the Associated Press reported that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson declared a state of emergency stemming from the drought conditions."

"Despite recent rains, New Mexico continues down a path toward a long-term drought," Richardson said. "I want to be proactive by developing immediate, intermediate and long-term strategies to deal with the drought."

Regardless of whether you live in a drought-inflicted region, there are many ways your household can begin conserving water immediately.

The American Water Works Association says a dripping faucet can waste up to 2,000 gallons of water each year, and if your toilet leaks, you could be wasting up to 200 gallons each day.

In fact, the AWWA says if all U.S. households installed water-saving features, water use would decrease by 30 percent, saving an estimated 5.4 billion gallons per day. This would result in savings of $11.3 million per day - more than $4 billion per year.

In the home, it's easy to spot a culprit, whether it's a dripping tap, a toilet that's always running, or maybe even someone prone to taking 15-minute showers. But what about outside?

The AWWA says that on average, 50 to 70 percent of home water is used outdoors for watering lawns and gardens. The average household water use annually is 127,400 gallons; the average daily household water use is 350 gallons.

The Department of Utilities for the City of Sacramento in California says over-watering your garden can be harmful for your plants, depriving them of the oxygen they need to survive.

The utility company says one sign of over-watering is water running off your lawn or landscape. To avoid this, they recommend to try watering in stages, which allows water to absorb into the soil before adding more; maintaining your irrigation system, checking for leaks, and adjusting sprinkler heads to water target areas; and (if your irrigation system is automatic) setting timers for just the right amount of time.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says there are five key actions to saving water in and around the home:

  • First, use your water meter to check for leaks in your home. Start by turning off all faucets and water-using appliances and make sure no one uses water during the testing period. Take a reading on your water meter, wait for about 30 minutes, then take a second reading. If the dial has moved, you have a leak.
  • Stop leaks by checking indoor water-using appliances and devices for leaks. Check for leaks in your sink and bathtub faucets (dripping faucets can usually be repaired by replacing the rubber O-ring or washer inside the valve). Fix irrigation system leaks quickly and check for water in the gutters or mud puddles. Inspect your sprinklers and drip sprayers regularly for leaks during the day.
  • The AWWA says the most common source of leaks is the toilet. Check toilets for leaks by placing a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If after 15 minutes the dye shows up in the bowl, the toilet has a leak. Leaky toilets can usually be repaired inexpensively by replacing the flapper.
  • Replace old toilets, which are the largest water user inside your home. If your home was built before 1992 and the toilet has never been replaced, then it is very likely that you do not have a water efficient 1.6 gallon-per-flush toilet. You can check the date stamp inside the toilet by lifting the lid and looking at the back of the toilet at the manufacturer's imprint of the make, model and date of manufacture.
  • Replace your clothes washer, which is the second largest water user in your home. Energy Star rated washers that also have a Water Factor at or lower than 9.5, use 35-50 percent less water and 50 percent less energy per load. This saves you money on both your water and energy bills.
  • Plant the right plants with proper landscape design and irrigation. Select plants that are appropriate for your local climate conditions.
  • Water only what your plants need. Be attentive if you are manually watering by setting a timer or some other reminder to move the water promptly. Make sure your irrigation controller has a rain shutoff device and that it's appropriately scheduled. Most water is wasted in months prior to or just after the rainy season when intermittent rains occur.
  • Use low-flow showerheads. By replacing standard 4.5-gallon-per-minute showerheads with 2.5-gallon-per-minute heads, a family of four can save approximately 20,000 gallons of water per year,

    The EPA also says there many common-sense things you can do in your daily routines to save water.

    Don't run the dishwasher unless it's full. Don't turn on the faucet while you shave or brush your teeth. Shorten those showers. Adjust the water levels on your washing machine to match your load size.

    Water your lawn early in the morning or late in the evening and on cooler days, when possible, to reduce evaporation; and sweeping sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them down.

    Just a little water conservation can go a long way - and can ultimately save you money on your water bill.

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