Study: Americans Have 'No Clue' About Conserving Water

While many think the best way to save water is to take shorter showers, there are far more effective methods.

Plumber Todd Snider installs a water-saving aerator in a bathroom sink at home in Navato, Calif., in February 2014. Many Americans believe that the best way save water is to take shorter showers, a recent study found, but installing more efficient sinks and toilets is actually far more effective.

Plumber Todd Snider installs a water-saving aerator at a home in Navato, Calif., in February 2014. Many Americans believe that the best way save water is to take shorter showers, a recent study found, but installing more efficient sinks and toilets is actually far more effective.

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Surprise!

Many Americans have no idea about the best ways to save water.

In a survey of 1,020 people by Indiana University Bloomington's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the largest chunk – 43 percent – said the best way to conserve water was to take shorter showers.

That does save some water, but replacing toilets or even just flushing less conserves far more. 

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“People may be focusing on curtailment or cutting back rather than efficiency improvements because of the upfront costs involved,” said Shahzeen Attari, an assistant professor at the school and the study’s author. “It is also surprising how few participants mentioned retrofitting their toilets. Even though toilets use less water volumetrically than washers and showers per use, the frequency of use results in the highest water use overall.”

Overall, older men had a better idea of how much water they use, but not how much energy they consume, the survey found. Meanwhile, participants who said they had stronger “pro-environmental” views were the opposite.

On average, survey participants underestimated water use by a factor of two – they said that sinks, washing machines, toilets and showers, among other things, use half as much water as they actually do. And participants “had no clue” about how much water was needed to make coffee, rice, cheese or sugar.

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"Given that we will need to adapt to more uncertain fresh water supplies, a problem that the state of California is currently grappling with, we need to find ways to correct misperceptions to help people adapt to temporary or long-term decreases in freshwater supply," Attari said.

A good way to start: Call your plumber.