Our Water... It's Too Valuable to Waste

A Guide to Residential Water Conservation by:
Mable K. Haralson and Ruth Sheard


Water is one of our most vital and valuable natural resources. It is the basis of life and its abundance or scarcity determines our quality of life.

It is easy to take water for granted. An ample supply of safe and inexpensive water has always been ours with the turn of a tap. We play in and on the hundreds of miles of streams and thousands of acres of lakes in South Carolina. We accept the non-essential use of water as aesthetic features- reflecting pools, fountains and waterfalls- as readily as the essential use of water for agriculture, industry and power generation, on which life and our economy depend.

Such easy access to, and liberal use of, water has conditioned us to believe water is a limitless resource. But hot, dry summers, the severe drought of 1986, and reports of water shortages and/or water rationing in South Carolina and in other parts of the country serve to remind us how limited our water resources really are.

If we want our water resources to continue to be sufficient for everyone's actual needs, we must begin conserving our water now. This booklet tells you why water conservation is important and what you can do to conserve water and reduce water waste in your home.

The Origin of Water

Water moves through our environment in a circular process known as the Hydrologic Cycle or Water Cycle. The cycle is continuous, having no beginning or end. It is powered by the sun and by gravity. The sun evaporates water from oceans, lakes, streams and the soil. All living things- people, plants and animals- give off (transpire) water into the air. The evaporated and transpired moisture collects in the atmosphere as clouds and falls back upon the earth as precipitation in the form of rain, snow, hail and sleet.

Much of this precipitation is evaporated into the atmosphere even as it falls. Some of it is transpired into the atmosphere by people, plants, and animals. The rest runs into rivers or soaks into the ground. In either case, water eventually returns to the ocean... starting the cycle over again.

Thus, our water is both a renewable and a limited resource. Renewable because it flows through our environment in an unending cycle and limited because the water in the water cycle today is all the water we will ever have. Earth is the only planet in our galaxy known to have water. This means there is no place we can go for more. We must conserve what we have.

Water is found both on and below the surface of the earth. Water which collects in openings and cracks in rock below the earth's surface, in systems called aquifers, is referred to as ground water. Water collecting and/or flowing on the face of the earth, in lakes and streams, is surface water.

About 66 percent of the water South Carolinians use in their homes each day comes from surface wat

er. The remaining 34 percent comes from wells drilled into underground aquifers.

Breakdown of Total Water

The oceans contain 97 percent of the earth's water. Although prehistoric people sometimes obtained the salt they needed by evaporating it out of seawater, without expensive treatment there is not much modern man can do with saltwater except sail on it and swim, fish, or dive into it.

The remaining 3 percent is freshwater, some two-thirds of which is tied up in glaciers and polar ice caps, leaving less than 1 percent of the world's available water as freshwater. But, because of poor quality, less than half of it is fit to drink! The existence of all the world's people and all other forms depend on less than one-half of one percent of the earth's total supply of water!

South Carolina has a great deal of water. We have over 14,000 miles of rivers; more than 1,400 ponds and lakes of at least 10 acres in size; and 16 lakes or reservoirs larger than 1,000 acres (S.C. Water Resources Commission, "Inventory of Lakes in South Carolina- Ten Acres or More in Surface Area," Report 119, 1974). Our ground water supply includes six known aquifers- three of them major aquifers- in the Coastal Plain. Ground water also exists in the Piedmont, but it has not yet been fully identified and mapped.

We are not likely to run out of water, at least not in the near future. But we must realize water is out most limited natural resource and prepare now to meet the future needs of our population, industry, and agriculture. We have, and will continue to have, sufficient water to use, but not enough to waste.

How Do We Use Our Water?

Water in South Carolina is used in a variety of ways. Our population has grown from 2,603,800 people in 1970, to 3,129,500 in 1980, to 3,347,000 in 1985. The projected population figure for 1990 is 3,622,400, and the per person demand for water is keeping pace with this growth (South Carolina Statistical Abstract, 1985).

According to preliminary estimates, South Carolinians use almost 6.4 billion gallons of water each day; an approximate 500 percent increase in the last thirty years! The generation of electricity uses 77.1 percent- 4.9 billion gallons a day.* Industry uses 17.1 percent- 1.1 billion gallons a day for services and in the production of goods. People use 5.2 percent- 338 million gallons daily for bathing, cooking, cleaning, watering lawns gardening, and other domestic uses. Agriculture uses 0.6 percent- some 38 million gallons for irrigation during the growing season and for watering livestock.

It is true that the amount of water saved by one person's, or one family's, water conservation efforts is but a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous amounts of water required by power generation and industry. But small savings multiplied by the efforts of thousands of South Carolinians can save substantial amounts of water each day.

By conserving water now, we will have a sufficient amount for the increasing population, expanding industry, and more intensive agriculture in our future.

*Much of this water is not consumed but is returned to streams for reuse.

What Causes Water Shortages?

Water shortages can be caused by drought, lack of precipitation, and pollution.


Drought is a long period of dryness, usually occurring during the summer, when there is little or no rainfall. Droughts may cause surface water to dry up, and if severe enough, cause levels of ground water to fall below pumping range. A drought this severe has far-reaching consequences. Lack of water causes crops to fail and livestock to lose weight. Industries using water for cooling, or in production, may have to lay off workers and close temporarily. Air conditioning use increases during summer droughts so more electricity is generated. And people tend to need more water during a drought, for watering lawns and gardens, more frequent showering, or just "cooling off".

Lack of Precipitation:

Lack of precipitation during the winter and spring can cause water shortages the following summer, even though summer rainfall is normal or above normal. Winter and spring are South Carolinas wettest seasons, the time when our ground water systems are recharged and reservoirs filled. Thus, a dry winter and/or spring has the potential for causing water shortages the following summer.


Since pollution is a major cause of poor water quality, it can cause both temporary and long-term water shortages. There are two basic types of water pollution:

Point - The source of the pollution is specific. For example, a pipe that dumps sewage or waste into a lake or stream.

Non-point - The source of the pollution is general. For example, runoff from agricultural and urban areas which carries soil, chemicals, solvents and other materials into a lake or stream.

Lakes and streams have a limited natural ability to rid themselves of impurities, but it is a very slow process and some impurities can never be removed. Prior to our industrial expansion, population growth and the increased use of chemicals, lakes and streams could handle small amounts of wastes without harmful effects on water supplies. Now, however, the self-cleaning process cannot cope with the amounts and types of wastes being discharged into lakes and streams. Our wastewater must be cleaned at treatment plants before being returned to a lake or stream. Wastewater treatment plants are expensive to build, and large amounts of energy are needed to treat and move the wastewater- resulting in higher costs and higher taxes.

Short term, pollution caused water shortages include those caused by floods, when water for restricted use must be trucked into affected communities. Long-term, pollution caused water shortages have occurred in some areas of coastal South Carolina when ground water is pumped out faster than it is replenished and saltwater replaces the freshwater in the wells. New and deeper wells must be drilled or new sources of water must be found.

Drought and Pollution:

A combination of drought and pollution can cause a water shortage. Drought reduces streamflow, leaving insufficient water for diluting normally acceptable amounts of pollutants. The pollutants become concentrated, making the water unsuitable for drinking. Only a period of steady rain can solve this type of water shortage.

Water Quality Requirements:

Even in cases when the water quality meets primary or health related standards, public objection to aesthetic standards such as taste, color, or odor could eliminate large amounts of usable water sources.


Water shortages can also occur when the sudden demand of new industry, or a large increase in population, is too much for an existing water and sewer system. Finding additional water, and increasing freshwater and sewer capacity, solves the problem.


Whatever the cause of a water shortage, its severity is magnified by waste. Water conservation can postpone, but not prevent, water shortages. But lack of conservation can, and will, increase both the frequency and severity of present and future water shortages.


Of course there are alternatives. Some of these alternatives are either currently in use or in an experimental stage. But, as with most new technology, they are extremely expensive.

Southern California brings most of its water from hundreds of miles away in open canals; therefore, this State must start with twice as much water as they need to allow for evaporation along the way.

Saudi Arabia has experimented with towing icebergs from Antarctica to provide needed freshwater.

Most of the world's navies have on-board desalinization plants which convert saltwater to freshwater while underway. Use of this freshwater is severely restricted. Water runs less than a minute during a "navy shower," but there are still an equivalent 80 hours of showers each day aboard our largest aircraft carriers.

WATER CONSERVATION - The Most Practical Alternative

Water Conservation is:

The need for water conservation is urgent. And the time for water conservation is now.



The bathroom is where you can save the most water.


Bathing and Showering:




Hand Dishwashing:

Automatic Dishwashers:

Look for water efficiency, as well as energy efficiency when you buy a dishwasher. Some energy-efficient dishwashers use only 8-10 gallons of water for a regular cycle.

A basic or "stripped-down" dishwasher uses 11-14 gallons for a regular cycle. The more convenient a dishwasher is, the more water it uses. For instance, "Extra Scrub" features (for pots and pans) use an additional 10-14 gallons of water. "Rinse" features use an additional 3-5 gallons of water.

Garbage Disposal or Grinder:


Machine Washing:

Hand-Washing Clothes:



Washing Cars:

Swimming Pools:


Most southern grasses can tolerate short periods of drought without damage. Bermuda grass and At. Augustine grass should be watered at the first signs of stress since lack of water creates weed and insect problems for these grasses. Centipede grass in full sun may also need early watering, but under shaded conditions it frequently survives without being watered. For Bahia grass, the most drought-tolerant of southern grasses, excessive watering under any conditions leads to weed problems. It is time to water your lawn when:

Watering Tips For Lawn:

Trees and Shrubs:

Vegetable Gardens:



Steps in Detecting and Repairing Minor Toilet Leaks Steps in Detecting General Hidden Leaks:

Stopping Leaks:

Leaks are a major source of wasted water which can be greatly reduced by locating and repairing all leaks in faucets, toilets and other water using appliances. It is estimated that:

Tap Secret:

The cause of a leaky faucet is probably a worn washer which needs replacing. A loose washer often causes "chatter" so be sure that it is tightly screwed on. If the faucet continues to leak after replacing the washer, the faucet seat or stem is probably worn out. To change a washer:


The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources - Water Resources Division is not in a position to recommend one product over another; however, the Division has reviewed, and included in this publication, information on water saving devices from local appliance dealers. This agency recommends that you contact a local dealer to determine the types of water saving devices that are available in your area. Your plumber can advise you of the most appropriate kinds of flow reduction devices for your system. In almost every case, these devices can be expected to pay for themselves in terms of water savings and resultant lowering of volume on which customer rates are based.

Commercial water saving devices, such as flow restrictors, are readily available at hardware stores, home improvement centers, plumbing supplies and discount stores. These devices are designed to reduce water flow through faucet, shower head or other outlets. The basic flow control device may be built into the fixture or obtained as separate or as small units to adapt existing fixtures to water saving devices. The small units are easily installed with a wrench or a pair of pliers.

The most practical water-saving devices are those which reduce water use without causing major disruptions in lifestyles or requiring constant attention to the amount of water being used. They are especially effective where small children play in/with water for hours, so lang as it is not combined with soap and a washcloth.



Aerators are small screens, fitting on the ends of faucets. Flow is restricted by mixing air with water. The water flow looks and feels full-force, but less water is being used. An aerator will save one-half gallon of water daily.

Flow Restrictors:

Flow restrictors are perforated neoprene, plastic or rustproof metal discs with small openings which reduce the amount of water flowing through them. They cost very little and can be used in both faucets and/or shower heads. Water departments sometimes supply flow restrictors without cost. They must be installed with the cone pointing in the direction of the water flow.

Flow Restrictors should not be installed in:


Shower Heads

The most common and least expensive type of shower head is the adjustable flow shower head. Rotating its knob or face changes the spray from coarse to fine, increasing or reducing gallons per minute. The finest spray uses the least amount of water.


The low flow shower head looks like a regular shower head but has a built-in flow restrict or. If a shower head is replaced with a low flow type, note whether or not there is a ball joint on the shower arm. Presence or absence of the ball joint is important in selecting the correct replacement head.

Hand-Held Showers:

Hand-held showers eliminate an overall spray and allows you to put water where you want it. Most of these type showers have on/off buttons or switches which allow shutting water off without affecting temperature mix. They attach to the shower arm and come equipped with a hang-up bracket.


Toilets use more water than any other fixture in the home; however, there are many conservation measures that can save significant amounts of water. Reducing the volume of water used to flush a toilet from the conventional 5 to 6 gallons of water to 3.5 gallons, can save up to 30,000 gallons of water annually.


The Water and Wastewater Department of South Carolina's Public Service Commission reports the average family, based on national figures, consumes 6,300 gallons of water per customer per month or 942 cubic feet of water per month. This is an example of 210 gallons per single family residence.

The Daily Average Water Use for a Family of Four (1983):

Percent       Gallons         Cubic Feet     How Water is Used

42             102            13.6           flushing toilets

31 81.5 10.9 bathing, showering, personal

cleanliness 14 35.5 4.7 laundry,

11 27.5 3.7 food preparation and clean

up, including Dishwashing, 2 5.5 7 all other purposes.

For the first 300 cubic feet of water used each month, the Water Department of the City of Columbia, South Carolina, charges a base rate of $2.10 for water and $1.18 for sewer assessment. Each additional 100 cubic feet costs .65 for water and .75 for sewer assessment. The average family's typical monthly water bill is:

		     Water               Sewer
First 300 cubic feet         $2.10               $1.18
Remaining 633 cubic feet     $4.10               $4.74
Total=                       $6.20               $5.92

Total Monthly Water Bill:    $12.12
(Check with your local water department to determine your current base rate for water and sewer assessment.}

Several facts to be noted about water usage in the average family is that more than fifty percent of the water bill is "sewer assessment." This is the charge for treating wastewater to make it clean enough to return to the lakes and streams. Sewer assessments are charged for the total amount of water used each month no matter how it is used, whether it goes into the sewer or not.

If families cut down on water wasted in seven specific areas, they could effect the following savings in gallons per year:

Note: Water conservation frequently results in higher rates because of the nature of fixed revenue bonds. This, however, can be offset for the municipality because water conservation allows more water and sewer taps, thus spreading costs over a higher base.

Water Saved Daily or Weekly            Gallons of Water Saved a Year 
Displacing a gallon of water        
in a toilet tanki, six flushes                     8,760
per person, 24 flushes per day.

Washing dishes by the most efficient 9,636 hand method or washing only full loads in a dishwasher, averaging 13.2 gallons two times daliy.

Installing a 3.5 gallons per minute 14,600 restricted flow shower head, four 5-minute showers daily.

Installing aerators and/or flow restrictors on all faucets. 1,500

Washing only full loads of clothes, or adjusting water levels for partial 13,000 loads, saves about 250 gallons weekly.

Keeping cold drinking water in the refrigerator in a container saves 6,750 about 18 gallons per day.

Shaving and brushing teeth without leaving the water running, saves about 2,190 6 gallons per day.

Total Gallons Saved Per Year= 56,416 Total annual savings in cubic feet= 7,522

Savings based on typical City of Columbia Water and Sewer rates:

Water Sewer First 300 cubic feet $2.10 $1.18 Remaining 7,222 cubic feet $48.89 $56.42 $50.99 $57.60

TOTAL ANNUAL SAVINGS on water and sewer rates...............$108.59

This is not all of the money the average family could save practicing water conservation. There are additional, and greater, savings on the energy needed to heat water. There are also small savings on property taxes since water conservation extends the useful lives of water and sewage treatment facilities. And there is the added benefit of protecting the lakes and streams because the volume of treated wastewater being discharged into them is recharged.


This survey is designed to increase awareness of how you use water and show where you can eliminate wasteful use of water. In each section there is space for making notes on how you can conserve water in specific areas of your home.

NOTE: Save energy. When you measure faucet flow rates for this audit, only use cold water.


To Measure Rate of Flow:


1.Measure the depth of tub. Make small marks indicating levels where the tub would be 1/4, 1/3, , and 2/3 full.

2.Use this table to estimate the amount of water used for bathing.

          1/4-tub full = 10 gallons
          1/3-tub full = 15 gallons
          -tub full = 20 gallons
          2/3-tub full = 28 gallons 

3.Multiply the amount of water used by the number of baths your family takes each day:

The average person uses about 21 gallons of water daily for bathing or showering. Compare your water use to this average.

Can you reduce water use? Can you put a Water Flow Restrict or Low Flow Shower head on your shower? Can you spend less time showering? Can you use less water per bath? Other water conservation measures you can take:


A(gallons per flush)x B(amount displaced)= C(total gallons per flush)x D(total number of flushes) = E(total usage)

Can you reduce water use? Can you install a water displacement device? Can you install an adjustable Ballcock? Have you made sure your toilet isn't leaking? (see Water Conservation Tips) Other water conservation measures you can take:


Can you reduce water use? Estimate gallons saved per week by washing only full loads and/or using correct cycle and water level settings Other water conservation measures you can take:


Automatic Dishwasher

No matter the size of the load, dishwashers use 10.5-16 gallons of water to complete a full cycle, more if a pre-wash feature is selected.

Multiply your total number of loads per week, counting partial loads as full ones, (A) times and average 14.5 gallons per load.

A(loads per week)x(average gallons per week) = (total gallons per week) Can you reduce water use?

Estimate gallons saved per week by washing only full loads Other water conservation measures you can take:

Dishwashing by Hand

Faucet Water


Can you apply some of your ideas for conserving water indoors to your outdoor water use? List them here:


As we have shown throughout this booklet, South Carolina's water resources are limited. Our portion of the water in the earth's water cycle is all we will ever have.

In the last 30 years, South Carolina's population has increased, industry has expanded and farmers have turned to irrigation to increase yields and survive droughts. During this time, demands on this limited resource have increased by over 500 percent. Only intelligent, efficient management of our water resources will enable South Carolina to continue this rate of growth and its accompanying prosperity in the future.

South Carolina's legislators enacted a Water Use Reporting Act in 1982, requiring all large water users in the State to report how much water they use each year, and for what purpose, to the South Carolina Water Resources Commission. Also, the Drought Response Act of 1985, including enforceable restrictions on water use during severe droughts and other water emergencies, was implemented to help assure that water is conserved and managed in the best interest of South Carolinians. This legislation will help the South Carolina Resources Commission better manage South Carolina's water resource more wisely, avoid potential water shortage, and will assure that every citizen, corporate or private, has the water that is needed now and in the future.

We will continue to need legislation to support our statewide resources and management program. We also need the continued support of all South Carolinians in conserving water by installing appropriate water-saving devices and in taking other appropriate measures necessary to reduce water waste in their homes.

For South Carolina's water resources, the future is in the hand that turns the tap.


For more information on water conservation techniques, call or write:

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources