The Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service (Shaw Center) administers the Robert B. Menschel Public Service Award. This award was established to honor Robert Menschel and to perpetuate his commitment to the not-for-profit world by supporting undergraduate…
Water Our World
Everyone local knows we live in a rainy place. Some say, “This is where clouds go to die.” Some compare Syracuse to Seattle, that other rainy city on the other side of the country.
Despite the “April showers, May flowers” lore, springtime is a good time to think and act on conserving water. Don’t take our precious natural resource for granted.
In Onondaga County, we nestle among some of the most pristine and prodigious bodies of fresh water in the world—the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes. Nonetheless our geographic region is dry, compared to historical records. Persistently dry.
The Onondaga County Water Authority (OCWA), supplying water to customers in five counties—Cayuga, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga and Oswego—draws on three primary sources: Otisco Lake, the small, most eastern Finger Lake; Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes and a veritable inland freshwater sea; and Skaneateles Lake, said by some to be one of the cleanest lakes in the United States. One might get the sense that water couldn’t possibly be a worry. Read on.
Drought monitoring is a large-scale undertaking, requiring collaboration, of course, and coordination of terms and descriptions. “Abnormally dry,” the first stage of drought, is where Onondaga County and its surroundings stand now. Increasingly fraught conditions range to moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional drought.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and associated agencies collect regional drought data and host a dashboard for quick access. NOAA’s Northeast Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) covers New York and the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Northeast DEWS describes the region as having “historic drought conditions not seen since the 1960s” even though we don’t ordinarily associate drought with the northeastern U.S.
We can’t make it rain but can we stop a drip at home? Try some of these steps and see.
- Check your household water systems for leaks. A dripping faucet or running toilet can spend a lot of water.
- Check in on your water meter to get an idea of how much water you’re currently using.
- Take a shorter shower, aim for five minutes at the most. Consider installing shower heads that save water. Think about a bath instead.
- Low-flow aerators on your faucets are a good idea and easy to install.
- If your toilet has a water-saving flush option such as dual-flush, use it.
Inside your house
- When preparing meals, rinse fruits or vegetables in a bowl of water, not under a running faucet.
- For clean-up after meals, run your dishwasher with full loads. Still washing dishes by hand? Once the dishes are clean, rinse them all at once with a sprayer or a pan of rinse water.
- Use your kitchen sink garbage disposal sparingly. If you can, use a compost bin instead.
- Use your washing machine with full loads instead of small loads.
New improved habits
- Turn off the water faucet while brushing your teeth.
- Don’t run the faucet when washing your hands. Wet your hands, turn off the water. Soap up, scrub, then rinse.
- Keep a container of drinking water in the refrigerator for cold water to drink. If you don’t finish a glass of water, don’t throw away the excess. Save it for later or put it to good use: share the extra with houseplants.
- There are several good ways to reuse pasta cooking water! Broth for soup, liquid in breadmaking or other recipes, watering plants if it’s not salted water. You can use pasta water to adjust the thickness of sauces…get creative!
Out of doors
- Water your lawn, if you must, but not on an automated schedule, just when needed. Best practice would be watering in the early morning while it’s still cool. You can also adjust your lawn mower to a taller cutting height.
- Mulch your outdoor plants and trees to conserve water.
- Wash your car using a bucket and sponge. Only use the hose when rinsing.
- Clean off sidewalks or driveways with a broom instead of a hose.
- Catch and reuse rainwater if you can, for watering outdoor plants, but beware of growing the neighborhood’s next crop of mosquitoes!
- Consider planting a rain garden to catch runoff after storms.
If enough of us take enough of these steps seriously, our grassroots efforts to conserve water could yield both results and resilience.