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60-Second Science

American Water Knowledge Seems Murky

A survey finds that Americans don’t have a good handle on what common activities use the most water. Cynthia Graber reports 

 

The drought is big news in California. But California’s not alone—climate change will exacerbate water issues.

So what should we do to save water? Turns out that most of us don’t really know, according to research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Shahzeen Z. Attari, Perceptions of water use]

Shahzeen Attari at Indiana University surveyed more than 1,000 Americans online. Respondents were first asked what they could do to conserve the most water.

The vast majority chose curtailing an activity, such as taking a shorter shower. They didn’t give much weight to efficiency measures that involve changing the devices themselves. Such as retrofitting a toilet—which is in fact the most significant water-saving change the average person can make.

Participants also tended to underestimate the water required for activities such as car washing or washing clothes. For instance, the average guess was that a standard washing machine uses 14 gallons of water—it actually uses about 34.

These results indicate that Americans don’t have a good handle on where they use the most water. Such awareness is critical today in California, but is likely to become important for many other regions in the not-too-distant future.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
 

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