Denise DersinEditor in Chiefddersin@hanleywood.com

Photos: Anje Jager/agencyrush.com

Denise Dersin Editor in Chief ddersin@hanleywood.com

You may have seen lately that actor Matt Damon and other celebrities have been publicizing an important cause—a global water shortage that now affects one out of every three people worldwide. The crisis has reached dire proportions in Africa, where Damon’s Water.org foundation has focused much of its attention. But few Americans realize that there is a water crisis in the U.S., as well.

According to the EPA, 36 states will experience water shortages by 2013, even under non-drought conditions. And a study by the National Resources Defense Council says that 14 of those states will face extreme shortages by 2050. But, that study says, no state will be completely unaffected. Counties in all 48 contiguous states are at risk.

Part of the reason we are running out of water is due to the country’s growth—our population doubled between 1950 and 2000. But during that same period, the demand for water more than tripled. Why? Our lifestyle has changed—more homes have dishwashers and clothes washers and we use them more often. While the average person in the U.K. uses 40 gallons of water a day and an average person in China uses 22 gallons, the average American family of four uses 400 gallons.

Think you don’t use that much? Research shows that by the time we leave the house in the morning for work—after showering, brushing teeth, making coffee, etc.—we’ve each already used more than 30 gallons. Here’s how daily usage breaks down: 70 percent of residential water use happens indoors, and 30 percent goes to outdoor activities, such as watering the lawn and washing the car. Indoor use further breaks down this way: toilets, 27 percent; clothes washers, 22 percent; showers, 17 percent; faucets, 16 percent; leaks, 14 percent; and other uses, about 5 percent.

We can all use a little less water in our homes. Simply turning off the water while you’re brushing your teeth can save up to eight gallons of water a day. But as home builders, you’re in a position to do much more. You’ve already made tremendous strides in your homes’ energy efficiency. Why not take one more step toward water efficiency? Decreasing residential usage can really make a difference. Nearly half (48 percent) of all metered water consumption is used by single-family homes.

The great thing about conserving water is that taking small steps reaps big rewards. The biggest benefits result from scale. Many homes using 15 percent less water produce more benefit than a few homes achieving net-zero usage. It’s not necessary to put composting toilets in your homes. Just by using efficient fixtures, you can cut graywater production to about 16 gallons per person per day.

Much of that graywater (water that goes down the drain from tubs and sinks) is a result of inefficient hot water delivery systems. Shorter plumbing runs from water heaters to points of use would make a huge difference. Hands-free fixtures keep water from continuing to run when it’s not needed. There are simple things that can be done outside, as well. Sprinkler controllers and rain sensors can keep overwatering to a minimum.

More information can be found at the EPA’s Watersense website. Much like Energy Star, Watersense is a voluntary partnership and labeling program. Since 2006, it has certified thousands of faucets, toilets, and showerheads, and 53 million of these products have been installed, saving 125 billion gallons of water and $2 billion in water bills.

If we learned one thing during the move to energy-efficient homes, it was that change was easier to accomplish if new products offer something better than the status quo. To that end, Watersense labeling requires that products must offer equal or superior performance while using 20 percent less water.

The best news is that many buyers are already on board. A J.D. Power survey showed reduced water use was No. 2 in consumers’ top five reasons to buy a green home. So, go for it. Let’s not let it become Hollywood’s next cause.

Write back to: ddersin@hanleywood.com