A recent article by a UC Irvine researcher argues that more of the water that normally runs off into storm drains should be repurposed and used to water plants and flush toilets.
Lead author Stanley Grant said so-called graywater and wastewater from washing dishes or showering, and rainwater that normally runs into storm drains, can be used at times when using water of drinkable quality is not required.
Reusing graywater can reduce a household's water consumption — and its bill — by 50% or more, he said.
When Melbourne, Australia, began experiencing a years-long drought, water reserves quickly diminished.
Residents monitored the water supply the way many people check the weather, and the city's water reserve level appeared on the front pages of newspapers, Grant said. As of Thursday morning, Melbourne had 74.9% of its water storage, according to a government website.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," he said. "They had no more water."
Residents quickly built rainwater tanks, connecting them to their toilets to combat the shortage.
Eventually, neighbors began competing to see who could build the largest rainwater tank, Grant said.
There are other places striving to conserve as well, including Israel, which reuses a tremendous amount of its wastewater for agricultural purposes, he said.
The system in Windhoek, Namibia, is one of the longest-running programs in the world, according to Grant's article, which was published in a recent issue of the journal Science. The southern Africa capital city has recycled wastewater since the late 1960s, with no obvious adverse health effects.
Graywater is in wide use in the United States. Public parks and greenbelts are often doused with the reclaimed water.
Water conservation suggestions from the Irvine Ranch Water District, which include incentives for removing grass and planting water-efficient plants, are also good examples of changes people can make to save water.
The district also implemented a tiered rate system in 1991, which was spurred by that year's droughts, according to water efficiency supervisor Amy McNulty.
The district kept the program to encourage residents to save, and it puts money generated from one of the higher tiers into conservation programs, she said.
"Conservation is something that is more of an ethic, so it's not something we turn on and off during a drought," McNulty said. "It's kind of a backbone."
Locally, the Mesa Consolidated Water District, which serves Costa Mesa, parts of Newport Beach, John Wayne Airport and the Orange County Fairgrounds, provides rebates for smart irrigation and makes house calls for those interested in saving water around their home, according to Communications Manager Stacy Taylor.
It also boasts one of the highest rates of consumer water conservation in the county, she said.
"As part of the district's mission, [Mesa Water] supports developing local and reliable sources of water, including groundwater treatment, recycled water and conservation," Taylor said. "Becoming more efficient with how we use water today is a key component to maintaining a reliable water supply for tomorrow."