A thirsty burglar or a dripping faucet? Either way you may be losing precious resources

Since 2013, when our most recent series of droughts began, Sonoma and Mendocino County residents have become experts at water conservation. But even pros can learn new tricks, so today’s column will focus on one of the easiest and most effective ways that you can save water: fixing leaks.

Let’s start with a quick quiz to test your leak-ability.

The average U.S. home wastes how many gallons of water annually due to leaks?
a) 365 gallons
b) 2,000 gallons
c) 10,000 gallons

10 percent of U.S. homes are super-leakers, wasting how much water daily?
a) 25 gallons
b) 50 gallons
c) 90 gallons

For a family of four, ____ of water used during colder months (January or February) is an indication that there are serious leaks.
a) 10,000 gallons a month
b) 20,000 gallons a month
c) 50,000 gallons a month

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the answers are (1) c; (2) c; and (3) a. In fact, the EPA estimates that nationwide, more than 1 trillion gallons of water are wasted annually through leaks. That’s enough water to fill Lake Sonoma more than eight times.

While drought-conscious Californians shudder at the thought of such a precious resource literally going down the drain, leaks create other issues.  Water leaking from a faucet inside the home usually goes down a drain into sewer or septic systems, but a leaking pipe or connection fitting can cause interior damage. Water leaking outside the home can weaken foundations and hardscaping over time. Larger leaks can lead to higher water and sewer bills.

The problem is so acute that the EPA has designated March 14 through March 20 “Fix a Leak Week.” Locally, the Sonoma Marin Water Saving Partnership, and cities and water districts throughout the region provide helpful information on how to detect leaks by using your water meter and – for some cities – water-smart apps that allow you to see water use hour-by-hour. Hint: If you are using 10 gallons of water at 2 a.m. when no one is home, you either have a thirsty burglar or a large leak.

While your utility bill and water meter are great starting points, everyone (including rural residents who rely on wells) can check for leaks by listening for dripping faucets and for toilets that refill without being flushed, and by doing a simple toilet dye test (dye tabs are available for free at most city water departments and can be inexpensively purchased at hardware stores). Don’t forget to check garage and laundry room sinks and washing machine fittings. Outdoor leaks can sometimes be more difficult to detect but have the potential to save large amounts of water (and money) when fixed. Take advantage of the spring weather to check and repair irrigation systems.

If you have children at home, engage them in a game of leak detective. Their great ears and eyes often find leaks that adults miss. The EPA website, epa.gov/watersense/fix-leak-week, includes tips, links to how-to videos, and resources for kids. Take a look – and then fix a leak.

This article was authored by Ann DuBay, Sonoma Water, on behalf of RRWA. RRWA is an association of local public agencies in the Russian River Watershed that have come together to coordinate regional programs for clean water, habitat restoration, and watershed enhancement.