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Conservation Confusion: Do You Know How to Save Water?

 There appears to be some confusion when it comes to water conservation. 

A new survey finds many people underestimate how much water they use in various daily activities. 

Study author Shahzeen Attari, assistant professor at Indiana University-Bloomington's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, says most people believe curtailing their use is the best strategy to save water - but efficiency measures are more effective. 

She says water is an essential but neglected resource and people need a better understanding of how to save it.

"We've experienced drought in the past two years and we need to know what actions are really impactful when it comes to decreasing our water use," she stresses. "That would be important, especially in a short-term or long-term drought."

According to the survey, a large percentage of people cited taking shorter showers, which Attari says does save water but may not be the most effective action. 

Very few participants cited replacing toilets or flushing less, even though toilets use the greatest daily water volume.

The survey found men and older people, and those who have a good understanding of numerical concepts, were more likely to have an accurate perception of water use. 

But Attari says most people have no idea of, for instance, how much water is needed to produce everyday foods.

"A lot of water actually went into growing the coffee beans that went into making my coffee," she points out.

"So how is it that people will adapt to the drought and climate change if we have no understanding about how much water goes into making our food?" 

Attari says the goal of the survey was to correct perceptions, and encourage people to adopt more effective efficiency measures to save water at home.

"If you have the money, install a low-flow flush toilet, install a water-efficient clothes washer," she says. "If you can, try to reduce the amount of time you spend in the shower. Only wash a full load of clothes, and then try to think about reducing the number of times you flush a toilet."

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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