How to save water in the midst of a drought

How to save water in the midst of a drought

We launched Nebia’s first product during a once in a century drought in California. Six years later, here we are again.

These droughts have devastating consequences. Water politics and the use of water in the Western United States, as in many regions globally, are complicated issues. There is no magic bullet to solve the West’s water problems. However, individuals can take action to alleviate local water issues, especially in large urban centers, and this is an important part of the solution.

Droughts have devastating consequences 

We need to treat water like the life sustaining resource it is. Droughts are devastating to the environment, and to the people who live in drought-stricken regions. Water sustains us, grows our nourishment, and provides sanitation. When it becomes scarce, these basic human rights are in jeopardy. Extreme drought conditions, which now cover 85% of California and 55% of the Western US, cause widespread water shortages, poor air quality, wildlife death, and crippling fire seasons

Droughts are regional, and more and more regions are experiencing them. It’s important to understand the difficulties inherent to regional water scarcity. One state can be flush with water, while another is in extreme drought. It can also happen across counties in the same state. Water is not easily portable or producible, and building major waterways, desalination plants, or deeper wells, is costly, time intensive, and has a high environmental toll(1).

Water scarcity is a local issue. It affects you and your neighbors, and it means that part of the solution also must be local. 

In parallel, there is a shift towards urbanization, with people concentrating in cities. This has led to urban water sources and infrastructure supporting more people. Splitting water equitably is critical to a functioning city, and using water efficiently is part of the solution. 

To address droughts across regions we must push for systemic change in water use, protect water resources, invest in water infrastructure, and develop technology that allows regions to mitigate their effects. We need to look decades and centuries into the future, and be water protectors for future generations.

This requires large, structural changes - changes that often come from the top down. We need to work within politics and industry to confront and address water issues. Ensuring the next generation’s quality of life depends on it.

However, there are also bottom up changes that can be made. These are changes on an individual level, that in aggregate affect big change. 

Individuals can make a difference

There is a pervasive narrative that agriculture and other industries use so much water that it doesn’t matter what an individual does. That simply is not true.

Cape Town mitigated a devastating drought in 2018 in large part due to individual conservation. Residential water savings helped avert Day Zero in Cape Town, which would have seen water shut off and residents lining up for daily water rations.

Cape Town residents queue for water

In California’s last drought, individuals reduced water use by 30%, led primarily by exterior (lawn and pool) reductions (Over the past 15 years outdoor water use has steadily decreased, while indoor has stayed relatively steady). These conservation efforts helped avoid more drastic cuts to water use, like further rationing of residential water

As can be seen in Cape Town, and during California’s latest drought, individual changes can make a difference. This is especially true in large population centers, where the majority of water use is residential, like the SF/Bay Area and LA/Southern California.

These changes will also lead to monetary savings as water prices continue to increase. The average family spends $1,100 a year on water, and water costs are far outpacing inflation, rising 66% over the past decade.

Here are five major ways individuals can conserve water in the home:

  • Upgrade your showers to high efficiency models. Over 20% of indoor water use, and 39% of hot water, is used by showers. (more info below)
  • Reduce outdoor water use. Replace traditional landscaping for drought resistant species or optimize watering with automatic water systems like Rachio, reducing water use 30%+. Outdoor watering makes up 30% of total water use in the home.
  • Ensure you don’t have leaks. Leaks account for 13% of indoor residential water use. There are great devices that help monitor leaks, including.
  • Make sure your next toilet is high efficiency. Toilets use the most water in the home (24%). A Watersense certified toilet, or a system to reduce water, can save you up to 20%.
  • Upgrade your faucets to high-efficiency models. Faucets use 20% of water, and 34% of hot water in the home. Installing a watersense faucet can save up to 30%. 

Making these changes can mean the difference between lining up for water rations and living life as usual. 

Upgrading your shower is the fastest and most cost effective way to reduce your water use

Showers account for 20% indoor water use and 10% of energy in homes - Nebia by Moen Quattro saves up to 50% of water and takes 2 minutes to install.

This is the part where I plug Nebia, and the products we have spent years developing (and I will). But before I do, I just want to plug upgrading your shower in general. Maybe a Nebia is not for you for some reason. That’s okay. But if you are using an old shower head (pre-2018 is most likely 2.5 gallons per minute, and pre-1994 can be up to 10 gpm), you could be saving thousands of gallons a year, and a material amount of money, by upgrading. And it only takes a few minutes.

Effort and cost wise, there is no more efficient way to save water than upgrading your shower.

This is why we make showers. Developing technology that provides a better experience with less water is an easy way for individuals to have a positive impact without sacrificing a thing.

Our first three products were shower systems. The Nebia Shower Systems provided a 360 degree water experience, with extreme adjustability, and great water savings. To date, they have saved over 300 million gallons of water. However, they make up only a small percent of showers in use globally.

Quattro’s easy install and cost make it accessible in a way our first showers weren’t. Quattro, which just launched on Kickstarter, is a direct showerhead swap, with 4 modes that cover the range of shower experiences, while still offering best-in-class water savings (1.2-1.5 GPM (2)). And you can install it in 2 minutes.

The numbers are compelling:

  • Upgrading your shower to a Quattro, from a regular shower head, will save the average family of four 10,000 gallons per year. In many places, that translates to water and energy savings of over $300. 
  • If all of the US switched to Quattro, the US would reduce water use by 1.1 billion gallons per day (3).

Devastating droughts are becoming more frequent, and many regions are increasingly experiencing water scarcity. We need to treat water as a life sustaining resource. We need to push for systemic water policy that optimizes for decades and centuries, not months or years. And along the way, we need to do whatever we can as individuals to conserve water.

-Gabriel Parisi-Amon, Nebia CEO and Co-Founder


  1. Desalination has two major environmental tolls. First, it is incredibly energy intensive, and although one day we hope to be able to use 100% renewable energy, we are not anywhere close to that yet. Second, the wastewater from desalination contains heavy metals from the process, and a highly elevated salt content. This briney water affects the water ecosystem around desal plants, with ecological effects throughout the marine food chain. Creating water ways, and water storage, also comes with environmental effects. Damming a river, to produce a reservoir, or making new water ways, destroys ecological habitats, and depending on what land is being covered can release a fossil fuel burning amount of CO2 (offsetting for decades the environmental benefit of hydropower). 
  2. An average shower is between 8 and 10 minutes. Meaning at 2.5 gallons per minute a person would use 25 gallons, and at 10 gpm they would use 100 gallons. 
  3. US indoor residential water use is 13.6 billion gallons/day, and showers account for 20.5% of that.
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