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Spin a wheel, save the Earth

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By Kelly LeVan

Keeping in line with PEEC’s Earth Day theme this year, Matt Dickens has many hot ideas for a cool county. But the county’s conservation officer plans to begin small – with a game of Eco-Jeopardy.Attendees of this year’s Earth Day celebration will have a chance to win any of several conservation-oriented devices, from CFL light bulbs and rain gauges to an ultra-low-flush toilet.Thanks to sometimes-simple technology, Dickens said these devices make it easy – they don’t require any major lifestyle changes, they save money and they help the planet to boot.“It’s important we work to reduce our anthropogenic influence on climate change,” Dickens said. “It’s important we do our part because we can.”Although he admitted the figures vary widely, Dickens said most of the numbers he sees suggest that naturally, the Earth would warm 1-2 degrees over the next 100 years. Because of humans, he said scientists up that prediction to about 9-11 degrees.It doesn’t have to be this way.Dickens said that because 50 percent of our utility consumption is based on waste, “reducing our carbon footprint requires nothing more than using the right amount of resources.”For instance, an average household uses about 5.2 tons of carbon each year, he said. Switching from incandescent light bulbs to CFL bulbs reduces that total by one-half to three-quarters of a ton. The bulbs, at $4 apiece, require a little investment, but translate not only into less carbon but also savings of $50-80 per year on a household’s electricity bill.Similarly, simply using a rain barrel like the one Dickens will give away this Earth Day might save a household 2,000-5,000 gallons of water per year – and all it requires is catching the rain and reusing it to water one’s garden. The barrel even has a screen on top to prevent large items from clogging its spigot.“I think a lucky resident is going to get a lot of water savings out of this puppy,” Dickens said.Other conservation-oriented items up for grabs during Eco-Jeopardy are equally straightforward.Shower timers, essentially five-minute hourglasses that suction onto a tile wall, can cut water usage dramatically, Dickens said, adding that the average shower length is about 10 minutes.By poking rain gauges into the soil, people can measure not only how much rain their yards have soaked up, but how much sprinkler water. Anything more than one-half inch will not benefit their gardens, Dickens said, because the water just runs off.Rain sensors for automatic sprinklers take only 10 minutes to install, he said, but make watering much more eco-sound. Without causing the timer to need to be reset, they stop the sprinkler when the groundwater reaches that critical one-half-inch mark, and allow it to return to its regular cycle when the soil dries.Dickens will also give away swivel aerators that fit most regular kitchen faucets, leak-detection kits and, for the grand prize, an ultra-low-flush toilet.“A lot of utility customers don’t understand that conservation is not about giving up comforts, but about enhancing quality of life – and having money in their pockets,” Dickens said.In addition to having a chance to win the above items, he said Earth Day celebrators will have an opportunity to have one-on-one discussions with Dickens if they want conservation tips or if they have ideas to share with him.They will also see images taken with Dickens’ infrared camera – the same camera he uses to detect heating system leaks in customers’ homes.Dickens added that because this is his first Earth Day with the county – and he only had a few months to work on it – “this will be small potatoes compared to next year.”