Parts of the U.S. has been engulfed in a substantial drought for the last few years, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The situation has gotten so bad that some areas in California have a two-year deficit in average rainfall amount recorded. With water availability becoming an increasingly important issue, water conservation has become a hot topic among American homeowners and builders. If you want to make a difference in the availability of clean water, as well as save money on monthly water bills, there are many simple projects that can help achieve this goal.

Simple changes

The best way to save water is not just about using less, but being smart about its use. National Geographic compiled a list of water-saving behaviors that are effective at reducing overall use in any household. These include taking shorter showers, doing laundry less frequently and watering lawns in the morning or night to optimize water absorption. Leaky faucets or pipes can create a slow but significant waste of water. Identify these leaks and fix them as soon as possible. A home inspection may be able to spot any hidden water issues, as well as certify that it is safe to drink and use. Simply being conscious of your family's water usage is a great first step toward saving. Keep your old water bills around and aim to reduce the number by a little bit each month.

Go with the flow

While being mindful of water use is a good habit to get into, there are several ways to reduce water consumption without changing your behavior at all. suggested purchasing low-flow faucets to cut back on water use by limiting the amount of water that actually comes out of your sink. Low-flow shower heads can also be installed, which National Geographic said can save15 gallons of water in the course of a 10-minute shower. Just about any appliance that uses water can be upgraded to a water-saving version, but in some cases you can do your own retrofitting. A typical toilet can be modified to fill with less water by simply placing a brick or another large nonbuoyant object in the tank. This will "trick" the toilet into using less water with each flush.

Build or buy a rain barrel

Outdoor irrigation and gardening accounts for as much as 60 percent of household water consumption. Rather than simply letting your garden wither away in the name of saving the environment, you can save rainwater and make a serious dent in the amount of water you use for these activities. It can also save a decent amount of money. Rain barrels are becoming a common sight in backyards around the country, thanks in part to local programs that distribute them for free. If that's not the case, you can still easily and cheaply construct your own rain collection system. This makes for a great outdoor project that kids can get involved in, too.

Cornell University created an easy guide to making your own rain barrels using recycled food-grade container. Depending on what type of downspout system you have, the barrel can be designed to connect directly to drainage from the roof, or simply collect rain as it falls naturally. Two holes must be drilled to provide an outlet at the bottom, as well as an overflow valve. This overflow can be connected to another adjacent barrel to maximize collection in heavy rain.

After following the instructions in the guide, you now have an environmentally friendly source of water for gardening or washing your car. You can connect the outlet valve to a soaker hose and run it around your lawn or garden to provide a slow release of water continuously. Make sure not to consume the water or give it to pets, as it is not safe to drink without proper filtration. Enjoy your garden and lawn even more knowing that with a rain barrel, you're making a difference, one drop at a time.