Four Ways to Save Water in a Drought Year
Not the “D” Word!
Yes, California, and much of the western part of the United States only recently recovered from a severe drought situation that lasted for 4 years!
Daily, on television, on the internet, and in print media, we are bombarded with the need to save water. Public agencies constantly harp on the need to cut back drastically on water use, often backed up by the threat of penalties for failure to conserve.
The image of dry, parched soil is only one of the problems associated with a drought. Other issues are related, but less visible, and can impact us all in most uncomfortable ways.
For most people, there will be an escalating increase in water rates paid if they exceed the mandatory cut-back restrictions. Depending upon the area of the state, and the source of water provided by the local water company, those cut-backs can range from 10% to 20% of prior usage.
Those who insist on flouting the requirements may also be hit with a fine. As a final measure, some districts may install a restrictor device at the water meter.
What About Farmers?
Not even farmers are exempt. Many obtain water from the canal system, and that, too, is metered. Failure to meet the reduction in use may mean their access gets terminated, and that, of course, leads to crop failure, costing them big time. In any case, even if they voluntarily let fields lie fallow to meet the restrictions, it will affect food crops, and ultimately, the price we pay at the store.
Those who have their own wells on their property may be somewhat better off, but in some cases, even the wells have failed.
Where Do You Fit In?
Have you ever had to deal with drought conditions?
So What Can We Do?
There are so many, many familiar messages “out there,” ranging from not leaving the water running while brushing teeth or washing dishes, to suggestions of limiting toilet flushes, that an article is hardly necessary to point out those easily done things.
These particular items are repeated so often that they become more like background noise, and while some statistics show some voluntary conservation, many people may remain unconvinced.
Here is list of four things folks may not have thought to try.
1. Recycle “gray” water from the washing machine
This is safe to use on landscaping. In fact, depending upon the relative locations of your washer and your yard, it may be possible to hook up a garden hose directly to the washer, and route it right outside into the planting area.
Just be sure that the hose is first looped upwards, and held there on a hook of some kind, to avoid constant draining of the washer by gravity. You only want the water to exit when the machine’s pump is in action. (However, be careful that the hose is gently looped; you don’t want it kinked)
What is Gray Water?
Gray water is found coming from sinks, tubs, and washing machines. It is safe to use on plants, and can be safely handled as well.
Black water, on the other hand, is a definite health hazard, and you don't want to try to re-use it or touch it. The toilet is the most common source of black water.
The difference is why boats have two separate systems; (explained in my article about plumbing aboard a boat) the gray water is drained overboard, while there is a holding tank to contain the black water, and that must be pumped out periodically.
Note that if you are washing loads of diapers, or clothes and bedding from an incontinent person, those items render the water exiting the machine as 'black water,' which should not be recycled. Let it go down the drain in the normal way.
As a side note, be aware that front-loading machines use less water per load than top-loaders. Also, the newer 'high-efficiency' machines are designed to use both less water and less detergent. If you are in the market (or soon will be) for a new washing machine, consider both of these points.
2. Keep a large pot or bucket in the kitchen and bathroom
Use it to collect water while you wait for the hot water to arrive.
You would be surprised how many gallons of water are flushed down the drain each day in just the simple thing of waiting for the water to get hot.
Every time someone stands at the sink waiting for hot water, or at the tub preparing a bath, gallons and gallons are running wasted down the drain.
This water can then be used to water plants, or it can be put into gallon jugs to freeze and save for emergency use.
3. Water in the evening, or very early morning.
By doing this, you give the most benefit to the plants, as there is less evaporation. In fact, most plants ‘wake up’ in the morning, so that is the best time to water, but if not possible, then early evening will do.
If possible, use drip irrigation or soaker hoses for border plants, and sprinklers on a timer for lawns.
As a cautionary note, keep an eye on the condition of soaker hoses. They can develop "blowouts," resulting in wasted water. This is most likely to happen in areas subjected to high summer heat or freezing winters. They should be replaced every couple of years as a precaution.
Installing Drip Irrigation
What About Lawns?
Green grass is a fairly standard planting for both front and back yards throughout the USA. It is almost expected. Grass is a double-edged plant, however, both literally and figuratively. These green blades that look so pretty take a lot of work, and quite a bit of water to maintain.
The plus side is the cooling effect of the nice expanse of grass on a scorching hot summer's day. The down side is all that water and work.
In some areas, people are actually encouraged to stop watering their lawns and let them die. It's sad, as it gives a blighted look to the neighborhood, but, in the long run, it is more important to conserve our natural resources.
4. Don’t Buy Bottled Water.
Don’t double-use water by purchasing it in disposable containers when you already pay for water to arrive at your home taps.
If your tap water at home is so vile that even double filtering with water softeners and reverse-osmosis filtration doesn’t make it drinkable, you might then be excused from purchasing outside water. In that case, though, consider a water delivery service, instead of wasteful, single-use plastic bottles.
If there is only a minimal ‘off’ taste to your water, you might want to look into buying a filtration system of some kind, whether for the whole house, or just a portable pitcher type.
Obviously, if you rent your home, the portable pitcher is your only option, unless you have a really awesome landlord. Most, however, are not into any sort of improvements unless failure to do so will cost them more money.
Where Do You Stand?
Do you conserve water?
When Will the Drought End?
No one can say.
Some point to overall climate change, sometimes referred to as Global Warming, as an irreversible trend. Some say it's just a recurring cycle.
Whether or not you believe that the climate change is accelerating due to the industrial and agricultural practices of modern society does not matter.
The fact remains that we are experiencing this drought condition here and now, and must be dealt with by whatever means we can think up to conserve our precious water resources.
As of late summer of 2015, the forecasters are predicting a very strong "El Nino" effect developing along the eastern Pacific near South America. They expect it will work its way north, and cause a much wetter winter than usual.
Even if it rains to the point of causing flooding of local creeks and rivers, it will not be enough to erase the shortage of the past four years, so conservation remains important.
Since this article was originally written, we did have a good winter with slightly above average rainfall. However, it was not enough to erase 4 years of deficit, so conservation is still a vital practice.
© 2014 Liz Elias