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Five Ways to Save Water in a Drought Year

Geology, astronomy, Earth and weather sciences have always fascinated this author.

Dry, cracked soil is but one problem in a drought.

Dry, cracked soil is but one problem in a drought.

Not the “D” Word!

In 2014, California, and much of the western part of the United States had only recently recovered from a severe drought situation that lasted for 4 years!

Daily, on television, on the internet, and in print media, we were bombarded with the need to save water. Public agencies constantly harped 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.

What Penalties?

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.

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 five things folks may not have thought to try.

Water drained from washing machines can be used on plants

Water drained from washing machines can be used on plants

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)

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What Is Gray Water?

Gray water is found coming from sinks, tubs, showers, 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.

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 just 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 collected water can then be used to water plants, or it can be put into gallon jugs to freeze and save for emergency use.

Waiting for the water to get hot can waste many gallons

Waiting for the water to get hot can waste many gallons

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.

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. Please.

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.

5. Washing Your Vehicle(s)

TV public service announcements (PSAs) will focus on not letting the water run down the sidewalk and gutter by leaving the hose running while the vehicle gets soaped up.

Much like the famous "navy shower" for people—wet down, turn off water, soap up, turn on water & rinse, turn off water and done—is how your car should be washed.

Wash early in the morning or as late in the evening as daylight will allow, not during the heat of the day, so you don't have a problem with soap film drying on the car. That will cause you to use more water to rinse it off.

Better yet, take your car to a commercial automated car wash. The water there is recycled through filters, and does not run off down the street or into the sewer system. Yes, it will cost more than doing it yourself, but it will be less expensive than paying a fine, and certainly less inconvenient than having a restrictor placed on your water meter.

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 continue to experience drought conditions, and we must deal with this by whatever means we can think up to conserve our precious water resources.

As of late summer of 2015, the forecasters predicted a very strong "El Nino" effect developing along the eastern Pacific near South America. They expected it to work its way north, and cause a much wetter winter than usual.

Even rain to the point of causing flooding of local creeks and rivers is not enough to erase the shortage caused by four years of drought, so conservation remains important.


Since this article was originally written, we did have a good winter in 2015, with slightly above average rainfall. However, it was not enough to erase 4 years of deficit, so conservation remained a vital practice.

Further Update

As of May 2021, California has continued to see drought conditions, and the 2020 wildfire season was horrific, resulting in the governor declaring a state of emergency. The continuing dry weather contributed greatly to this problem.

As we transition into summer, our rainy season is closing, and there is no doubt that continuing or new restrictions will be imposed.

© 2014 Liz Elias


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 27, 2018:

Thank you very much, Venkatachari M; I am glad you found this article useful, and I appreciate folks such as yourself who are on board with helping to conserve our precious resources.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on January 27, 2018:

It's a very useful and important message providing nice tips for the water conservation. I also often canvas for saving our resources whenever it is possible by adopting suitable practices.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on June 23, 2015:

Hello, Chriswillman90 --

Sadly, you are correct; things have not gotten better at all. In fact, they've gotten worse!

Many thanks for your comments, well-wishes and vote!

Krzysztof Willman from Parlin, New Jersey on June 23, 2015:

Since you wrote this things obviously haven't gotten much better. Luckily the wet May helped but it's still just a trickle for parts of the west and southwest US. I've been following this drought for a long time from afar, NJ, but I know how difficult things must be. Thanks for writing about this because more people need to be informed about water usage and preservation. Voted up.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on June 16, 2015:

Hello, poetryman6969--

Thanks very much for the vote; I'm glad you liked this article. I agree with you; I have been saying for years that So. CA needs to explore desalinization with great urgency. The technology already exists--it's not as if it has yet to be invented!

You raise excellent points as well, about agricultural runoff.

poetryman6969 on June 16, 2015:

Voted up!

Given that I have just moved to southern California I regard your information as timely and useful.

The drought will never end because some of us live in a desert.

In the long run we can get all the water we would ever need from the ocean. We can even get it will a low carbon foot print by using solar stills and saltwater greenhouses to desalinate the water. The sun can help us desalinate all the water we would ever need.

As some point out, the time for the politicians to embark upon the aggressive ground water management projects to mitigate the drought was 40 years ago. As long as rain runoff is going the Pacific ocean, you know the politicians have not yet done what they need to do. They need to build more reservoirs and to direct runoff to recharge aquifers. You might say we can no longer afford to spurn the gift of free water from the skies. Also, agricultural runoff and residential waste water and runoff cannot be allowed to escape either. All that water must be reused.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on November 07, 2014:

Hello, MizBejabbers,

Oh, that sounds dreadful! We don't have an 'on-demand' water heater; just a regular one. (Which we had to replace just the past week, as the old one blew out!)