We in California are facing a severe state-wide drought. It is such an enormous problem that sometimes I feel powerless against it. But there are things everyone can do-small things that will result in big savings–to get through this drought together. The drought is such an important issue that every Californian, if not passionate about saving water, should at least be aware. We talk about saving water at home so that even Isobel, at five years old, knows the importance of saving water. She’ll turn off the water while brushing her teeth and say, “save water for the farmers.” Here are some small, everyday tips that can help make a big impact in water conservation.
1. Reuse plates, glasses, and napkins – Since I stay at home with the kids all day we eat most of our meals here, plus snacks. I really get a sense of how many dishes we go through in a single day, because I’m the one who has to wash them. I make a habit of reusing things when I can to run my dishwasher, an appliance that uses a lot of water, less often. For example, I’ll chose one cup and use that throughout the day, rinsing it out as needed to refill with whatever I want to drink. Or a plate that has only had a piece of toast on it during breakfast can be brushed off and used again for a sandwich at lunchtime. We use cloth napkins at home which are great for conserving paper towels, napkins, and money, but can become a strain on the environment due to washing. Most days we’ll each get a napkin at the start of the day and use it throughout. If it gets overly soiled we’ll switch to a new one, of course, just as some dishes aren’t worth reusing without considerable washing anyway, but choosing to reuse when I can saves more than if I hadn’t.
2. Save & bathe – There is more than one way to save while bathing. One way to save is… don’t. I don’t perspire all that much, nor am I well enough to work out every day. I don’t need to shower every day, so I usually skip and do it every other day. This isn’t a tip for everyone, of course. Even if he doesn’t work out my husband needs to shower every day to maintain his basic hygiene. I’m not suggesting we all stop bathing or lower our standards of cleanliness. Just that if it isn’t necessary for you to bathe daily, skip a day. I used to bathe Isobel every day but she developed chronic eczema. Her pediatrician suggested no more than 3 or 4 baths a week and it cleared right up. Then there’s the matter of shorter showers, or turning the water off while soaping up, and turning it on again to rinse. When I do shower I only wash my hair every three days as I have nearly waist-length hair and washing it takes a long time. Another way to save water is to bathe with a friend. When Elias is old enough I’ll bathe the kids together, and there’s always bathing with your partner.
3. Reuse grey water – this is my favorite tip because I am so surprised with the results. I can water half my potted plants with just one dishpan full of water! If I use a bucket to collect the water I leave running to warm up for the shower, I can water all my roses! A pot of pasta satisfies my jade plants! This is the first time I’ve made a dedicated effort to reuse all my grey water and it’s fun to see how much water I can actually save. Since I’m reusing it myself I can directly see the effects of the water I’m saving. It’s become almost like a game. If you reuse any water from the stove, however, make sure it cools to room temperature before using to prevent shock and damage to your plants.
4. Go with the low-flow - I know this one can be kind of a pain. Low-flow shower heads have a bad rap for being, well, kind of crappy. But there are good ones out there that do the job without leaving the bather feeling the pinch, or the sting, of high-pressure jets of water. There are also options for a low-flow toilets, which we were lucky enough to have already installed in the house we live in. There are also ways of creating your own low-flow toilet by adding water bottles to the toilet tank. And there’s always the sacred California motto: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
5. Large loads – This is a great tip because it doesn’t require a whole lot of effort. All that’s involved is making sure your loads of laundry and dishes are as large as possible before starting. This way we get the most bang for our water buck. This isn’t just a helpful metaphor, either. Many of us in California are already on water meters and are charged for every drop, regardless of whether we use it well or not. Running large loads in the dishwasher and washing machine makes good conservation and money sense.
6. Water plants efficiently – Using grey water is fantastic, but there’s more you can do in your yard to save water. California recently passed a law to fine all water wasters in the state, but despite this many rental agreements and homeowner’s associations impose fines if renters and owners don’t water. It’s an infuriating catch-22. Watering efficiently can help with both goals. Drip irrigation is very efficient and inexpensive, and up-front costs are paid back many times over in savings on your water bill. The time of day you water your plants makes a huge difference in savings, too. Water before 10 am and after 6 pm. Watering during the hottest part of the day is extremely wasteful as much of the water evaporates into the hot, dry air before it can be absorbed by plants or the ground. For potted plants, and plants where drip irrigation isn’t possible, you can fill two liter bottles with water and prick them all over with tiny holes for a simple and cheap form of drip irrigation. My mom has been doing this for ages and sometimes uses frozen water bottles so the plants are watered even more slowly as the water melts.
7. Fix leaks & be mindful – This tip all boils down to cutting out waste. Leaking faucets and pipes can waste a staggering amount of water and sometimes all that’s required is a little tightening. Another way to cut waste is to just be mindful of your water use. Is rinsing out the sink really required, or can you wipe it up with a rag and use a quick spray of water instead? How full do you really need your bath? Are there smarter plant choices you can make for your flowerbed this year? Small things really add up and better choices can ensure we get through this drought together.