Saturday, August 14, 2010

Water Play

I still have nothing to report one way or another, so I thought I'd share some things that I've been doing or thinking about doing (and a couple of things I would never do) to conserve water.

Water.  The only thing more necessary for human survival is air.  You can live for weeks without food or nourishment, but you'll die in days if you don't get clean, fresh water.

Living in Southern California is wonderful.  It is truly like paradise to me.  I was born here and raised here and I'd be happy to never live anywhere else.  The only downside in my opinion is that we are darn near as dry as a desert and we are sometimes (not always) faced with the threat of a water shortage.  The upside is that it's pretty easy to conserve water.  That said, water conservation should be the number one environmental effort of every resident.

My community has had water restriction for about a year now.  We are not allowed to water our yards, use sprinklers, or wash our vehicles from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm each day.  I think we also have certain days that we're allowed to water our landscaping, but I haven't really paid much attention to that part of the restriction so I can't say for certain. 

I thought I'd share the things that I'm doing, thinking of doing, or never going to do in an effort to make the best use of water.

- Water your landscaping in the early morning hours.  Watering your lawn at 2:00 in the afternoon is going to result in an awful lot of evaporation and that means that your watering isn't the most efficient so, as annoying as the outdoor water use restriction is, I have to admit that it makes some sense.  We don't have sprinklers in the front yard (sigh), but we have the backyard sprinklers set to run for about 12 minutes at 4:00 am.  Why do we water so early rather than late at night?  Mainly because of that evaporative effect you get under the heat of the sun.  The evaporation that makes mid-day watering so stupid also makes early morning watering very smart.  Watering early allows for healthy root soaking and the evaporation that occurs as the day progresses prevents excessive water from sitting and wrecking your grass.  If you water at night, you will not get much evaporation and your lawn will likely end up oversoaked.  Being very wet is good for some things, but not for grass.

- Consider planting water-sipping landscaping.  Cacti and native plants make efficient use of water and make great sense in dry climates.  You can also eschew plants altogether and go with a rockscape.  I wouldn't recommend going this route if you have kids though.

- Consider installing synthetic grass.  I know this is a sacrilege to fescue fanatics, but it really isn't as bad as it seems.  The upside to it is that it doesn't require any water.  The downside is that it still does require some maintenance.

- Fix leaks in your plumbing.  And, if you can't or don't fix the leaks, get creative with that wasted water.  About a year ago, we paid someone a couple hundred bucks to give us a temporary fix on a dripping shower head.  I'm glad that the temporary fix lasted almost a year, but now I have a shower head that drips one drop every ten seconds.  I have a four-gallon bucket (well, it's actually an empty laundry soap container) under the shower head.  This doesn't solve the leak, but it prevents the water from being wasted.

- Do something useful with four-gallon empty laundry soap containers full of water.  Thanks to our gardeners taking out our one apricot tree, we are left with six citrus trees in our front yard.  As I mentioned earlier, we don't have sprinklers in our front yard.  We also don't have a working garden hose, but that's another subject.  I use the empty laundry soap container of shower-head drippings to water all of our citrus trees each day.

- Don't waste the initial cold water when filling a warm bathtub.  My son bathes in a regular bathtub now and I plug the tub before I even start running the water.  I do this because the cold water that initially begins filling the tub isn't noticeable at all after the tub has been filled with warm water.  So I don't waste that water and, as a bonus, the bathtub fills up faster.

- Be toilet smart.  Remember the old hippie adage:  If it's yellow, let it mellow.  If it's brown, flush it down.  Of course, I can't recommend doing this if you have kids or pets.  If smelly hippie toilet practices don't appeal (and, really, who can blame you if it doesn't), install low-flow toilets.  These designs have improved dramatically over the years and it no longer requires multiple flushes to send away one square of toilet paper.

- Be shower smart.  Is a 30 minute shower (or longer!) really necessary to get clean?  Not unless you're like 400 pounds.  A normal sized person can hit their entire body in about five minutes.  Add ten minutes if you have hair to wash or legs to shave.

- Speaking of hair. . .You really don't need to wash it every single day.  Washing it every other day would save thousands of gallons of water each year.

- Do not allow the faucet to run while you're brushing your teeth.  This seems like a no-brainer to me since it was drilled in my head when I was in elementary school, but perhaps this is something new to someone reading this post.

- Let the universe wash your car.  Yes, I do tend to do this.  I know that not washing your car isn't for everyone, but skipping a weekly wash isn't going to make your car fall apart.  At least try only washing the car every other week and you won't likely notice a real big difference.

- Consider a rain barrel.  I'm on the fence about this one.  It doesn't rain here often, but when it does I think it would be awesome to somehow save that "free" water falling from the sky and use it to water our landscaping at a later (drier) date.  My primary concern about rain barrels is making sure that they don't become a breeding ground for parasites, algae, and mosquitoes.  I'm sure that there are some smart designs out there, but I guess I just don't care enough to flex my Google-Fu and find out.

- Let your dishwasher actually wash your dishes.  If you are a Baby Boomer or older, this will be tough for you to try.  Heck, it's tough for me as the child of a Baby Boomer because growing up it was expected that you do a non-soap washing in the sink prior to loading the dishwasher.  Seriously though, all that you really need to do prior to loading dishes into the dishwasher is knock off all actual food.  That's it.  You don't need to do a rinse or, worse, an actual washing.  The dishwasher and dishwasher detergent can easily handle the job they are designed to do.  I'll admit again that I have trouble with this, but I've always been pleasantly surprised with the results when I just put "dirty" dishes in the dishwasher.

- If you insist on not trusting your newfangled kitchen appliance (the dishwasher), at least try to avoid water waste while doing part of it's job.  Instead of letting your faucet run while doing your pre-rinse or pre-wash, you can partially fill your sink with water and save a lot of wasted water.

- Set your washing machine to fill for the appropriate size for the load.  Don't set a small load to wash as an extra-large.  Unless you add too much soap (and I've probably covered this in another post), there is no reason to set the machine on a higher load setting.  The one exception to this is when washing cloth diapers.  I generally had medium-large loads of diapers, but I always set it to wash as extra-large to ensure that all soap was rinsed out.

This was just a quick & dirty post and I'm sure that I've missed a lot of great ways to conserve water.  Please share your water conservation tips!

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