Reading the New York times recently I was struck by an article about the extreme drought in California and how that is impacting agriculture. One consequence is that farmers are switching to dairy herds from crops since cows allegedly consume less water per day – that is less than it takes to grow a circle of corn. I’m amazed that crops are so water intensive and dismayed that many others may follow this practice as animal herds are more energy intensive and polluting than crops. So while this solution makes sense in the near term it may be complicating our ability to truly solve our climate related problems. What’s a suburbanite to do as our once abundant access to potable water seems to be disappearing and leaving us in the same lurch as many developing nations around the world?
I deal with stressful news by taking action. Can I make it rain in California tomorrow? No. But I can start conserving water in my home to mitigate the burden my family is contributing to the global water crisis. This reminds me a bit of my grandmother encouraging me to eat everything on my plate because “there are starving children in Africa”. As an adult I finally see the link between my plate and someone else’s starvation. No I can’t package my leftovers for Africa, but my practices and awareness will affect others and the incremental reach of that can have enormous consequences in the world. Besides, when the water in the world is slowly becoming un-potable and inaccessible can I really enjoy my lush green lawn in good conscience?
Here a few quick tips on water conservation strategies for your home to get you thinking in the right direction:
1. Change your mindset. Most municipalities charge only a small fee for water delivery to the home. If you are among those lucky few consider what it’s like to live in an area like Santa Fe, New Mexico, where water is scarce and fees are high. This may be the future for all of us in the U.S. if global climate predictions are accurate. Start conserving now. Imagine that with every trip to the toilet you are flushing dollar bills down the drain or sprinkling your lawn with coins. If that were the case you’d be more likely to reign in your water use, right?
2. Keep a pitcher next to the sink. Next time the glasses come to the sink for washing with leftover water in them pour the surplus into the pitcher. If you’re anything like my family you will have a full pitcher in no time. Your air-purifying houseplants will be thrilled with that water and the kids will love keeping track of how much water you are saving. We’ve used clear pitchers in the past and dry erase markers to track the daily level. It’s an oddly satisfying ritual for a kindergartener.
3. Resuse plastic single serving water bottles in your toilet tanks. Single serving water bottles are expensive and bad for the environment while providing water that is often more contaminated than your tap water. Did you know there have been over 300 contaminants identified in bottled water that aren’t even regulated yet? Better to repurpose those empty bottles by filling them from your surplus pitcher, capping them and submerging them in your toilet tank where they will take up space and reduce the amount of water that your toilet uses per flush. No more flushing dollars!
4. If it’s yellow let it mellow…I don’t know which poet laureate came up with this rhyme, but it’s a great one. Save an abundance of water by obeying this simple bathroom rule: If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down. Again, young kids love this one. I think because it feels like they are getting away with breaking a rule and they get to rhyme while they do it. A true win-win for the grammar- school set or adult males. I have seen cute signs to hang in your bathroom as a reminder to visitors or if that makes you a bit uncomfortable consider excluding the guest bathroom from this practice.
5. Water conserving filter. According to a recent NY Times article, levels of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water are so high that they are even detectable in the brains of fish. The best bet for your optimal health is to filter your water at home. But be aware that many high end filters wind up wasting a large amount of water in the process. I recommend a greener solution; PUr20.com is a company that provides an economical under the sink home filter that provides crystal clear, super-hydrating water without wasting water in the process like some technologies do. Once it’s installed you can buy reusable containers for your water on-the-go and opt out of the bottled water issue completely.
6. Japanese tub. A friend of mine lived abroad for his senior year of high school in an exchange program. His lovely, affluent Japanese family filled the bathtub once each day. And I do mean, ONCE! On his first day staying with them they filled the tub and motioned for him to take the first bath. Having been prepped on this custom of sharing the tub water, he was aware that it was a huge honor to be offered the first bath and therefore couldn’t refuse. He spent a very uncomfortable bath time wondering what the appropriate amount of time should be not wanting to raise questions about his cleanliness should it be too short, nor be a rude guest and hog all the hot water. He settled on 8 minutes (don’t ask me how he divined that number!) and learned from his cultural exchange program that a water shortage many years ago forced this practice which was later permanently adopted even when water was more plentiful because bathing had come to be seen as wasteful of a precious resource. Waste not, want not. Now having said that I am willing to share my bath water, but only if I get to go first.
7. Tinkling in the shower. Years ago I read an interview with the actress Cameron Diaz who, as a budding environmentalist, wanted to bring attention to the wasteful practice of using gallons of water to flush a minute amount of urine. She said she waits to pee in the shower so she makes double use of her water. My husband, a long time fan of Ms. Diaz (and not strictly for her environmental efforts), was only too thrilled to honor her good example. Here’s another helpful hint: Best not to pee in the shared tub. My take on this is that I use a large, purple bucket in my stall shower to collect the excess shower water. Since water is insanely heavy I don’t wait for the bucket to fill. I feed the plants in my bedroom with this surplus and sometimes even use it to flush my nearby toilet. This keep me feeling satisfied that I’m going the extra mile without having to tinkle in my shower. I just cleaned it for gosh sakes. I’m not encouraging my kids and houseguests to pee in there either. Even I have some hard limits!
8. Rain barrels. Adjacent to my house is a giant blue rain barrel perched upon a stand being fed by my diverted gutter. It’s astonishing how quickly a summer downpour can fill the drum to overflow capacity. It makes your roof into a water factory. With a hose attached I can easily keep my flowers nourished guilt-free all summer long. Bonus; Nowadays rain barrels come in all sorts of great colors and cool designs that blend right in to the house. I’d toss mine for a sexy new model that blends, but then that’s not the green thing to do, is it?
I was going to do a list of ten, but I find those lists tiresome. I’m trying something new here. Eight. My top Eight. Off to water the garden by collecting my water buckets left scattered throughout the garden beds (see, that tip would’ve been number 9!)
Happy tinkling in the woods (tip number 10 for the little lads in your life. It keeps the deer at bay!)