By Nancy Vogel
Nobody knows how much rain and snow will reach California next autumn. A fourth consecutive year of drought is just as likely as a return to regular winter storms.
The people who manage California’s water systems must assume that next year will be dry, too, or they invite unmitigated disaster.
California survives on the water it saves. In a state that must store the runoff of wet years in order to get through the dry years, there is never enough water to waste.
If everybody in California did three things to save water, we’d collectively stretch supplies.
First, if you’ve got a lawn, stop watering it. It will go dormant. Let it turn brown and crisp. Water it once or twice a month to keep it alive, and when rains return, the lawn will revive. You’ll save time and effort mowing, and more importantly, you’ll save a tremendous amount of water. When you water once or twice a month, do so only long enough to wet the root zone to a depth of three to five inches. Use a flat-blade screwdriver or trowel to check.
Most Californians think they use more water indoors than outdoors, but typically, the opposite is true. If you find that the only time you walk across your lawn is to mow it, consider replacing it with water-wise shrubs and bushes that require little maintenance, such as sage, manzanita, Santa Barbara daisy, lavender, yucca, and sedum.
Second, stop flushing so much. You don’t need to flush every time you use the toilet. The 1977 drought – driest year on record in California – taught us “if it’s yellow, let it mellow.” The average person flushes five times a day, and toilets use on average nearly two gallons per flush. Eliminate three flushes a day, and you’ll save more than 2,000 gallons a year. Toilets are the biggest users of water in the typical home.
The third thing you can do to help California cope with drought is to talk to your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors about water and how we use it. When they know you’re concerned about drought and water supply, they’ll think twice about their own daily practices. Imagine how much water we’d save statewide if millions of Californians halted sprinklers and skipped some toilet flushes each day. Word of mouth can help us get there.
Give kudos to the neighbor spreading mulch around his trees and shrubs (mulch reduces evaporation). Give gentle reminders to those watering when they shouldn’t. (Many local water districts have restricted outdoor watering to only certain days of the week, and even on those days, it’s best to water in the early morning to reduce evaporation). Tell your family members to keep their showers short.
How you save water depends upon your circumstances. If you’re able to make the investment, a new low-flush toilet and highly-efficient washing machine can reduce your water consumption for years to come. The investment of a few dollars at the hardware store will get you an easy-to-install aerator that limits how much water flows from your bathroom faucet, but not so much that it interferes with hand washing and teeth brushing. Or you can buy a shower head shutoff valve that allows you to easily turn the shower water off and on, so you can cut flow while you shampoo and lather. It takes no money and little effort to always run full loads in a dishwasher or washing machine.
Go to saveourh20.org for a wide array of tips from the experts and your fellow Californians to drought-proof your lifestyle. “Like” Save Our Water on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and make our motto — Californians Don’t Waste – your ethic.
Vogel is assistant director, public affairs, at the California Department of Water Resources, which partners with the Association of California Water Agencies on the public education campaign Save Our Water (saveourh20.org).