Update (Jan 16, 2015): After the promising rains in December, things have gone back to being dry. Here is an updated chart of the water levels across the state, courtesy Fusion.net.
As most of you are aware of, California is going through one of its worst droughts in the last century. This year specifically is on record as the third worst in the last 100 years. And there is no end in sight. We do not know if this drought will end next year or in the next 50 years. All we can do is to be smart and conserve as much water as we can. Startlingly, water consumption in the state this May was 0.5% MORE than the same time last year. That does not bode well for our water conservation efforts. We obviously are not doing enough, if any. We need to do more.
In my native language, Tamil, there is oft repeated phrase which is literally and figuratively the best way to describe what we can do. It goes, “Siru thuli, peru vellam” which literally translates to “Small droplets, big flood”. In this context, it means that we all need to add our droplets so we can create the flood (surplus) of water that can then be used for farming, irrigation and all other essential activities. This post is a collection of suggestions and recommendations I have picked up over the last year from blogs, articles, radio and online videos. Some of them are easy and the others take time. Either way, it will help, however long and however much it is.
1. Talk to your kids about it. This to me, is the biggest and most important step. Kids love water and from the minutes they take to wash their hands to coming up with interesting ways to use water, they consume a lot of it. Some of it is definitely important- like washing hands. But it doesn’t have to take a fully open tap running for 2 minutes. It could be a partially open tap running for a minute to wash one’s hands thoroughly. The best part is that kids are smart. When you explain the real problem to them, they surprisingly get it. Unlike us, they are not cynical. If they believe there is a problem, they will work hard to fix whatever they can.
2. Reuse water– wherever and whenever you can. Here is a simple way. The water we use to wash vegetables and soak our vessels prior to scrubbing them can be used to water our small plants. We have been doing this at our home for the past 4-6 months. I am definitely using far less water for my garden from the hose without compromising on how much water the plants need and get. I cant imagine all the water we could have saved all these years if we had only done this earlier.
3. Turn off the sprinklers. Really. As harsh as this sounds, there is no bigger criminal in households than sprinklers. Most of them are highly inefficient. They run far longer than they should and far too often. If we can take the time to water our gardens and lawns conscious of the water scarcity, we will save a lot of water. There is also new regulation and fines in California for egregious water users. You can be fined up to $500 for wasting too much water in your front lawn or on the driveway.
4. Reduce shower time. For a lot of us, our daily showers are one of the last bastions of being alone, left to our thoughts. And as much as we love it, we take showers a tad longer than we really should. And this is an area that can result in water savings aplenty. Also consider turning the tap off while brushing your teeth.
5. Save water. Save money. The Santa Clara Water district (for local South Bay residents) offers a bunch of rebates for purchasing and committing to water sipping fixtures. This is an added financial incentive on top of our moral incentive in saving water.
6. Rethink your kitchen habits. If you take the time to examine our water use for cooking, there is so much water that can be conserved. Many of us have the habit of keeping the water on while scrubbing dishes. Of taking more water than we need to drink and tossing the remnant in the sink. Of pouring excess water away in the drain without thinking of reusing it. Each of us have our own kitchen routine that can be optimized. Small changes can be big savings in water usage over time.
7. Do what you can to reduce water in every aspect of your life where you consume or use it. Everything but the water you use to drink is within bounds for consideration. The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) has a lot of ideas on how you can conserve water. Give it a read. The EPA has a whole slew of advice on how to conserve water. Give it a read too. Many of these ideas are simple and doable in small steps.
Finally and most importantly, don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing (or not). We have a responsibility to ourselves and the people around us to be judicious with our water use. Let not someone else’s ignorance and lack of awareness discourage you from making a difference. It all counts towards something.