Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Water and Personal Accountability

As I mentioned yesterday, after reading the book Blue Gold, I've become acutely aware of the looming world and local water crises. This crisis scares me even more than peak oil issues, because while humans (and and animals, and plants) can certainly live without oil, none of us can live without water.

One of the most amazing things about water is that instead of contracting when it freezes, like most things do when they get cold, it expands. This makes it lighter than water, so it floats on the tops of lakes rather than sinking to the bottom. This has the added effect of insulating the rest of the lake, preventing the body of water from freezing. If this didn't happen, all the fish and other aquatic animals and plants would be killed every winter. I've always found these properties of water to be amazing, if not downright miraculous!

I also love the paradoxical nature of water (of which the expansive freezing is one example). It is placid yet powerful, gentle yet relentless. It can be restorative yet lethal, depending on the circumstances. It's also the "universal solvent," as my dad says, and that's true: literally and metaphorically I would say.

But all this waxing poetic-like is meaningless if I'm not doing anything differently, isn't it? Which brings me to my personal accountability for my water use. I'll start with what I'm doing pretty well at, move on to what I'm getting better at, and end with what I still need to change. In doing so, I hope readers will ponder their own water use and engage in a similar water reckoning for themselves.

What I'm already doing:
  • "Navy" showers, most of the time
  • Showering every second day
  • Saving shower warm-up water in a bucket in the tub to use for flushing the toilet
  • Saving kitchen sink warm up water for watering plants or putting in the tea kettle for later use
  • Low flow toilets, shower heads and faucets
  • Low water use front loading washing machine
  • Yellow/Mellow principle
  • Turning the tap off when brushing teeth
  • garden hoses on timers, using a soaker hose/drip irrigation for part of The Big Garden
What I'm in the middle of doing, or trying to do better:
  • One 40 gallon water barrel set up outside but not yet hooked up to downspout - materials to hook it up have been purchased and just need to be installed.
  • Spot watering with a watering can and collected rainwater before using the hose/sprinkler - this depends on how pressed for time I am on evenings/weekends, and if there's water in the barrel.
  • Turning tap off when I wash my hands
  • Not waiting for tap water to warm up before washing my hands or my face or my hair.
  • Looking into taking a rain barrel conversion workshop since we have two good blue plastic barrels that just need to be converted for water collection purposes but which are sitting empty at the moment
What I have to start doing:
  • Figure out how to waste less of my greywater
  • Increase drip irrigation system to Big Garden; start one for the Little Garden.
  • Use less water to wash dishes
  • Put something (maybe a rock and water filled 2 L pop bottle?) in the toilet tanks to make the low flush toilets even lower flush
  • Navy showers, ALL of the time
  • Figure out how to add contour/swales to my yard to help the water soak in instead of running off
  • I'm sure there is more to add to this list....
The amount of water I use for each of these things really hit home the day I partially set up the rain barrel outside about 4-5 weeks ago. It was raining for most of the day, sometimes quite hard. So I set up a bucket under the nearest downspout and just poured the collected water into the rain barrel, bucket after bucket. It took quite a while -- several hours actually, as the rain became ligher and heavier again througout the day. Mostly I used just a small 1 gallon ice cream pail, because it was easier to lift and pour it into the rain barrel without spilling that way.

As I'd wait for the pail to fill, I'd pull a weed or two, and even did a little bit of Tai Chi in my rubber boots and rain hat. Then I'd pick up the pail and pour it in the barrel again. It occured to me then that sometimes I've let the kitchen tap run and probably a whole gallon of water would go down the drain before it warmed up to my liking. Juxtapose this with the care I was taking in saving this rainwater from the downspout and putting it in the barrel - it just didn't make sense to waste in the kitchen what I was collecting in the yard.

So now when I turn on the tap, I imagine the water coming out of the downspout and into my ice cream pail, to be saved in my water barrel. It's made me waste a lot less water, making that inside/outside connection. Imagine how much more precious water is to someone who walks a mile or two every day to collect their family's drinking water! Generally speaking, we rich westerners are disconnected from where our water comes from and where it goes when we're finished with it. Going out and collecting my own water has changed that for me. I encourage everyone to try it sometime, and think about the paradoxical miracle of H2O!

Picture courtesy a recent rainfall in my yard


Simply Authentic said...

Theresa, What a great post! I watch in awe as I see people waste water all the time. It took reading Plan B by Lester R. Brown before I really started thinking about the water issues. I have to say-you do a ton more than I do though to cut down on usage! I still can't get over my daily shower! But I think the water issue is a big issue that people need to start giving some attention. We can live without oil, but we can't survive without water...

Thanks for getting me thinking again! :-)

Simply Authentic said...

p.s. i'm not sure if you read Rhonda's blog but she's posted twice this week on water conservation also...

Theresa said...

You're welcome SA, and thanks for the link to a new blog for me to check out!

kale for sale said...

The other morning after watering my potted pepper plants with the not yet warm shower water I'd carried downstairs, I watched a construction crew moving dirt and spraying a fire hose to keep the dust down. All I could do was laugh to myself and shake my head. We live in a world of opposites and I don't want to admit it but I'm often that opposite. Washing my face with cold water in the morning and watering our hopeless spot of lawn in the evening.

Thank you for the great list of what you are doing and what you could do better. It's a good one.

Theresa said...

I'm the opposite too sometimes, Kale. Sometimes I just can't be bothered to flush with the bucket of warming water because it always drips and I don't feel like wiping up the drips. I still go to the car wash now and then too. And some days I am just so tired and want to stand under the shower for an extra minute or two. It's a work in progress for me...

Melissa said...

I think the story about spraying down the dust is indicative of some of the bigger problems with the way we view water guess is those guys were told to do that because usually when building projects are underway, they are responsible for making sure dust doesn't blow onto other people's property (don't ask me why, it seems dumb to me!) It just seems ironic in some ways that we're all working so hard to save every little drip we can in our homes and the government is out there writing laws that waste water so that there's not too much dust blowing around. I just don't get it.

green with a gun said...

Impressive work, Theresa. We are fairly good about water in our household, but have much to learn from you!

Green Bean said...

This is just the sort of thing I was hoping would come out of you reading Blue Gold. Water is one of the hardest categories for me. We've made a ton of progress and I'm convinced most of it stems from bathing the kids/me showering less.

I need to do swales and such and do a better job conserving kitchen sink water. What I have always struggled with is rain barrels. I'm not sure how much sense they make here in California where we don't have rain for 7-9 months out of the year. Saved water would get used up pretty quick and/or you'd have to use MASSIVE rain barrels. My husband is trying to figure out a way to hook up the washing machine to flush our toilets or something like that.

Thanks for the food for thought.

Chile said...

Theresa, have you seen Brad Lancaster's book on rainwater harvesting? It's got some information in the first volume and the second one (which I haven't read yet - it just came out) focuses primarily on contouring. I would suggest checking your library over spending $50 to get both volumes.