Why is Now a Good Time to Implement Water Saving Ideas?

The best time to prepare for a drought is before the drought.

Tomorrow marks the first day of spring and Thursday is World Water Day. These two events have me thinking about wildflowers and water conservation.

Where I live on the California Central Coast, we have been receiving rain showers for a couple of weeks so we are now up to a whopping 8” of rain for the season. Our dry parched yard has greeted the rain by instantly sprouting a variety of greenery that usually appears months earlier. Hopefully, wildflowers will follow.

The deer that had been ignoring our dormant yard, except to drink out of our bird baths, have begun wandering through again grazing on fresh green shoots as they traverse the yard. I do not know specifically what they eat but they are good at nosing around in the various grasses that grow here and nibbling on the plants they find tasty. Sometimes, this includes supposedly “deer resistant” plants that I would prefer they do not eat.

Last week, I spotted a note I had written on the mini wall calendar tacked up near my desk, reminding me that March 22 is World Water Day. This is a United Nations-sponsored international day of awareness that has been focusing on the importance of fresh water since 1993.

“Considering that the extent to which water resource development contributes to economic productivity and social well being is not widely appreciated, although all social and economic activities rely heavily on the supply and quality of fresh water,…” —United Nations Resolution A/RES/47/193, December 22, 1992

Yep, fresh water is important.

As a resident of a small town that came dangerously close to running out of water at the height of the latest California drought, I have developed a new appreciation for water. We had to learn how to conserve water—in a big way.

With rain falling gently outside my home office window, I decided to write a two-part post about water conservation and how saving water can and should become a normal and regular part of your life, forever.

Making Water Conservation Part of Your Daily Life

Do you think it is weird for me to bring up water conservation when it is raining? Maybe it is, however, perhaps it is an ideal time because you are not under pressure to save water.

This gives you the opportunity to leisurely review your past water bills (if you have them) and consider your household’s water use habits. Then you can decide if you want to change one or more habits and try your ideas out. If you choose to install a water-saving device or two, you have plenty of time to read reviews and shop around. Chances are the item or items you select will be in stock because right now there is a not a high demand. You might even find products on sale.

Our Rain Barrel with a Plastic Bucket
Our Rain Barrel with a Plastic Bucket

The best thing about putting water saving ideas into action now is that water conservation is like the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.

In this post, I will attempt to illustrate how our six years of water conservation has really paid off and hopefully convince you to get started with implementing your own ideas, now.

6 Years of Water Conservation Pays Off

I started keeping digital copies of our water bills in 2012, so I decided to create a spreadsheet to help me analyze both our water usage and cost of water. I knew that we had reduced our household’s water use and that water rates had gone up over the years but I had never looked at the data all together.

I was astonished by two of the results.

But, first some background on how our water bill is calculated. There is probably a wide variation in how much water costs depending on where you live and who provides your water but there are likely some similarities.

In our town, water, wastewater treatment, fire protection, parks, and other community services are provided by what is called a special district. This is basically an organization that allows communities to run their own show.

Our home’s water meter is contained in a concrete housing buried in the ground at the end of the driveway and measures our water usage in units. One unit is equivalent to 748 gallons of water.

Water and sewer charges are combined and billed every two months. There are minimum charges for both water and sewer. Added to this are charges for water and sewer based on how many units of water we use. Since the end of 2014, a surcharge is added to each bill to pay for a water project that was built during the drought (a story for another time).

Determining our water use per person per day presented a dilemma since we have had a varying number of people living in our household for the past six years. I decided to use partial residents in my calculations. For instance, if one of our sons was home from college for the summer, I counted him as a .25 resident because he lived here for a quarter of a year.

The table below summarizes our household water use for 2012 through 2017. In general, water use went down and costs went up. Adding full-time residents to our household increased our overall water use but at the same time, our water conservation strategies were saving water.

Residential Water Use 2012-2017

Two things really stood out for me.

The first is that in 2012, we had 2.25 full-time residents living in our household and in 2017, we had 4.0. We all work from home so we are using our own water during the workday. Our household size basically doubled, however, our total 2017 water use (30,668 gallons) only increased 5% from our previous high (29,172 gallons) which occurred in 2013.

The second is that although I knew our bill amount had increased over the years it was not until I did my analysis that I realized our cost per gallon of water had doubled in less than two years. That was a shocker.

These two things are significant because we have two more people living in our household but have only increased our total water use by a small amount (5%). At the same time, the price we pay per gallon has doubled ($.02 to $.04) which would mean a much higher bill if we had not reduced our water usage. Another price increase is going into effect this month.

A Case for Water Conservation

Sometimes water conservation is counterintuitive for water companies like ours whose revenue is based on the amount of water we use. Less water, less income.

Wastewater Treatment Plant
Wastewater Treatment Plant

This can cause a problem because water companies still need to operate water delivery and wastewater treatment facilities, maintain and replace aging infrastructure, and pay their employees. During a drought, water conservation ramps up and revenue decreases.

On the other hand, if water demand is increasing due to population growth as a city expands, water companies may promote water conservation to eliminate or delay the need to build costly new facilities.

Regardless, once rates go up for any utility service like electricity, cable television, or water, I have never seen them go down so it is likely water rates will continue to rise. It is a given that California and other dry regions will continue to experience droughts, which will likely increase in severity and duration.

You can do your part to conserve water by implementing water saving ideas now. Once you do, you will reap the benefits of water conservation month after month, year after year.

In the next post, you will have an opportunity to review some of our water conservation strategies which included changing our water use habits and installing water-saving equipment. Then you can decide if any of these ideas appeal to you or come up with your own.

Reader Note: You have my sympathy if you are trying to maintain one or more thirsty turf grass lawns. I am originally from Southern California where we had turf grass lawns in our front and back yards so I know how much water they can suck up. Now, our yard is mostly wild. We have lots of perennial grasses but no turf grass. Not watering a lawn has certainly made a substantial contribution to our water savings.

Featured Image at Top: Four California Mule Deer Grazing on Newly Sprouted Green Plants in Our Yard.

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The Legacy of Luna – Book Review

Life in a tree can be surprisingly busy.

The Legacy of Luna tells the story of an ancient redwood tree and a woman who interpreted the words “We don’t need you.” as a call to action.

Before reading The Legacy of Luna, I had heard of Julia Butterfly Hill and I knew that she had lived in a tree. I did not know that she is a woman of courage, faith, and ingenuity with an apparently strong streak of stubbornness.

Several years ago, in honor of Women’s History Month, I began a tradition of reading at least one book by or about a woman environmentalist and writing a post about it in March. This year, I selected The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods by Julia Butterfly Hill.

“I’ve always felt that as long as I was able, I was supposed to give all I’ve got to ensure a healthy and loving legacy for those still to come, and especially for those with no voice. That is what I’ve done in this tree.” —Julia Butterfly Hill

Book Review

Before you embark upon reading The Legacy of Luna, I suggest donning warm clothes and a windbreaker because you are going to be sitting way up in a huge windswept tree with Julia Butterfly Hill as she tells her story. I am only partially kidding. Reading the book it a bit like being miniaturized, strapped firmly to Hill’s shoulder, and then following her about. You are there.

The prologue recounts the story of Stafford, a small town in Northern California that was devastated by a mudslide during a deluge of rain. A lumber corporation that put profits above everything else had left a steep mountainside exposed by clearcutting all the forest trees. With nothing to hold the soil in place, it slid down the mountain destroying homes in its wake.

Stafford is near where a majestic redwood tree called Luna has resided for over a thousand years.

The rest of the book chronicles the 738 days between December 10, 1997, and December 18, 1999, that Hill spent living in Luna. Her initial goal was to save Luna from the chainsaws of Pacific Lumber Company. Along the way, she became rather famous for living in a tree, which gave her an unusual platform (pun intended) from which to conduct public outreach about saving forests not only in California but also across the United States and around the world.

I still do not understand the title of the first chapter called “Fighting Fear with a Fork.” Here Hill recounts a bit of her history and the back-story of how she came to live in Luna. Her faith-based upbringing, a terrible car accident, and an impromptu trip to the West Coast led her, at age twenty-three, to be in the right place at the right time when someone asked, “Can anybody sit in Luna?” Hill immediately volunteered.

The Legacy of Luna Book CoverAs you continue reading, you will learn how Luna got her name, what it is like to climb 180 feet up a giant redwood tree, the horror of seeing forest clearcutting from a bird’s eye view, the practicalities involved in living in a tree, and why Hill got a cell phone.

You will have an opportunity to listen in while Hill perches on a tree branch conversing with loggers who want to cut down Luna and security personnel hell-bent on preventing her from receiving food and supplies. As you follow Hill’s story you will learn about clearcutting, logging company tactics, government agency inaction, dealing with the media, and what it feels like to become the spokesperson for a movement, unintentionally.

The book ends rather abruptly. Hill reaches an agreement with Pacific Lumber Company to preserve Luna and a 20-foot buffer zone in perpetuity and then climbs down out of the tree.

The Bottom Line

Julia Lorraine Hill became Julia Butterfly Hill in 1998. When someone asked her for her forest name (used to protect an activist’s identity), she chose Butterfly because a butterfly had landed and lingered on her finger when she was seven.

Growing up Hill’s family had a lot of faith and not much money. She and her brothers learned about being responsible at a young age and her parents imparted the importance of helping others. Her upbringing and faith likely influenced her decision to help a defenseless tree and then sustained her during the most difficult days of her tree-sit (the longest in history).

Of course, I do not know what it was like for Hill after more than two years of living in a tree, mostly by herself. But, I can imagine that it might have been overwhelming for her to re-enter society and try to resume her life on the ground while being surrounded by what must have been a media circus.

The Legacy of Luna was published in 2000 just a few short months after Hill came down out of Luna. Reading it made me feel like Julia Butterfly Hill was sitting in my living room pouring out her story as fast she could so she would not forget any of the important parts.

This book illustrates what can be accomplished by a community of people working for something they believe in, something they love. Hill could not have survived in Luna without the dedicated volunteers she talks about in the book and the people around that world that supported her. She became the voice of Luna because she was the one living in the tree.

I recommend The Legacy of Luna to everyone, especially logging company CEOs and government representatives responsible for safeguarding public lands.

Featured Image at Top: Coast Redwood Trees in Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park, California – Photo California State Parks (this is not the forest where Luna lives but it is beautiful, too)

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