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 three-part series 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 two posts, you will have an opportunity to review some of our water conservation strategies which included making our yard drought resistant, changing our water use habits, and installing water-saving devices. 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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UN Climate Summit 2014 – All Hands on Deck

U.N. Climate Summit 2014 LogoIt gives me hope to read about and watch videos from U.N. Climate Summit 2014 held in New York City on September 23. Over 100 world leaders announced what they and their countries have done, are doing, and will do to address climate change between now and 2020.

In his opening remarks, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon succinctly summed it up.

“To ride this storm we need all hands on deck.”

In addition to heads of state, other participants included mayors, business and financial CEOs, and people representing civil society and non-governmental organizations. Due to the number of people speaking at the one-day summit, several sessions occurred simultaneously. The whole group got together for opening, mid-day, and closing remarks. The U.N. Climate Summit 2014 website has links to the schedule and list of speakers as well as videos of each session.

UN Climate Summit 2014 – Country Statements

I was interested in President Obama’s statement, but I was equally if not more eager to find out what other world leaders had to say. After reading country statements posted on the U.N. website and individual country websites, I selected the 10 quotes below as a sample of what world leaders said at the summit.

General Assembly Hall during U.N. Climate Summit 2014 - Photo: U.N Stated carbon emission reduction targets varied widely, as did commitments to the Green Climate Fund set up to help developing countries deal with climate change. Many countries pointed out how little they have contributed to global greenhouse gas emissions and called on developed countries to step up their financial assistance.

  • Australia – “Australia remains committed to reducing its emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.”
  • Canada – “We are extremely proud to have committed, and delivered upon, $1.2 BILLION in Fast Start Financing money to help other countries adapt to and mitigate climate change.”
  • Chile – “Today I wish to reaffirm Chile’s voluntary commitment to reduce its projected emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, with the necessary international support.”
  • China – “Recently, we adopted the national plan on climate change to make sure we will meet the target of cutting carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from the 2005 level.”
  • Fiji – “Amongst other things, our target includes increasing the share of renewable energy for electricity generation from the current level of 60% to 100% by 2030.”
  • India – “We are fully committed to achieving our voluntary goal for reducing Emission Intensity of its GDP by 20-25% by 2020 over 2005 level.”
  • Korea – “The Korean government pledges up to 100 million dollars to the GCF, including the 50 million we are currently paying.”
  • Liberia – “Moreover, Liberia has completed a Gender and Climate Change Strategy. The Strategy is intended to build the resilience of Liberian Women to the impacts of climate change.”
  • Maldives – “Is it not ironic that countries like the Maldives, whose contribution to global greenhouse emissions, is just 0.00003 percent, face an existential threat because of these emissions?”
  • Russia – “In 2013, a Presidential decree set forth the national goal of cutting anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 by 25% from 1990 level.”

UN Climate Summit 2014 – President Obama’s Remarks

During his 12-minute U.N. Climate Summit 2014 speech, President Obama gave an overview of U.S. climate change related accomplishments, actions, and confirmed our carbon reduction commitment.

“Five years ago, I pledged America would reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020. America will meet that target.”

President Barack Obama Speaks at U.N. Climate Summit 2014 - Photo U.N. / Kim HaughtonTo me, the most surprising part of the speech was when the President admitted the United States’ culpability in creating the problem. He may have mentioned this before, but this is the first time I had heard it. I think this important. We cannot change the past, but we can take responsibility, change direction, and work towards a sustainable society today and every day.

“Yes, this is hard. But there should be no question that the United States of America is stepping up to the plate. We recognize our role in creating this problem; we embrace our responsibility to combat it. We will do our part, and we will help developing nations do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation –- developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.”

If you missed the President’s speech, click to watch the video or read a transcript of his remarks.

What’s Possible

Interestingly, both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Obama referred to the People’s Climate March that took place in New York City two days before the summit. Ban Ki-moon spoke of his own participation in the march and the President alluded to it.

It is up to us to keep the momentum going, by continually and constantly demanding our elected officials act on climate change, supporting and voting for people who do act, and taking action ourselves.

The summit began with this beautiful, inspiring 4-minute film entitled What’s Possible narrated by the master narrator, Morgan Freeman. It seems a fitting closing to this post.

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