Drought in a Small Town – Saving Water before the Drought

Moving to a small town on the California Central Coast changed my relationship with water unexpectedly and in far-reaching ways, even before the drought.

We moved here seven years ago from Southern California where I lived most of my life. In essence, I exchanged one Mediterranean climate for another. Both places have moderate year-round temperatures, low rainfall, and warm summers, although it is a bit cooler here with more fog. Water is not plentiful in either area.

There was no ah-ha moment that I can recall, it was a series of events and observances.

Our Town Fights a Water Rate Increase

Shortly after we moved here, the water utility proposed a rate hike. A group of local citizens organized a protest effort and letters to the editor flooded into the local newspaper. Water was the main topic of discussion for months.

It seemed like a community event so I jumped on the anti-rate increase bandwagon and turned in my protest letter along with thousands of other ratepayers. We defeated the rate increase.

There’s a Deer in My Yard

In Southern California, we lived near the San Gabriel Mountains and could hike from our house into the chaparral and oak covered hills. Our front and back yards consisted of turf grass lawns and planters filled with roses, ornamental shrubs, and flowers. The requisite maple tree resided in the front yard. It was the typical water intensive landscape you see everywhere.

Now we live in a Monterey pine forest where our yard is mostly wild with little level ground and no turf grass. Monterey pine trees are its main feature. Seeing birds, squirrels, lizards, deer, and other wildlife in our yard is a daily occurrence.

A Tiny Fawn Contemplates Dinner in Our Yard
A Tiny Fawn Contemplates Dinner in Our Yard

Living this close to nature made me realize that a yard (mine or yours) is not just for our personal pleasure, it is a habitat for numerous seen and unseen animals and other livings things, and we all have to share the water.

Drought Resistant Yard

I admit I missed our green turf grass lawns. I toyed with the idea of planting a three-foot-by-three-foot patch just so I could have some grass. Fortunately, that idea was short lived. Now I realize we were fortunate to have bought a house without turf grass.

Previous owners had planted shrubs and flowers in various places near the house in an attempt to approximate landscaping. Everything was withered or dead when we arrived during the summer. At first, I tried to revive the landscape by watering it, a lot.

One day as I stood watering some sad looking geraniums in a planter built into the retaining wall behind our house, I thought, “The only time anyone sees this planter is when they walk around the back of the house which isn’t that often. It’s wasteful to use water here.” I stopped watering. Everything dried up again and I dug it out.

Cliimbing Rosebush in Front of Our House
Climbing Rosebush in Front of Our House

I cut way back on watering other plants in the yard and observed how they fared. Plants that could not hack it with little or no watering died and I removed them.

The only remaining landscaped area is a small patch in front of the house containing a climbing rose planted by the original owner. The deer thoughtfully prune it as far as they can reach.

When it rains, wild grasses (some might call them weeds) take over the yard, growing three to six feet tall. Perennial shrubs and wildflowers pop up here and there. Everything is green. After a few months, the grasses go to seed, the flowers dry and shrivel up, and the yard turns golden brown.

My concept of what a yard should look like has expanded beyond turf grass lawns and gardens kept artificially green year-round with massive amounts of potable water. Our wild unkempt yard is beautiful too.

Saving Water in the House

After seeing the drop in water usage on our water bill from curtailing outdoor watering, we began looking for ways to reduce water use inside the house. Appliances and plumbing fixtures present major opportunities to save water. Below are a few of the changes we’ve made so far.

Water Efficient Washing Machine

When it was time for a new washing machine, we bought a high-efficiency front-loading model. It senses the size and soil level of the load and dispenses water accordingly. The new washer uses 10 to 15 gallons per load as compared to older models that use 25 to 40 gallons. That’s a whopping 10 to 30 gallons of water saved for every load.

Low Flow ShowerHead
Low Flow Handheld Showerhead I Installed
Low Flow Showerhead

A standard showerhead pours out 2.5 gallons of water or more per minute, even when you are trying to stand out of the spray to soap up or wash your hair. This seems wasteful so we bought a 1.6 gallons per minute (gpm) handheld showerhead with a “trickle” button that reduces the flow to 0.5 gpm. It cost less than $50 and provides more than sufficient water pressure. My spouse is the handy one, but I insisted on doing it myself to demonstrate that anyone can install a low-flow showerhead.

Water Efficient Dishwasher

At the time we bought our house, the original dishwasher was about 18 years-old. A couple years ago, the motor blew out and we bought a new water efficient dishwasher model. It uses 2 to 4 gallons of water per cycle as compared to 10 to 15 used by older models. The 6 to 13 gallon watering savings for each cycle is significant.

Everyone Can and Should Save Water

Our water saving efforts substantially reduced our water use and I feel more in harmony with my surroundings.

The stuff we did is not earth shattering and some of it required little or no cash outlay. Everyone can and should save water. Even small changes matter, it all adds up. Here’s some food for thought.

  • Watering lawns and gardens account for 30% of the water used by the average American household. In dry climates, water usage increases and outdoor watering can reach as high a 50-70%.
  • A garden hose puts out 2.0 gallons of water a minute, enough to meet the daily drinking water needs of 2 people.
  • Washing 5 loads of laundry a week in a high-efficiency washing machine could save 2,600 to 7,800 gallons of water a year.
  • Running a water efficient dishwasher once a day could save 2,800 to 4,700 gallons of water a year.
  • Taking a daily 8-minute shower using a low-flow showerhead could save 2,600 gallons of water per year per person.

I’m thankful we began our water saving journey several years ago, especially in light of the current drought and statewide water emergency. Read the next post to find out what measures we are taking now to save more water.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

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