Making Water Conservation a Way of Life – Outdoors

Reimagine your thirsty yard.

Monterey Pine Tree in Our Yard Silhouetted against a Colorful Sunset

If you live in a dry area, consider beginning your water conservation efforts in your yard, which can account for 50-70% of your household’s water use. By taking steps to make your yard less thirsty you have an opportunity to reimagine your yard and create one that is both beautiful and suited to the climate where you live.

For those of us living in areas with low annual rainfall or in drought-prone regions, even if it is wet now, there will be dry times ahead and drought in the future. The best time to prepare for a drought is before it occurs.

I am a lifelong Californian and a ten-year resident of a small town that relies on rainfall to refill our municipal water wells. The 2012-2017 drought posed a serious threat to our town. Water well levels dipped dangerously low. The water company issued severe water conservation mandates and pleaded with the town’s residents to save water. We collectively responded by drastically reducing our water use and fortunately, the wells did not run dry.

My relationship with water changed forever.

This is the second of a three-part series about making water conservation a normal and routine part of your daily life. In the first post, I attempted to convince readers that now is an excellent time to implement water saving ideas (at least in California). To back up my suggestion that there is no reason to wait, I provided a summary of how our six years of water conservation has really paid off with substantial water and money savings.

In this post and the next one, you will have an opportunity to read about how our household has made water conservation a way of life. I am not trying to suggest that we are paragons of water saving or that we know everything there is to know about it. However, we have done and learned a few things about conserving water in our yard and in our home that I hope you will find useful or that will spark a few ideas of your own.

We will begin with saving water outdoors.

Healthy, Beautiful and Drought Resistant Yard

Our town on the California Central Coast is in the midst of a very stressed out and precious Monterey pine forest. When we moved here from Southern California, we left our two thirsty turf grass lawns behind and learned to love our mostly wild yard, even during its dry dormant periods. As it turned out, not having any lawns gave us a huge head start on making our yard drought resistant.

Getting rid of turf grass lawns is probably the best thing you can do to reduce your water use (and pesticide use) but it is a huge and potentially costly undertaking. Anyone who does take out their lawn and puts in native plants and trees or a food garden is a hero in my book. An alternative to tackling the whole lawn is to remove a small section and plant natives or food crops. If everyone did this, it would save a significant amount of water, especially in large urban areas with low rainfall. In a dry region, the best place for lawns is at parks, schools, and other public places where many people can enjoy them.

Native Plants

When we moved here, we set about restoring the land and making our yard as drought resistant as possible. Over the years, I have spread literally tons of wood chips around the yard to help build healthy soil that retains water and nourishes the plants and trees.

Umpteen 96-gallon green waste receptacles have been filled with invasive plants that crowd out the native plants that should be growing here. Each year, I conduct an invasive plant patrol and try to remove as many of the worst ones that I can. I swear if you just stand still ice plant will grow before your very eyes and thistles seem to grow a foot overnight.

We encourage the native plants and trees that volunteer to grow in our yard and we have planted some on purpose. We do not have an irrigation system so the plants and trees have to live on either rainfall or being watered by bucket or watering can. Hiking around the yard carrying a 2-gallon watering can full of water is good exercise.

Outdoor Watering Ban

At the height of the drought, outdoor watering with municipal water was completely banned.

At first, the water company placed a huge tank of non-potable water (not drinking quality) in town where you could come get water free. Suddenly, almost every pickup truck was sporting a portable 250-gallon water storage tank and they started appearing in people’s yards. Residents with an entrepreneurial streak began providing water delivery and watering services.

This free water tank soon disappeared. Then a few local farmers with water to spare began selling water for a reasonable price, but you or a water delivery service had to come get it.

In an attempt to save our Monterey pine trees, we did pay a watering service to water our trees several times but it was expensive. We decided to stop the service and hope for the best. Some of our trees did die but thankfully many of them lived through the drought.

Bucket Brigade

Early on in the drought, we decided to try to collect some of the water from our faucets and showers so we could water our very few potted plants and Rosie, the venerable climbing rose bush that had been planted by the original owner of the house.

Rosie the Climbing Rose Bush in Front of Our House
We watered Rosie the climbing rose bush in front our house by bucket during the drought.

We began using the plastic dish tubs we had on hand but they were unwieldy so we bought several plastic buckets for about $25.00 total. One bucket sat in the kitchen sink collecting the water we used for rinsing and washing fruits and vegetables. Each shower was equipped with a bucket for collecting water during that first 30 seconds or so it takes hot water to make it up the pipe. I used a plastic bowl in my bathroom sink to collect cold water before it was warm enough to wash my face.

The bucket brigade may sound like a weird practice but you might be surprised at how much water flows down the drains in your home. Why not put it to good use.

Rain Barrel

In 2016, even though there had not been any rain to speak of yet, I bought a 50-gallon rain barrel and my spouse installed it. Instead of being filled with rain, we filled it with water from our indoor buckets. This gave us an extra 50 gallons of water that we kept refilling. With a hose attached to the spigot, we watered the trees and plants that we could reach with the hose.

We still use the buckets and the rain barrel.

Blue Jay Standing in Our Birdbath
A blue jay stands in our birdbath, which I kept filled with fresh water during the drought.

Throughout the drought, I consistently defied the outdoor watering ban by refilling our birdbath with water from the outdoor faucet. I also repurposed two large terra cotta pot bottoms as water saucers to provide drinking water for the parched birds, deer, and other animals that live in our neighborhood.

When we first moved here, I missed our turf grass lawns and I even considered planting a tiny patch. Fortunately, I waited long enough to do it so that I no longer wanted to. Now, I think our yard is beautiful.

As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” so reimagine your less thirsty and drought resistant yard to suit your vision. Water conservation is a gift you give yourself as well as the other living things in your yard and your neighborhood. I can see the trees smiling and hear the birds singing.

In the third and last post of this series, we will move indoors to discuss making water conservation a part of your daily life.

Featured Image at Top: A majestic Monterey pine tree in our yard silhouetted against a colorful sunset.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

One thought on “Making Water Conservation a Way of Life – Outdoors”

  1. Yes, I agree that your natural/wild yard is beautiful. Every time I visit there is something new to appreciate. Rosie has certainly thrived with your personal care. Living in the midst of a small Monterey Pine Forest has brought so much joy to your life.

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