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 freshwater 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 altogether.

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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First Day of Spring – Stop and Smell the Roses

Friday, March 20, 2015 marks the vernal equinox also known as the first day of spring. This is an ideal time to stop and smell the roses, yes, even on a workday.

Pink Rose Bushes in Bloom

The idea for this post actually originated with my spouse. A few days ago, I posed the question, “If you were writing a post about the first day of spring, what advice would you give?” To which my spouse replied, “Stop and smell the roses.”

It seemed like an interesting idea to explore from an environmental angle, plus I wanted to learn about equinoxes and try to find out who originated the phrase about roses.

What is an Equinox?

The first day of spring is one of two times a year when the sun passes over the earth’s equator making day and night of equal length, or almost equal.

Equinox is the term used to describe this phenomenon, which derives from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). Two more Latin words determine which equinox occurs when. Vernal equinox derives from the word ver (spring) and autumnal equinox from the word autumnus (autumn).

The vernal equinox occurs within a day or so of March 20 each year and the autumnal equinox around September 22.

Seasons vary depending on hemisphere meaning the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere is the autumnal equinox in the southern hemisphere. Sometimes the terms March equinox and September equinox are used to minimize confusion.

As far as an explanation as to why day and night are not exactly of equal length on the equinoxes, Wikipedia provides a far better explanation than I can.

Equinox Earth Image

What is the Origin of the Phrase “Stop and Smell the Roses?”

A cursory Internet search for the origin of the phrase “stop and smell the roses” turned up a few theories but no definitive answer.

Some sources suggest the phrase was adapted from a saying credited to professional golfer Walter Hagen: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Stop and Smell the Roses is the title of a 1974 song by Mac Davis and a 1981 Ringo Starr album.

There is no “official” definition of “stop and smell the roses” however, relaxing, appreciating ones’ surroundings, and enjoying life’s simple pleasures like smelling roses are generally accepted meanings.

Stop and Smell the Roses 15 Minute Challenge

Slowing down to appreciate and enjoy life is a deceptively simple idea yet difficult to achieve.

In today’s world, we seem to be forever busy with longer to-do lists, packed schedules, and conflicting priorities. We eat lunch at our desks or run around doing errands instead of taking a break. After work, we pick up our kids from daycare, finish the errands we did not get to earlier, pick up or cook dinner, throw in a load of laundry, and fire up our computer to finish a work task that is due tomorrow morning. Sound familiar?

We are so used to being busy that if we find ourselves with a moment to relax we fall onto the couch exhausted, whip out our smart phone, or go in search of something to do.

European Honey Bee Extracting Nectar from Purple Flower and Collecting Pollen

I propose we break the busy pattern with a “stop and smell the roses” challenge on the first day of spring that we can all accomplish before, during, or after work.

Let’s each set aside 15 minutes sometime during the day or evening to slow down and create our own “stop and smell the roses” moment. No phones, tablets, or computers. Let’s go outside; sit, stand, walk, or lie down and enjoy the oak trees in a nearby park, the daisies planted around the office patio, or a potted geranium on our balcony. Let’s watch a bird flapping around in a birdbath, an ant trail marching along a sidewalk crack, or bees flitting from flower to flower.

The first two or three minutes are the hardest because we have to actually stop and relax then we are free to enjoy the moment.

Stopping and Smelling the Roses is a Good for the Environment

Here is the environmental twist I alluded to at the beginning of the post. I believe stopping and smelling the roses is good for the environment for several reasons.

  • By hitting the pause button, we refresh our spirit and perhaps broaden our perspective beyond the hamster wheel of our daily routines. Awareness is the first step on the path to change.
  • Enjoying the beauty and wonder of our fellow animal and plant beings reminds us that we are part of the environment, not separate from it. What we do to the environment we do to ourselves.
  • Appreciating the interconnectedness of nature may spur us to act, to change how we live, to live more gently on the planet we all call home. We protect what we love.

Redwood Trees in Redwood National Park, CA

Stop and smell the roses simply because they are beautiful and sweet smelling.

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