While most of the nation was dealing with the Polar Vortex, or are now facing tons of snow, us people here in California have been staring wistfully at the sky and talking about doing rain dances. In case you didn’t know, California is officially in a drought.
In Northern California, our climate can be described as mediterranean. This unique climate is found in areas on some coasts at about 40 degrees latitude. We have relatively mild, wet winters and very warm, dry summers. As a community, we count on winter rain storms to fill our lakes and rivers, which we use for our water supply the rest of the year. As a gardener, I count on rains to water my winter crops, and most recently my fruit trees. As soon as I get my well pump functioning, I will need the rains to recharge the ground water.
The average rainfall, normally received November though February, for Santa Rosa is about 32 inches. In 2013 we had 8 inches. That is the driest year ever recorded since rainfall has been measured, about 120 years. We are now in the middle of our third winter with measly rain.
Lake Sonoma, where most of Sonoma County, including Santa Rosa, and Marin County gets their water from is still at 67% capacity, is our saving grace and the reason we don’t have any water rations in the immediate future. Lake Mendocino, which provides water to the northern towns of the county, along with the flow of the Russian River, is critically low. A neighboring town, Willits, has implemented mandatory rationing at 150 gallons a day. Today, Healdsburg issued a mandatory 20% reduction. Our Governor has issued a drought emergency for the State of California, and is urging everyone to cut back at least 20 gallons a day.
Besides the obvious dire need to conserve, saving water right now also has an alternative motive: to save money. I’m in the middle of Santa Rosa’s Sewer Cap Measuring Phase, which means the water use for my house between January and March will determine how much we pay for sewer for the entire year. Because there isn’t a meter to gauge how much goes down the sewer line, each winter the utility department looks at how much water you use and calculates an average to use as how much is going down the drain into the sewer.
If you use 4,000 gallons of water a month during your measuring phase, for example, you are assigned a sewer cap of 4 (that’s the average for a 2 person household). You pay $12.36 per unit of 1,000, up to your cap. Then later in the year, regardless of how much water you use, you won’t ever pay more than your cap. I could use 8,000 gallons of water, but I’ll only be charged for up to 4 units on my sewer. So to have a lower bill throughout the year, we are trying to save as much water as possible NOW.
In theory, the way the city calculates this is a good plan, because the garden outside is being watered by our normal plentiful rains. Except this year there is no rain outside, and we desperately need to water our newly planted trees. My cover crops, which should be green and plush, are withering away from the lack of water. The arugula and winter greens that have survived the turkey attacks are bitter and tough. But I don’t want to turn the hose on, because not only will it increase our water use, making our water bill higher but it could be reflected on the sewer bill the rest of the year.
I would say that I am already a wise-water user. I turn the water off when brushing my teeth and my hands. I only wash full loads of clothes. I have low flow faucets. I don’t flush if I only pee. I have a shower head that you can turn off while shaving or soaping up that I use, albeit 75% of the time. So one easy way I’ve come up with to reduce our water wasting is to capture the water while waiting for it to get hot. Our water heater is on the other side of the house than the bathroom, so the shower takes FOR-EV-ERRRR to get hot, particularly first thing in the morning. Solution: put a 5-gallon bucket under the tub faucet to capture the cold water!
Because our tub is curved, the bucket won’t fit directly under the faucet, so I devised this super high-tech way of extending the spout: a paint tray! Seriously, I thought I was brilliant. And yes, my tub is that dirty. Once the water is hot, the bucket gets set outside the tub, we shower as fast as we can, and then the bucket gets brought outside.
I dump the water into our 55 gallon upcycled malt drum that we had used as a rain barrel under the hen house at the apartment, but never got it set up at the house. It has a lid so the water stays covered, preventing mosquitos from breeding it in.
This water then gets used to water the fruit trees, my newly planted artichokes and to fill the chicken water. We started this the first week of January, and so far haven’t had to turn on the hose.
Is the barrel near the front door super ugly and ghetto? Absolutly. Is it a pain in the ass to bring the water out after every shower. For sure. Does it take FOR-EV-ER to fill my watering can and then have to water the yard by hand? I can’t even tell you. But we are saving water. Matt’s morning shower fills the 5-gallon bucket, my afternoon saves about 3 gallons. We aren’t breaking any records, but we are doing what we can!
What about you, what are you doing to save water? What’s the weather like where your at?