Here we go again. It looks like we’re headed for another dry year in Southern California. Two years after the Governor’s grand announcement that the worst drought in 1,200 years was behind us, the total rain for this year stands at just under 5-inches. Our “normal” rainfall for this time of year is supposed to be about 14-inches.
The Northern California snow pack is doing better however, with most of the NorCal counties reporting in at about 70% of normal. This shows that while we won’t have a drought on the order of magnitude of 2015, we will not have enough to meet all our needs this year. We will have to depend on our dwindling local storage supplies and imported water from the California Water Project to make up the difference.
How can you make a difference? Conserve water.
During the “Millennial” drought of 2010 to 2015, my wife and I experimented with different conservation methods, noting how much we could decrease our water usage vs. how arduous the strategy. The average California household uses about 175 gallons of water a day. We were able to get our daily water usage down to 90 gallons! Here’s how we did it, from easiest to most difficult below:
Sweat the small stuff: Small habits add up. Don’t use a hose to clean your driveway and patios. Fill a sink of water to shave or wash the dishes. Turn off the water when you soap your hands and when you brush your teeth. Only turn on the washer or dish washer if they are full. Put a spray nozzle on your hose. These basics won’t cost any money, but saved us about 15% off our water bill.
Buy low-flow appliances: If you can, replacing your toilet, washer and/or dish washer will be the easiest thing to do to conserve without any changes in your lifestyle. Having moved into a new apartment with all new water efficient appliances, I can vouch there is no compromise to cleanliness.
Buy a low flow shower head: In most California households, showers are a big water user. If you have an old shower head, buy a new low-flow one. I switched the head in our old house from a 3 GPM (gallons per minute) to a 1.5 GPM head and didn’t notice any compromise in the shower experience. They now even make heads rated for as low as 1.25 GPM.
Take shorter showers: On average, people take a 13-minute shower. Just cutting a 2-3 minutes off the average time can result in a noticeable decrease in a water bill. If you install a small shut-off valve on your shower head (some heads come with this feature), you can turn off the water briefly when you soap and not compromise the water temperature. My wife and I were able to save a whopping 40% off our water bill using this technique.
Mulch your yard: Many cities let you pick up free mulch from your neighborhood parks. If you mulch your planting beds, your irrigation will be more efficient, and you will need to water the garden less.
Save warm-up shower water for special plants: Beyond the $1.25 for a 5-gallon bucket from Home Depot, this strategy does not require any additional purchases, but it will require some effort. Gathering unused shower warm-up water bucket by bucket is labor intensive, but we were able to keep our favorite weeping peach trees alive during the last drought by not allowing this daily use go to waste.
Get rid of your lawn: The reduction of turf has been the primary goal for Southern California water agencies and cities. The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) just allocated $50 million dollars a year for a new program to motivate residential clients to take out their lawns and replace them with drought tolerant planting. Lawn grasses use roughly 1 million gallons per year per acre in Southern California, as opposed to 300,000 gallons per year per acre for drought tolerant planting.
Get a professional to help you program and operate your irrigation controller: The EPA estimates 50% of all water wasted in the United States is due to improperly adjusted irrigation systems. “Smart” irrigation controllers are complex and require plant and soil knowledge to setup; the average landscape maintenance person may not have those skills. Hiring a reputable maintenance company to do the initial setup of a controller, explain its features and review maintenance will improve water efficiency in the long run. This item will require the most knowledge, effort, and money to implement, but will save the most amount of water.
On a related note, AHBE Lab has aback catalog of numerous posts describing all aspects of drought worth revisiting. Happy water savings!