Rick Fukunaga and three of his Rohnert Park neighbors dug up their lawns and “replaced those water-wasting eyesores” with more resilient landscapes.
Ann Possinger of Santa Rosa now washes her sheets and towels once a month instead of weekly, and Rohnert Park renter Suzanne Grant switched from beef to seafood or chicken, which takes less water to process.
In May, Sonoma County residents reduced their water consumption by 30 percent with ingenious modifications to everyday life. “There’s a lot of little things that people can do,” said Trathen Heckman, executive director of Daily Acts, a Petaluma nonprofit that promotes sustainability.
When asked to share their solutions, readers responded with practical solutions, a few complaints about agricultural culprits and a little humor.
Michael Coates of Sonoma recommends bathing in the pool, for example, saying, “Chlorine is very cleansing.” And Dyann Espinoza, also of Sonoma, came up with her own unique way of conserving moisture: “I quit crying over spilt milk.”
We’ve compiled a list of their recommendations, many of which can be accomplished with simple tools you may already have hanging around the house. Some are so easy you may not have even considered them, like taking a sponge bath or dusting your car between monthly washings. For every minute you turn the faucet off, you save 4 gallons. Five minutes means 20 gallons. That adds up to 7,300 gallons a year.
When implemented together, little changes can make a big difference.
Rick Fukunaga, Rohnert Park: It all started with one of my neighbors tearing up his lawn and replacing it with decorative rock. I spoke to the neighbors on both sides of me about doing something similar. We all dug up our lawns and replaced those water-wasting eyesores with artificial lawn, decorative rocks, water-stingy succulents and colored cement tiles.
Now there are four houses in a row that have replaced lawns, and I water my succulents with a 2-gallon watering can once a week. I think a conservative estimate of water saving would be from 800-1,000 gallons a week to less than 100 gallons for our four houses. Today I saw that my neighbor across the streets appears to be tearing out his lawn. We may have started a trend.
Don McEnhill, Healdsburg: We have an elaborate system of doing dishes. Essentially, we save all our used paper towels and use those to wipe everything into the garbage can. If you can do that, the plate goes right into the dishwasher. When we have to wash things by hand, we get it wet, turn off the water and wash it. Then turn the water on just enough to rinse it.
If you have a lawn with a lot of plants, just irrigate it one less day, or knock it back from 20 to 15 minutes a session. So fiddle around and experiment and dial it back.
If you don’t know how much water you’re using every day, get a screwdriver and go look at your meter. Learn how to read it and how to convert it into gallons. Keep a running record. Make notes of what you’re doing, and if you see a big drop in consumption, keep doing it.
Ann Possinger, Santa Rosa: I’ve been conserving water since the drought of 1976, so it kind of hurts me to run the water. I dump water and ice cubes left in glasses or pots into a watering can to use later.
You can extend the length of time you use your towels and sheets before washing them. I wash them monthly now.
Even though I have low-flow shower head and toilets, I keep a bucket in the shower and catch the water while waiting for it to warm up, and I use that water to flush the toilet. Of course, if it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, wash it down.
Susan Price, Guerneville: Displace water in the back of your toilet tank to use less per flush. I use a brick in mine.
Run full loads of laundry and dishes. Using an energy saver dishwasher actually uses less water than washing by hand.
Fix the leaks — dripping faucets, running toilets, old pipes, broken irrigation lines, leaky hoses and spray nozzles. This is a big one that potentially wastes tens to hundreds of gallons per day per household.
Julie Middleton, Sebastopol: Invest in a dishpan for your kitchen sink. Do all your hand washing there. Scrub your veggies there. Dump your steamer and pasta water there. Put your warm-up water there. Then take it out and give it to your small plants outside. It’s pretty clean. My wisteria love it.
Harriest Draper, Santa Rosa: Use a garbage bag instead of the disposal in sink, and use the disposal only for the small amount of refuse that collects there by the end of the day.
Bill Ranseen, Point Arena: Check the literature for your washing machine. There may be settings that use less water. Old top loaders use around 40 gallons, while newer front loaders do much better.
Low-flow toilets use 1¼-2½ gallons, and some have different flushes for #1 and #2. Check for leaks: Put some food coloring in the tank and check to see that the water in the bowl doesn’t color.
Suzanne Grant, Rohnert Park: I live in an apartment, so I don’t have a lawn to remove or a personal washer/dryer, but I can take Navy-style showers (get wet, turn off the water, soap up, rinse). These can save you 12-15 gallons of water right there.
Don’t take a shower every night, which really, most of us don’t need to do.
I’ve also changed my diet so that I’m eating more seafood and chicken, which takes less water to process than beef. It’s healthier for me anyway.
Betsy Timm, Santa Rosa: My husband installed a Chilipepper (on-demand recirculation pump) in our bathroom years and years ago. After installing, you press a button and it circulates water in the hot water pipes until it is hot. Friedman Brothers had them on sale recently.
Jen Collins, Santa Rosa: We put a valve on the showers so that you can easily stop the water flow in order to soap up or shampoo and then turn it back on to rinse without having to mess with the temperature. You can get the valves at any hardware store. They are often called “quick shut-off” or “shower control valve.” They are especially useful with the hand-held shower heads you can get. I like those because you can rinse off much more efficiently.
Janet LaBarre, Penngrove: Bring back the sponge bath. Wet a washcloth and wash off the face, armpits and groin. Rinse the cloth and wipe off the soap. Rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle really freshens up the armpits without water. It kills the bacteria that causes odor.
When I take a proper bath or shower, I save the water in the tub to use for flushing the toilet or cleaning. I also have a small sump pump that I plug in to drain it, and I run a hose out the bathroom window to water our trees.
Trathen Heckman, Petaluma: We had a low-flow shower aerator of 2 gallons per minute, and we switched to 1.5 per minute. We shower for shorter times and turn the water off when we’re soaping up. We have a laundry and a shower greywater system. So we have lanned redundancy: bucket in the shower, low flow, mindful use of water, multiple greywater and rainwater systems.
This fall, we plan to add more rainwater catchment systems. In the yard, we’ve been tuning up our drip system, mulching more and taking things out of the landscape. I have a soil probe that allows you to dig down and check the moisture. That helps you get tuned into whether you’re giving too much water.
Chris Hogland, Santa Rosa: Don’t be vain about your car. I never wash mine, but it’s not dirty since it lives in the garage, and it gets washed during routine maintenance.
Susan and Dean Musgrove, Santa Rosa: Last spring we took a class given by the City of Santa Rosa on how to conserve water by converting the grass in our front yard. We sheet mulched the grass (a no-dig method where you spread compost, cardboard and mulch on top) after capping off the sprinklers except for one, which we converted to be a source for drip emission. We didn’t plant until April (as the compost needed some rain to “cook” it), and now our front yard is beautifully planted with drought tolerant plants.
We do lots of mulching of all the plants we have in the back yard, with judicious watering done very late in the day, not to mention some experiments in “dry farming” the tomatoes.
Sign up for a “Shower to Flowers” greywater workshop, water-wise conservation talk or any of the other programs offered by Daily Acts, dailyacts.org.
Other suggestions compiled by New York Times reporter Samantha Storey include:
— Shower once a week and use cold water as an incentive to get in and back out again quickly.
— Consider a composting toilet.
— Wear clothes longer between washings.
— Create a backyard vegetable garden that can recycle and reuse the irrigation water.
— Wipe greasy dishes with a compostable paper towel instead of rinsing them, then wash them in a dish pan.
— Use dirty dish water to flush the toilet. Use sudsy rinse water to wash the car.
— Replace weekly car washes with a weekly dusting and a monthly trip to the car wash.
— Skip the car wash altogether, just vacuum the interior. “A dirty car exterior never hurt anyone,” said Linda Dow of Berkeley.