Tuesday, February 18, 2014

10:37 PM
If you read this blog on any regular basis you probably know that I feel strongly about modeling a healthy, balanced life for my kids. As a result, a big part of our conversations and actions are focused on growing active minds and strong bodies. Likewise, while we drive too much and often to be classified as tree huggers, an equally important part of our conversations relates to our relationship to our planet and all living things.

This has certainly crystallized in recent months with the onset of this apocalyptic drought in California. We are blowing past dryness records last set in 1580 (that is not a typo) and things are not getting any better - February conditions in Tahoe are reminiscent of late summer and the local reservoirs reveal a new bathtub ring every day. We have always talked about water conservation in our house, but current conditions have elevated the discussion to the point that my 5 YO daughter now glibly alludes to "this terrible drought" in conversation with others and my 2 YO "wants water for the fishies". Below are some of the key points that I have tried to make with my kids, colleagues, and others with respect to their water supply and their role as stewards of this precious resource.
Photo Credit: Sonoma County Water Agency
1. Understand where your water comes from (little clue here: its not the tap). In all likelihood the source of your water supply and how it gets to your house is probably a pretty magical one, although it might not be something that you or your children have ever thought about. In our case, most of our water comes from Yosemite National Park and travels 160 miles by gravity to feed the thirsty San Francisco Bay Area. Some additional supply comes from local watersheds and an underground aquifer. Mind-boggling right? Once you understand the source of your water, the amazing engineering feats that bring it to you, and the ecosystems and animals that also depend on that water supply, then you begin to have more concrete reasons for saving water and appreciating the benefits of water conservation (i.e., more water for the fishies).

Photo Credit: Sonoma County Water Agency
2. Understand how much water you use. The average American uses well over 100 gallons of water per day for drinking, bathing, cooking and irrigating (i.e., this does not count the embedded water that is in everything we eat, wear or otherwise consume). Contrast that to Australia where they use closer to 50, the Netherlands where they use close to 30, and in parts of Africa where the number is less than 5 and you can see that we likely could do the same or more with a lot less water. Understanding your personal water footprint by reading your water bill and seeing how it and your usage varies throughout the year can give great insight into ways you can conserve (e.g., by irrigating less).

Photo Credit: Sonoma County Water Agency
3. Commit to making small behavioral changes that really add up to a big difference. Once you are aware of wanting to save water, then you realize that there are a million small things you can do that as a whole add up to a lot of water savings. A short list of tips are included below. My recommendation is not just to do all these things and more, but rather that you also talk about what you are doing and why with your family, your friends, your neighbors and the water hogs you see at your gym. I am not saying you need to get all in-your-face and preachy, I am just suggesting that a couple of carefully chosen words or actions could go a long way towards changing some social norms with respect to how we use and think about water.

Ways to Save Water Indoors
Check all faucets, pipes and toilets for leaks.
Install water saving showerheads and ultra-low-flush toilets.
Take shorter showers (or shower with someone else :).
Never use your toilet as a wastebasket and if its mellow, keep it yellow.
Turn off the water while brushing your teeth or shaving.
Defrost frozen food in the refrigerator.
Rinse vegetables in a full sink or pan of water.
Fully load your dishwasher.
Rinse dishes in a full sink or pan of water.
Wash full loads of clothes.

Ways to Save Water Outdoors
Don't over-water landscaping.
Water your lawn or garden early in the morning or late in evening.
Adjust sprinklers so that they don't water the sidewalk or street.
Don't water on cool, rainy or windy days.
Equip all hoses with shut-off nozzles.
Use drip irrigation systems.
Plant drought-tolerant or low water-use plants and grasses.
Use shrubs and ground cover to reduce the amount of grass.
Place mulch around plants to reduce evaporation and discourage weeds.
Use a pool cover to cut down on water evaporation.
Use a bucket instead of a hose to wash your car.
Use a broom rather than a hose to clean sidewalks, driveways, loading docks and parking lots.

Photo Credit: Sonoma County Water Agency
4. Make a few key purchases. In addition to the things you can learn about and change behaviorally, you can also make some physical changes to your home that will result in big water savings. Most water agencies offer rebates for efficient toilets, washing machines, drought-tolerant landscaping, irrigation systems and other water saving devices. I can think of no less painful way to save water than to simply rely on more water-efficient fixtures or landscaping to do the same things you always do, only with less water waste.

Photo Credit: Sonoma County Water Agency
5. Take advantage of technology. Now that we have smart meters, smart irrigation controllers, and apps like Dropcountr that help us map our water use compared to our friends and neighbors, shouldn't we all have fun harnessing that power into ways to save water? After all, while it may seem like we can't live without our smart phones, we for sure cannot live without our water supply.

Doing my part - Using the kid's bath water to irrigate the garden
To learn more about my Fitness Project, please contact me at mommytasker@gmail.com, MommyTasker.com, or connect with me on Facebook.

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