California is in a drought and I’m making changes everyday

In response to California’s severe drought, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order on April 1st calling for a mandatory statewide 25% reduction in urban water use.The California drought situation is on my mind several times a day and has shifted my behavior in countless ways.

This image plainly shows the severe drought in California

This image plainly shows the severe drought in California

The phrase “We’re in a drought” gets thrown around countless times each day in our home……”We’re in a drought, don’t leave the water running while you brush your teeth”; “We’re in a drought, please finish the water you asked for”; “We’re in a drought, don’t just dump that water down the sink, use it to water a plant”; “We’re in a drought, the shower isn’t a place to relax”; “We’re in a drought, pick your towel up off the floor it doesn’t need to be washed after one use”.

To me and my people, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” should clearly be the state’s motto (there may be a shortage of water but we haven’t lost our sense of humor). Although I’ve installed high efficiency toilets in my home (as has most of San Francisco), I still don’t flush for “just” pee and my children know to do the same. After all, the average person uses 80-100 gallons of water per day and flushing the toilet takes up the largest amount of this water.

I literally don’t pour any water down the drain.  Whether it’s water from boiling eggs or a few swigs left in the bottom of a glass, I collect it in  a watering can, that I keep next to the kitchen sink, and use the water for my house plants or garden. I felt guilty leaving the water on for 20 seconds to splash and wash my face each night so instead I switched to using a face cloth that I wet for just a few seconds…..and I definitely don’t wait for the water to get hot anymore. And you should see my car, clearly going to the car wash is not an errand that’s been in my rotation for a very long time.

My mind is always working and wondering about ways to conserve. When I’m doing the dishes, I ponder if it uses more water to wash the dishes by hand or to load them in the dishwasher. When I’m gardening, I think that I should really put down new mulch in my vegetable bed to help retain moisture. When it rains (which is seldom) I think about how I really need to build a rain barrel to collect the drainage. When my kids spill a container of nuts, I think about how much water it took to grow those nuts and how horrible it is to throw them out. And, I wonder about bigger things too like, what happens to our groundwater and the water that goes down the drain…..if all of San Francisco’s water comes from Hetch Hetchy (read more about San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy water in my post here), is there a water purification system to recycle the drainage like in other cities (I researched this while writing this post and will cover it soon in another post)?

It irks me to no end when I see water being wasted……walking into a public bathroom where the sink is running or driving by a fire hydrant that is gushing water for an unknown reason, or, the one that infuriates me most of all – home and business owners that hose down the sidewalk in front of their property daily. It’s also made me judgmental when I’m a guest at other homes – I get annoyed when people leave the water running at the kitchen faucet, while they’re busy with another task, or bathe their children every night in separate baths.

My kids, ages 4 and 6, are also very aware, and taught at school about the water crisis and how to conserve. My oldest keeps a pan under the tub faucet to catch drips after it’s shut off and my youngest tells me that she doesn’t need fresh water in her container that she brings to school everyday and that every other day is just fine. 

I also see the changes on a city-level. Our beautiful playgrounds with water-play areas stand dry. Restaurants are not allowed to serve patrons water unless it is requested. Medians on streets are no longer part of the city’s watering schedule and often look sad. Parks have put in grass that doesn’t require watering or mowing. City street cleaning happens significantly less frequently. Several water-saving incentive programs are in place, including large rebates for replacing regular flow toilets with efficient flush models, and replacing residential clothes washers with efficient models. And my personal favorite is the city sponsored signage for residents to display, touting “brown is the new green”.

San Francisco's Public Works encourages residents to reduce outdoor watering and display this sign

San Francisco’s Public Works encourages residents to reduce outdoor watering and display this sign

I feel like I’m doing my part to conserve and I’m proud of my kids for what they know and their respect for the earth. The changes we’ve made have now become habit and will be part of us no matter where we live, with or without a drought. And for the most part, I’m impressed with the awareness and actions of the people around me and the city I live in. San Francisco has one of the lowest per capita water usage numbers in the state, averaging less than half the state average for gallons per capita per day.

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The funny thing is, it’s when I travel outside of California people seem concerned on an entirely different level. The minute I say I’m from California, they say “wow how’s the drought”……”it sounds really scary”…….or, “it seems really bad”………or, “what is California going to do?” It’s strange because these are feelings I don’t have and questions that don’t cross my mind. I don’t feel scared or desolate about the situation, instead, I feel like there’s been a lot of positive small changes around me and with me. Although the drought has impacted my daily behavior in meaningful ways, I don’t actually think about the scale of the drought and how it may impact the future of my family, city and state very often. Maybe it’s because it would depress me and I work hard to see the positives; maybe it’s because I’m too busy with the small changes and I’m choosing to focus on a minuscule part of an issue that’s so much bigger than me, my family or my city — residential water use accounts for only 12 percent of the total water used in the state; maybe it’s because global warming is causing all kinds of shifts and there are opportunities for change everywhere. So I choose to focus on change and setting the best example I can for my children and this next generation.  Although I sometimes find myself feeling ignorant to the larger issues when outsiders quiz me, I also know that I truly care, I’m living it every day and the changes I’ve made feel completely OK. 

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