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.


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. 

Paddle Board Yoga — I Absolutely Love It!

Two weeks ago I tried my first  Paddle Board Yoga class and absolutely loved it! Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Yoga, also known as waterborne yoga is yoga taught on the water on floating boards. Fun, right? Well, I do love yoga but between the thought of exercising in a bathing suit and being on a surf board surrounded by water, I wasn’t so sure. Lucky for me, I live in San Francisco, where the weather is mild and the water is freezing, so when I called to ask what I should wear to class I was told that a bathing suit was in fact NOT appropriate and that I should wear my regular yoga gear; I liked SUP Yoga more already!

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge to my class in Sausalito was beautiful and peaceful — it’s rare that I’m driving without my kids in the back so the silence combined with the gorgeous day and glistening water of the bay had me savoring every minute. As I parked my car, the reality of trying something new, that would likely be pretty challenging, had me feeling a bit apprehensive. I still needed to embrace my impending reality of standing on a surfboard surrounded by water.

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge — The No U Turn sign captured exactly how I was feeling 🙂

While I waited for class to begin I mingled with a few other students and felt a bit better as I noted that several of us were first-timers. The instructor kicked-off class and successfully eased us into the experience, taking the time to explain the equipment and letting us warm up by paddling around the Bay. Once I was on the board and paddling in the Bay, I began to relax and feel centered — the magic of exercising while in harmony with the sea and sun was already exhilarating.

As the yoga portion of the class began I quickly realized how even the simplist yoga postures take on an added intensity on the board.  The board on the water really challenges your balance, it’s constantly wobbly and taps into different muscle groups than traditional mat yoga. Moving out of one pose and into another is also more challenging — just staying still is challenging. While it was hard to adapt to the continuous motion and instability created by weight shifts on the board and movement of the water, this is also what allowed me to focus in a much deeper way than traditional yoga where my mind constantly wanders. Your entire being is switched on every minute while practicing yoga techniques on a board.  Every movement must be done with more intent and concentration. If you miscalculate your center you’re not only likely to fall out of a pose but chances are you will land in the water (which happened to me!).

SUP Yoga. Image courtesy of On Board SUP in Sausalito, CA
SUP Yoga. Image courtesy of On Board SUP in Sausalito, CA

Doing SUP yoga in the Pacific waters of Northern California has many advantages beyond the weather and invitation to wear “regular yoga gear”. The audience in the water consists of boisterous sea lions and the sky is full of glorious birds. During the final part of class, Savasana, I laid back, listened to the symphony of sea lions, birds and rippling water and watched the clouds roll by. The breathtaking beauty of it all literally soothed my soul.

ahhhh Savasana SUP style

The complete experience gave me an adrenalin rush — like a roller coaster ride for a yoga mom 🙂 My last comparable experience to this “first” was learning how to snowboard 15 years ago. I fell trying both activities but with both I also experienced a rare drive where my body took control of my mind, my face was beaming and I couldn’t get up fast enough to try again. With both activities, the only remedy for a fall is to refocus and then get back on board and try again. Many people would see these two sports as on completely different ends of the spectrum, however what resonates for me, with these glorious outdoor activities, is being surrounded by beauty and nature and the requirement of both to be centered and focussed. Be it in the Sierras or the San Francisco Bay, I am a girl who loves the open air and the simple pleasures of being surrounded by the beauty of nature. To exercise in a gym feels like work to me but to be outside automatically brings an element of fun and a sense of spirituality.

Feeling awesome after class!

Sup Yoga is one of the coolest outdoor activities I have ever done!  Even for non-yoga folks, I highly recommend trying it. It’s an amazing full-body workout (in the middle of paradise) that leaves you feeling refreshed and exhilarated. I will certainly be trying it again soon and next time I will remember to bring a change of clothes — “regular yoga gear” may provide more coverage than a bathing suit but it doesn’t mean that you’ll stay dry.

What’s On Tap? It’s Hetch Hetchy For Me!

Hetch Hetchy might sound like the latest trendy micro brew but it’s actually San Francisco’s delicious tap water that comes from the pristine snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. If this has you thinking about California’s drought, don’t worry this is a whole other blog post that I will get to in the future but for now I’m sticking with the positive, which is lucky for me, and everyone else in San Francisco, I have access to incredible tap water both at home and while I’m out and about in the city thanks to San Francisco’s myriad of water filling stations.  According to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Hetch Hetchy water is quality tested over 100,000 times a year, and goes straight to the tap. Tap water is also highly regulated by the EPA and across state and local water quality standards. Seriously, why would anyone in San Francisco buy bottled water, which is often nowhere near as “clean” as what comes from our tap?

Sunset in Hetch Hetchy
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir at Sunset Image courtesy of Justin Gaerlan

San Francisco’s “Drink Tap Program” began installing water filling stations throughout the city in 2010 and for the past four years I haven’t left home without a reusable canteen! Refilling stations can be found all over the city and beyond, from the Marina Green and Golden Gate Park to UCSF Medical Center and San Francisco International Airport. Not only do refilling stations provide access to free and delicious water but they encourage conserving our natural resources and reduce waste from single-use plastic water bottles.

Globaltap Water filling station at the San Francisco Zoo

San Francisco may have been the pioneer of a public water filling station initiative, however filling stations are not unique to this city. Many other cities, including Boston and Wahington DC, have “Tap It” initiatives underway and many other private and public institutions have rolled out their own Water Filling Station Programs. Filling stations are especially on the rise and popular at colleges and universities where the average student spends hundreds of dollars each year purchasing bottled water, and more than 38 million of those plastic bottles end up in landfills annually, according to San Francisco State’s Office of Sustainability. Hopefully if you’re reading this, you live in a place where filling stations exist or are planned for the near future. If not, I urge you to still consider bringing your own container with you wherever you go, water fountains are a little awkward but still work to refill and many restaurants and cafes have help yourself filtered water available. Chances are that the water you fill your own container with will be as good or better for you than what you can buy so save some money and do something great for the environment too! 

If you’re not convinced, check out TapIt’s Infographic below, showing 10 reasons why you should drink tap water. A picture is worth a thousand words.

10 Reasons To Drink Tap-mini2
10 reasons to drink tap water, courtesy of Tap It

Please check back next week, I’ll be blogging about how much water you should really be drinking each day and what really counts toward your intake.