What Are You Doing to Survive the Drought?

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Many of us have drought on our minds these days. Even if you don’t live in California, you probably have come across stories about the Golden State’s struggle to deal with dismally low snowpacks, emptying reservoirs, and thirsty agricultural industry.

For many Californians, a big ongoing conversation is about conservation. On April 1, Gov. Brown issued a mandatory 25 percent consumption cut from the 2013 levels for homes and businesses in big cities and little towns. Since then, I have heard many conversations from friends and strangers wondering how they are going to cut their water use, especially if they already have been reducing their consumption to comply with mandatory or voluntary restrictions imposed by their cities or water districts in the past year.

That’s an interesting puzzle to solve. While many of us have meters to tell us how much we need to pay for our household water use, we tend to have a muddy picture of where all that water goes. There are educated guesses, of course. If you have a large yard with lush grass and big leafy plants, then it’s likely that most of the water goes to irrigation. But you don’t have hard data unless you have a meter that measures only outdoor irrigation. Beyond the big, obvious water needs around the house, pipes and appliances can leak for hours and days unnoticed. Sensors and modern, digital meters that break down water use by the minute could alert you to this overlooked waste, but the vast majority of our homes and businesses don’t have those smart meters.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Drought Monitor; National Drought Mitigation Center

Despite a lack of clarity of our water use, we certainly hear quite a few recommendations for ways to conserve. We’re often advised to take shorter showers, plant drought-resistant plants, water lawns less frequently, and use water-efficient appliances. You can find some tips at this state-funded website, The mayor of Los Angeles kicked off a “Save the Drop” campaign yesterday that comes with a bunch of cartoon images to get the conservation message across.

In fact, the California Energy Commission approved tighter water-use standards for appliances, such as toilets and kitchen faucets, earlier this week. The new standards will take effect for appliances that are sold after January 1 next year. The commission says the new rules should reduce water use by 10 billion gallons during the first year and more in subsequent years. State residents use more than 40 times that amount each year just by flushing toilets and running faucets, however, so there’s plenty of room to save more.

So what is your strategy for lowering your water use? Are you literally timing your showers? Have you rigged up a system to recycle water? Are you changing what and how you cook?

I’ve been using a bucket and large pots to capture the cold water that comes out of the shower head before the warm water appears, and use that cold water for cooking and cleaning. It’s not an elegant solution, but it does make use of water that would otherwise go to waste.

We want to hear from you, even if you don’t live in California. Tell us your stories in the comment section of this post or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. Or email us at You just might provide some good tips for the rest of us!

Header image credit: USGS California Water Science Center

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