Slice of Life

Think saving water is ugly? Try NOT saving

ktanner@thetribunenews.comApril 10, 2014 

Reporter Kathe Tanner's 'Slice of Life' column appears biweekly.


Most Cambrians have reduced our water use for years, and many are saving even more now, during the current drought emergency. Conservation is working: Cambria Community Services District General Manager Jerry Gruber said recently that “March’s 2014 (water) production is the lowest, other than 1991, going back as far as 1988.”

Take a bow, Cambrians. 

But some people are not conserving. Most of CCSD’s accounts are single-family residential, using about two-thirds of all the district’s water. Just 10 percent of those residential accounts used 27 percent of all the water used by single-family residential accounts in 2012-13, district records show.

Some who most need to use less water, because they're using much more than the rest of us, probably don’t conserve because they can jolly well afford not to do so. Those people’s water bills are going to rise dramatically if they continue putting too much drinkable water on their petunias, or even worse, on their lawns, lap pools or putting greens.

All those uses are forbidden during the current Stage 3 water-supply emergency. But that doesn’t stop water wasters from doing as they please. They’ll just grouse about, then pay, their water bills, including substantial surcharges for using more than their share of a resource that’s threatened statewide. 

That will hasten the day when our town may actually run out of drinkable water, which CCSD officials estimate could happen as soon as this summer.

If soaring bills and the threat of no water won’t convince an over-user to conserve, consider that when CCSD’s equivalent of a three-strikes rule kicks in — three bills over the allotment — the district can turn off the water to that account!

Yes, I do understand that most water-saving practices are — let’s face it — just plain ugly. They’re also necessary.

When a home could be featured in “Architectural Digest,” it must be plumb discouraging to have kitchen and bathrooms littered with buckets for collecting water from the sinks, shower and tub. Moving that water around also can trigger strained backs, sprained shoulders and falls.

But every full bucket hauled represents another few gallons of drinking water saved. Little steps can add up to big savings.

Taking fewer showers feels skuzzy and can smell worse. But skipping a shower can save from 2.5 to 7 gallons per minute. 

Sponge baths help. As Cambria resident Jim Webb said at a recent CCSD meeting, his most recent “low-flow shower head” is a baby wipe.

Not flushing every time is gnarly. The “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” practice can produce pervasive odors reminiscent of damp training pants, outhouses and Depends (orange oil helps!). However, every flush you skip saves another 1.3 to 7 gallons, depending on the age and capacity of the fixture. 

A garbage disposal can use up to four gallons of water per minute. Options for that leftover beef stew don’t include your compost heap, which isn’t exactly a thing of beauty, either. 

In the emergency, tap water can’t be used for outdoor irrigation. Plants need water most during the area’s normally dry summer and fall months, when water supplies are historically lowest. That’s also prime tourist season.  

Small tanks to store rain and nonpotable irrigation water are absolutely not lovely, but they do allow us to keep alive our most treasured plants and save more drinking water for drinking, health, safety and other higher uses.  

Some garden-sized tanks are designed to resemble rustic stone barrels or wood planters. Good idea; didn’t work. They’re like those cellphone towers that are supposed to look like pine trees but don’t. 

Transporting large amounts of water in vehicles not designed for hauling can cause accidents when the liquid sloshes and the tank’s center of gravity suddenly shifts. It can also ruin your vehicle. 

So indeed, water conservation can be unattractive, time consuming, a nuisance and a pain. And yes, we have to do it. Now. Or we could all be literally tapped out. 

Conserving water is like brushing your teeth or maintaining your car. As irritating as it is, if you don’t do it now, it could cost you a whole lot more later.

If we don’t use wisely the water we have, all of us, the day could come — soon — when we turn on the tap and nothing comes out. Then conservation we don’t do now probably won’t be optional later. 

Face it, folks. Few things are uglier than a faucet without water in it.

Kathe Tanner is a reporter for The Cambrian and The Tribune. Her "Slice of Life" column appears biweekly. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @cambriareporter.

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