Slice of Life

Going to extremes to save water

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMay 22, 2014 

Kathe Tanner

What are you doing to use less water these days? What special techniques are Cambrians using to live within the stringent water allocations they’ve been given by the Cambria Community Services District?

We’re all trying to be thrifty water users during this historic drought that threatens to make us cranky, stooped-over and muscle-achy as we wash fewer loads of laundry and dishes (always full ones), take fewer showers, save water from the few showers-in-a-tub we do take, haul that water elsewhere to reuse it, and flush, um, only when we have to.

It’s not easy, but it’s necessary as Cambria drips closer and closer to running low on or out of water — possibly even by this summer or fall. That’s why each resident is allowed just two units of water (a unit is 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons) per month, a bit less than 50 gallons per day.

I emailed services district directors to ask for some water-saving methods they use at home. Three directors replied.

Mike and Sally Thompson (whose March-April bill was for four units) are “relying more on paper plates and bottled water” these days, he said in an email reply, and “when my sister and her family of five decided to visit last month, I advised her that daily showers were not encouraged at our home.”

Sister and family opted to stay in a motel. In Morro Bay.

Muril Clift and his wife, Vicki, “have always done all the normal things, including outside watering with nonpotable water,” he said. Muril shared their five-year history of water use, which showed no periods above the 8-unit limit “and only six periods at that amount.” (Cambria bills bimonthly, so the Clifts are allowed up to 8 units before surcharges apply.)

Muril said any customer can get their own five-year history from the district.

The Tanners lived well within our CCSD means, but have some new ideas. We filter tap water through a super filter pitcher, rather than our reverse osmosis unit (which wastes water). And we might follow the lead of some friends who took out-of-town vacations to reduce their Cambria water use.

In the kitchen? We already try to use all our sink water at least twice.

For instance, in a bowl in the kitchen sink, I accumulate rinsing water (from everything from carrots and strawberries to a coffee mug). Rather than washing leftover goo off a plate, dish or fork, I scrape the glop into the trash, wipe the dish with a tissue or paper towel, then swish the dish in the bowl water. Then the dish goes into our dishwasher-in-a-drawer, which uses about two gallons per wash.

But some dirty stuff has to be washed by hand, so it’s back to the bowl, filled this time with some soapy water, and another bowl for rinsing. (Both hold less water than the sink itself.) When the bowl water gets grungy, it’s dumped into a bucket, then taken outside to keep our plants green — or at least alive.

Other ideas? For a warm dishcloth or washcloth, I don’t run water until it’s hot, even though we have hot-water recycling. Instead, I moisten the cloth with cold water and stick it in the microwave for a few seconds. A toothbrush is wet and rinsed in a cup.

I’ve even brightened up our Zen garden with strategically placed silk flowers, sometimes just one or two stems at a time. Don’t laugh! It works.

Remember the old wringer washer that used one load of water for multiple loads of wash? Last in were the jeans. It’s a wonder they got clean, if they ever really did. (They could stand up in the corner all by themselves!) No thanks. If it comes to that, we’ll take some of our laundry to an out-of-town coin laundry.

The other CCSD director who responded was Amanda Rice. She said her water bill “is always below four units,” and it’s even lower since she convinced her landlord to turn off the irrigation system.

She has a water-saving trade-off with a friend: “I wash her dog because I have a tub, and she washes my clothes because I have an old washer that uses too much water. The difference between 40 gallons per load versus 15 is significant.”

However, Rice’s most unusual water-saver tip is probably the most obvious, if the least likely to help the rest of us.

“It’s very water-intensive to keep dying your hair pink,” she said. “So I’m not doing that anymore.”

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter or email her at ktanner@thetribunenews.com.

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