How to save water inside and outside your home
While the world has been consumed with the deadly coronavirus pandemic and a cascade of economic, political and social upheavals, another serious threat has been unfolding.
The western United States is in the throes of another drought. Reservoirs are projected to hit historic lows this year. In the North Bay, we’re already there.
“Lake Mendocino is lower than we’ve ever seen it at this time of year, since it was constructed (in 1958),” said Pam Jeane, assistant general manager for water and wastewater operations for Sonoma Water, which provides water to most of the cities in the county and the Sonoma Valley. That means the part of the Russian River watershed north of Healdsburg is “in very dire circumstances,” she said.
For perspective, the lake is now at 36,748 acre feet of water. That’s half the normal level for this time of year. Typically, there would be a draw down of 20,000 to 30,000 acre feet through the dry season, Jeane said. So, doing the math, that means the reservoir could be nearly empty before the rains return.
Lake Sonoma also is at historically low levels for this time of year. Water officials already have projected that mandated conservation measures are inevitable.
But people shouldn’t wait for forced cuts. You can conserve water at home and change your habits before the heat of summer kicks in.
“We definitely need people to start saving water. A lot of our community are year-round savers,” Jeane said. “We need them to save even more this summer, especially if they’re in the upper portion from Healdsburg north.”
In the kitchen, bathroom
The last drought began in 2011 and dragged on for years; it wasn’t officially declared over until 2019. During that time, people made a lot of changes. Many switched to low-flow shower heads and toilets, planted more drought-tolerant natives, went crazy for succulents and killed their lawns. Now it’s common to see front yards, once blankets of turf, filled with perennials and grasses.
In the last decade a lot of progress was made toward reducing water consumption, Jeane said. Water use per person dropped. Sonoma Water users consume 113 gallons per person per day, below the state’s goal of 129 gallons. But given the critically low rainfall this year, everybody is going to have to do even better.
“This is very serious,” Jeane said.
Conservation starts with being conscious of every drop.
“Every time we turn on the faucet or start a washing machine or dishwasher, make sure it is chock full,” Jeane said. “Really minimize outside irrigation and even eliminate it if at all possible this year.”
This is also true if you supplied by a well. Groundwater also is finite and dependent on rainfall. It could rely on being recharged by a nearby stream that is very dry, Jeane said.
Barbara Gay of Santa Rosa practices using “just enough to meet the need.
“Rather than turning on the faucet full force for just getting my toothbrush wet, I find I can open the tap just a little and turn it right back off,” she said. “Same with hand washing or washing dishes by hand.”
Place a bucket in the shower or a kettle beside the sink to capture the cold water that comes out first as you’re waiting for the water to warm up.
Annie Silverman, a senior programs specialist with Daily Acts, a nonprofit in Petaluma that promotes sustainable living practices, suggests making a game of water savings in the family. Give everyone a bucket and make a contest out of seeing who can save the most. Limit showers to 5 minutes or less.
If you’ve been planning to replace an appliance that uses water, this is the year to do it. Front-loading washers are more efficient than top loaders and use 18 to 25 gallons of water per load compared to 50 for top loaders. Dishwashers also are made to be ultra-energy efficient, as are toilets. Some public utilities offer rebates for replacing old appliances and toilets with qualifying models. For a list with links, visit sonomawater.org.
For big savings, look outside
One area where you can achieve big water savings is in the yard.
Probably the most significant thing you can do is replace your lawn with native and drought-resistance plants suitable for summer dry climates like Sonoma County. You potentially could save 8,000 gallons of water a year by removing 1,000 square feet of lawn. All that adds up to a lower water bill, too.
Many cities in the county offer financial incentives, such as financial rewards for removing lawn or installing drip irrigation over water-wasting sprinklers. Some offer rebates for installing rain catchment barrels and graywater systems to reuse house and laundry water in the yard. A few, like Santa Rosa, will provide someone to give your home a Water Efficiency Check-up.