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How to save water inside and outside your home

Simple tips to save water at home

Reuse water when you can by watering plants and trees with it. For example, keep a bucket in the shower to catch the cold water that comes out before the water heats up. Or keep a tea kettle in the bathroom and fill it with the cold water from the tap as you’re waiting for the water to warm up for shaving.

Turn off water when you’re shaving, hand washing, brushing your teeth or washing dishes. Turn it on only to rinse.

Keep timers on all outdoor faucets so hoses aren't left on inadvertently.

Eliminate or reduce landscape plantings that require a lot of water.

Apply mulch around plants to help the soil retain moisture.

Buy a front-loading washing machine that uses 40% less water. Check with your local water provider for rebates. Replace old toilets with low-flow toilets.

Listen for dripping faucets and toilets that flush by themselves. Fixing a leak potentially can save hundreds of gallons each month.

Check your toilet for leaks.

Learn how to read your water meter, an important conservation tool. It measures the amount of water you use, and it can tell you if there is a leak in your plumbing.

Run the dishwasher and washing machine with full loads only.

Water outside between midnight and 6 a.m. to reduce water loss from evaporation and wind. Water in two short sessions rather than one long session, and water to a depth of 4 to 6 feet to encourage deeper, healthier roots, which will let the plants go without water for longer. Or water in the evening near sundown.

Target your water use in the garden by watering by hand in exactly the spots that need it.

If you have a sprinkler system and are not ready to replace it with drip irrigation, inspect your sprinkler system monthly. Adjust your sprinkler heads to prevent water draining off your lawn and down the gutter. Reduce sprinkler run time, and don’t flood your gutters.

Use a broom, not a hose, to clean your driveway, deck or patio. Washing a sidewalk or driveway with a hose uses about 50 gallons of water every 5 minutes.

Use a bucket and a hose with an automatic shut-off nozzle when you wash the car. Or take your car to a car wash that recycles its water. Save water by extending the time between washes or take your car to a Sonoma County Green Business car wash, certified for meeting certain water conservation and waste standards. Info at savingwaterpartnership.org/carwash

Cover pools and hot tubs to reduce evaporation.

Sheet mulching is a simple technique to nurture the soil and convert your lawn to a low water-use garden.

Sources: Sonoma Water and Angie Herman, volunteer with the board of the Pine Mountain Mutual Water Company in Willits

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.

Simple tips to save water at home

Reuse water when you can by watering plants and trees with it. For example, keep a bucket in the shower to catch the cold water that comes out before the water heats up. Or keep a tea kettle in the bathroom and fill it with the cold water from the tap as you’re waiting for the water to warm up for shaving.

Turn off water when you’re shaving, hand washing, brushing your teeth or washing dishes. Turn it on only to rinse.

Keep timers on all outdoor faucets so hoses aren't left on inadvertently.

Eliminate or reduce landscape plantings that require a lot of water.

Apply mulch around plants to help the soil retain moisture.

Buy a front-loading washing machine that uses 40% less water. Check with your local water provider for rebates. Replace old toilets with low-flow toilets.

Listen for dripping faucets and toilets that flush by themselves. Fixing a leak potentially can save hundreds of gallons each month.

Check your toilet for leaks.

Learn how to read your water meter, an important conservation tool. It measures the amount of water you use, and it can tell you if there is a leak in your plumbing.

Run the dishwasher and washing machine with full loads only.

Water outside between midnight and 6 a.m. to reduce water loss from evaporation and wind. Water in two short sessions rather than one long session, and water to a depth of 4 to 6 feet to encourage deeper, healthier roots, which will let the plants go without water for longer. Or water in the evening near sundown.

Target your water use in the garden by watering by hand in exactly the spots that need it.

If you have a sprinkler system and are not ready to replace it with drip irrigation, inspect your sprinkler system monthly. Adjust your sprinkler heads to prevent water draining off your lawn and down the gutter. Reduce sprinkler run time, and don’t flood your gutters.

Use a broom, not a hose, to clean your driveway, deck or patio. Washing a sidewalk or driveway with a hose uses about 50 gallons of water every 5 minutes.

Use a bucket and a hose with an automatic shut-off nozzle when you wash the car. Or take your car to a car wash that recycles its water. Save water by extending the time between washes or take your car to a Sonoma County Green Business car wash, certified for meeting certain water conservation and waste standards. Info at savingwaterpartnership.org/carwash

Cover pools and hot tubs to reduce evaporation.

Sheet mulching is a simple technique to nurture the soil and convert your lawn to a low water-use garden.

Sources: Sonoma Water and Angie Herman, volunteer with the board of the Pine Mountain Mutual Water Company in Willits

A simple $100 laundry-to-landscape graywater system can save 3,000 to 6,000 gallons a year, according to the California Native Plant Society, which promotes sustainable landscaping.

For a comprehensive list of cities and water districts that offer incentives, visit dailyacts.org/water-conservation-programs.

Sprinkler systems are water guzzlers. Spray irrigation is 50 - 75% percent efficient, meaning that 25 - 50% of the water you’re using is wasted. But drip irrigation is 95 - 99% efficient, and more targeted.

“With its inline emitters, you can place water exactly where your plants need it, with little loss to wind, evaporation or runoff,” said Mary Lou Milkoff, a Sonoma County Master Gardener who specializes in irrigation. “You can use smaller emitters to deliver water slowly onto clay soils and larger emitters to quickly water sandy soils. Emitters can also be spaced farther apart for clay soils or closer together on sandy soil.”

To determine how much water your plants need, she added, refer to an online database called Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. It describes each plant’s water use as high, moderate, low or very low and shows how a plant’s water use varies among six regions of California (ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS).

Garden Water Saving Q and A

What: Ask a Master Gardener about water saving strategies

Date: Wednesday, April 28

Time: 12:30 - 2 p.m.

Location: Online, on Zoom

Registration required: Sonomamg.ucanr.edu

Transform your thirsty lawn

What: Live online interactive chat with experts from Daily Acts on favorite native and drought-tolerant plants to replace your lawn.

Date: Thursday, May 6

Time: 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Location: online

Registration: dailyacts.org

Enlist professional help

You may have to do some detective work if you’re not a plant expert. But enlist the help of your local plant nursery. They can help you identify a plant if you bring in a cutting or a photo.

Another handy website is QWEL.net, a database of qualified water-efficient landscapers to help you find someone to install a drip irrigation system if you need assistance. The Sonoma County Master Gardeners also occasionally holds free workshops as have some local nurseries and garden centers.

An added layer of mulch will help keep your soil cool and retain moisture longer. Avoid wood chips and anything flammable in fire country.

The Master Gardeners offer free waterwise garden consultations. There is a backlog so it may take awhile to get one, Milkoff said. But in the meantime you can go to sonomamg.ucanr.edu to make an appointment.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @megmcconahey.

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.

 

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