Monday, September 21, 2015

Droughtful Musings

An East Bay gardener who writes a blog, Annie's Annual and Perennials, posted a blog saying that home gardeners are not a water use problem. Annie then urges us to go ahead and water that home garden—for the birds, butterflies and bees' sake. It's a mere drop in the bucket.

Though I agree with Annie that agribusiness and fracking are using the lionshare of California water, not to mention Nestlé, I disagree with her fuzzy logic and rhetoric, holding the plight of bees hostage to her particular train of thought.

OK, so maybe I'm a tad cranky, it was boiling hot yesterday, and the house never cooled off last night. It was so hot even the neighborhood cats and squirrels were running around buck-ass-nekkid.

My main complaint is Annie's myopic point of view. She writes: "If every domestic household in California stopped using water completely it would barely make a difference at all."

 And then she states that "residential water use is a mere 5%-8% of total water use in California." Um, Annie, it's 10%. Her solution? Keep on watering those gardens. It don't matter, nohow in the long run. How very East Bay of her. It wants what it wants.

Yes, but of that 8- to 10% (not 5% as she stated) of California's residential water use, a whopping "...53 percent of total average household water use — or more than 190 gallons per household per day"—is used for landscaping, gardening, etc.

Let's do the math. That's 14,000,000 households in California x 190 gallons a day x 365 days = 971,000,000,000 gallons per year, or 2,979,885.66 acre feet. (One acre-foot = 325,900 gallons). Does that seem like nothing to you? Now I really suck at math, but Lake Chabot has a storage capacity of about 504 acre feet of water.

That other 47 percent of residential water use is indoors. "Indoor use accounted for more than 170 gallons per household per day..." That's the toilet, laundry, showers, the faucet...and leaks! (source—KQED) Repeat above figures—nearly 3,000,000 acre feet x 2 = that's about 6,000,000 acre feet for residential use. 

After reading Annie's blog, I wanted to scream: So, lose the friggin' lawn already! Use your gray water. Get this: Annie showers at public pool so all that lovely shower water goes down the drain. Hmmm. 

I want to tell her: Shower at home. Use that shower water to water the plants. And yes, do turn off the water while lathering up. Quit shampooing your hair daily. Wear your clothes several times before washing them. Be frugal with your dishes

(About washing your hair: "By the 1960s and ’70s, however, women were being encouraged to wash their hair seven times a week, which not coincidentally was also when today’s synthetic shampoos and conditioners came of age." It's all part and parcel of a move to get consumers to, well, consume. Just say no.) Frugal water practices may be a mere drop in the proverbial bucket, but it's still water saved. 

The oft quoted: "agriculture industry, consumes 80 percent of the water used in the state" isn't accurate, but it's trotted out every time someone wants to point fingers at farmers and defer blame: the "Not my problem" mentality at work. So Annie trotted it out without examining it. Stats are dependent upon several factors and cannot be trotted out without reference points. Otherwise, you really are comparing apples and orages.

Agriculture uses more water than cities, but not necessarily 80 percent more because state officials also include environmental uses for that water, too. Agricultural use is more like 50%, depending upon the wetness of the year. And almonds or apricots are not the main water guzzlers. Alfalfa, used to feed the cows, is. So, dairy/beef is our biggest agricultural water user.

What percentage of California’s water is used by agriculture?
  • 80% based on the developed water supply 
  • 52%: based on the total water supply of a dry year 
  • 29% based on the total water supply of a wet year   
—Blaine Hanson Department of Land, Air and Water Resources University of California, Davis
Regardless, I want to tell Annie that it's not an Us vs Them (agribusiness, fracking) vs (consumers, gardeners) equation.

We all eat food, we drive cars, All of us here, in California, almost 40,000,000 of us—we ARE the problem. Deferring blame to the farmer is not the answer. Yes, we need to kick Nestle's buttnuts, and ban fracking, and quit driving cars, but I'm rather fond of eating. Not willing to give it up. The farmer is the man.

So, I'll save every drop of water I can. Because I can. 

See, I grew up on spring water, and when the my grandfather's well (a seep cave) went dry during the 70s, we learned to make every drop of water we could eke out of the spring, count. And we recycled all grey water, because it mattered. 

We took a Saturday night shared bath once a week, the tub had maybe 5 inches of water in it. The equivalent of a five-minute shower. My grannie got first wash, I got second wash, and my poor brother was at the tail end of the line. 

That thrice-used bath water was then used to flush the toilet. And yes, we strictly adhered to the mellow-yellow rule. And no TP in the toilet either. It went into a paper bag and was burned in the fireplace.

My grannie had an old school wringer-washer (it used one 15-gallon fill-up of water to wash 3-5 loads of clothes. We heated water on the stove) and the rinse water in the bathtub (15-30 gallons) also watered the garden. That's 30-45 gallons total. We also wore our clothes until they really were dirty. Modern washers use about 60-80 gallons per load x 5 loads. Do the math. At least modern washers don't try & wring your arm off. Don't even ask how I know. 

Unfortunately our collective habit of showering daily, wearing clothes only once, then laundering them, is a modern phenomenon that contributes to a huge amount of wasted household water. 


When consumer goods corporations began to up their advertising game antics and successfully push cleaning products during the 1970s, there was a dramatic upsurge in bathing and washing habits. We became part and parcel of the disposable and thoughtlessly wasteful consumer culture. 

Our personal grooming habits reflect this rampant consumerism which lead to slovenly and wasteful water practices. Then there's Nestlé's pushing the 8 glasses of bottled water a day on us (and we don't even need 8 glasses of water a day, it's a myth.)

So Annie, though I agree with you on most points, I'd suggest that saving water at home really does matter. Think of it as a concerted war relief effort, like saving rubber bands, string and tinfoil. (How many of you still save string?)

And yes, I do water my drought tolerant garden with shower water. And no, I don't shower daily, and yes, I do wear my clothes multiple times before washing them. (I'm much more careful about my clothing and it doesn't wear out, or fade as fast). 

An added bonus of watering the garden with gray and black water (the kitchen sink water is considered black water—we wash by hand), is the unexpected surprise of finding long-lost flatware in the flowerbeds. I'm waiting for my teaspoons to sprout and am looking forward to harvesting my forks too. I'm not sure what the knives will bring. But I have hope. 

Meanwhile, the garden, despite the lack of water—as I do not use fresh water on it— thrives, and the hummingbirds and cabbage moths stop by daily. You can have your cake and eat it too. In this case, you can conserve water, and have a garden too without saying that saving water doesn't matter.

Uh-oh, I'm running low on spoons. Time to go and raid the garden.


1 comment:

Zana said...

I live in an area with an abundance of water, yet something inherently causes me to conserve. I have been on private wells for 40+ years and had to redrill one once due to high bacteria counts. As the old neighbor told me "the horses never would drink from that well". He had water rights to that old well and his cows were not so discriminating. But then, what choice did they have? Around here, we are seeing an increase in nitrate counts. Usually in certain areas and caused by farm field run offs. It's up to the households around these places to install reverse osmosis systems in their homes to protect the young, the elderly and those with with weak immune systems. When I was pregnant with my first child, someone from the health dept magically showed up to test our well, Back then they did that after being clued in by the Dr that a rural, well using woman was pregnant. That man warned me about eating fish out of the creek behind our house. To this day, I don't eat the fish from any local waters. We had been smoking catfish from the Mississippi regularly but they were some of the worse because of their high fat content. My ex, on the other hand fished and ate out of that creek several times a week and got stomach cancer. When I owned the well, I would have it tested yearly. Drilled past the first water strike. Many strived to "drill to Canada" 20 yrs ago. Not so much anymore. Nowadays, even those with arteasean wells treat them with suspect. Spring thaw, I always go to a small dam that had once been part of a mill on the creek near my old home. The creek fills up with runoff from the field as the snow melts and the ground thaws. Nothing has changed, the pond still has drifts of hard foam from the chemicals on the fields. So I tend to agree, self monitoring is self preservation. Drought or no drought.