During the 70’s a major drought hit parts of California and Nevada. Water use was restricted to cooking, washing, drinking, watering the garden and pets. In our area of Carson City, Nevada, we had to reduce our water use by 30% or face heavy fines.
In California, a set of commercials put in place made the popular motto: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow- if it’s brown, flush it down.” It was self-explanatory, and since water-saving toilets didn’t exist yet, it made sense.
No lawn watering, no car washing, no excuses. If you wanted a glass of water in a restaurant, you had to request it. It takes eight glasses of water to wash one, and most people don’t drink the water at the table anyway.
Officials visited our house to get a “head count” of people and pets. We had a garden- they actually measured it. We could water what we had, but not plant more until we had rain (in the desert) or winter snow (our common source of summer water).
Two horses, a dog, four cats, four kids and one adult, a garden and washing machine had a fixed allotment for water use. I could not change the horses’ water barrel every week; that changed to once a month. I let the officials know I always took the water in buckets to the garden anyway, along with the manure.
The drought in our area got so bad we had water trucks come by. We had to carry water bottles back and forth to get our water. The washing machine became off limits, forcing us to do laundry in a city outside the restriction zone.
Here’s what we all learned:
Used water does double duty
- After doing dishes, let the solids sink to the bottom and carefully scoop the water into a bucket. Use that water to fill the toilet tank. You can use an old colander and cheesecloth or muslin to strain it further. Yes, it will tend to have an odor, but it’s better than having a $200-$2000 fine. We had a toilet bowl deodorizer. We also used the California motto: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down.” Reducing the amount of toilet paper used helps with this.
- Stop up the bathtub and keep shower/bath water. Scoop this water as well, using it for the toilet tank and/or the garden. Use a biodegradable soap.
- Maximize the laundry water- buy a 35-50 gallon trash can with wheels. Place and hold the discharge hose in the can and let the water discharge into it. Two is better than one, we found. We took used soapy water and watered the garden- the bugs weren’t happy. The rinse water was captured in a separate can and used to mop the floors, water expensive plants we wanted to keep and wash the windows on my Mother’s car.
Take shorter showers, and eliminate baths for the duration
- Take a “Navy” shower- get wet, turn the water off, or push the button on a water saver showerhead. Lather up, soap up, and scrub. Use the minimum amount of soap/shampoo you need to get clean. Turn the water on and rinse. It should take less than 5 gallons of water. RV’ers and sailors do this every day.
- Eliminate baths- they take a tremendous amount of water. If a shower is out of the question, fill a bucket or bath pan with water and take a sponge bath.
Bushes, trees and plants either lived or died
- This was the hard part. I had a hedge of caned roses, grown over a period of years. They were seriously stressed by the drought. Every morning, I collected leftover coffee, water, milk- any liquid at all (except alcohol- kills the roots) and gave it to the rose bushes. My neighbors loved my hedge, and soon they were dropping off buckets of liquid as well. That hedge was one of the few surviving non-food plants that year- all my neighbors received a set of cuttings for Christmas.
It sounds bad, doesn’t it- having to figure out ways to use water more than once. We’re used to using it, then dumping it. It makes financial sense to get the most out of your money by maximizing your water use.
In some communities, ordinances state that “gray water”- that water from sinks, showers and laundry can’t be used on outside plants. Those communities place that water in the same category of “black water”- sewer water. If you’re in a serious drought and have a green lawn with lush bushes, it would raise suspicion. I would simply implement the above, but leave the lawn to turn brown. Focus water re-use on the toilet tank, food plants and those expensive backyard plants not seen from the road. Be seen giving just the bare minimum of water to expensive front-yard plants, and don’t tell anyone where the water is coming from.
Source: The author of this article has over 40 years of experience in diverse forms of DIY, home improvement and repair, crafting, designing, and building furniture, outdoor projects and more.