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Gary Horton: Put a brick in it

Posted: February 26, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 26, 2014 2:00 a.m.

They say we’re headed for a pretty good rain later this week. The comfortable moisture on our skin and fresh scent in the air might have us feeling “everything’s better again,” but wishful thinking won’t fill half-empty reservoirs.

We Californians have seen droughts come and go before. During particularly tough times, we’ve been told to flush “every third time.” Some cities restricted yard-watering days.

Yet old habits returned as the crisis passed and we told ourselves everything would go back to “normal.”

But water has never been “normal” in Southern California. Without state water aquifers and esoteric water deals, the San Joaquin Valley and all points south would still be parched semi-deserts inhabited primarily by horned toads and lizards.

Some humorously observe, “nothing’s changed by adding water.”
Social commentary of California’s moral character aside, I can’t remember the last good rainy season. I remember floods in the San Fernando Valley as a kid in the 1960s, and a few doozies earlier on in our time in the Santa

Clarita Valley, but a good rain has since been a long time coming.

Meanwhile, Southern California has grown much larger. Consider the awesome growth of Awesometown over the past 30 years — with all our added lawn-watering, pool-filling, tooth-brushing, toilet-flushing, shower-taking and car-washing.

Tons more people, requiring zillions of gallons more water — all while nature herself has throttled back supply.

Now we’re in an awesomely tight spot.

Farming in California remains paramount, as the state is rather remarkably and — to us suburbanites, at least — unexpectedly known as the “vegetable and fruit basket of America.”

Indeed, California produces a full half of the green produce products in the United States. The water tap to our nation’s healthy eating certainly can’t be turned off.

Something’s got to give, and you know it’s going to be you and me making adjustments to a new long-term water reality.

We’re the ones gulping the stuff in our artificially watered wonderland, so we naturally have the means to make changes.

Indeed, despite the tightness of supply, our water remains so cheap we consume it as prolifically as other cultures breathe air.

So it’s time to gulp hard and adopt new habits. Singularly, we can’t make much impact, but as 38 million people acting in concerned unison, we can significantly improve our water security.

Basically, we’ve got to put a brick in it — literally and metaphorically.

For starters, use the old trick of putting a standard brick in your toilet tanks. You won’t notice much difference on the flush, but a brick displaces just over one quart, and by the time a family of four has flushed for a year, you’ll save 2,200 gallons!

Some folks run the faucet while brushing teeth. Maybe the sound is soothing; maybe it’s just a lazy habit. But with most faucets consuming two gallons per minute, a family of four will save another 3,000 gallons just by brushing in silence.

Many run short loads in the family clothes washer. At 15 gallons per cycle, holding onto the socks and tees for a full load makes sense. Pack ‘em in tighter and save another 800 gallons each year.

You’ve never heard me say, “Trust me, I’m a landscaper.” But this time, trust me: most all folks over-water their yards to significant detriment of plant health. They think the ground must always be moist or even wet, and simply, and wastefully, water too much.

The typical yard runs seven valves seven minutes every day. That’s over 250,000 gallons a year, and our current landscape-watering habits represent our greatest opportunity for painless water conservation.

And usually, our trees and shrubs will thank us with healthier foliage for rescuing them from “wet feet.”

So if you water six or seven days, drop one. If you’re doing well watering every other day, drop water times down 10 percent.

Take into account shady areas vs. sunny, and reduce watering in shade. You don’t need moss, and your ground cover isn’t Greg Louganis. If you end up with a small dry spots here or there, enhance sprinkler coverage rather than over-watering to cover problems up.

These changes don’t require money or inconvenience. Yet right now, each household wastes tens or hundreds of thousands of gallons. With just these easy adjustments, you and I can make significant impact.

Want to save more? Spend a little. Inexpensive under-the-counter water heaters eliminate the need to “run the water until it’s hot.” At $150, they won’t break your bank and you’ll appreciate not waiting around for the hot water you want.

Still more? Change your irrigation system to drip and cut your outdoor water by a whopping 80 percent.

Don’t want to spend cash? Many water agencies will provide you free “smart” weather intelligent irrigation controllers.

California’s problem is largely self-made and, with common effort, can be largely self-corrected.

Start with these small changes today, save money tomorrow, and you and your plumbing and plants will feel much better having all done your part for our collective good.



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