How to Conserve Water During a Drought

California is facing "perhaps the worst drought that [it] has ever seen since records (began) about 100 years ago," announced Governor Jerry Brown in a recent press conference after declaring a drought emergency for the state. Here are four easy ways to minimize your water usage until the rains come again.

How to Conserve Water During a Drought

Go Low Flow

Reducing your water usage around the house without significantly impacting your daily routine is easy. The simplest means is to find and fix any leaky faucets, toilets, or shower-heads you might have. Toilets alone can waste up to 200 gallons a day if left running.

To check, got out to your water meter and note the reading. Then turn off all your faucets and don't use any water for two hours. If the reading on the meter has changed at all during that two-hour period, you've got a leak somewhere.

Similarly, you should look into replacing your old 6 gpf toilet with one of the low-flow variety. Same goes for water-conserving shower-heads, faucets, and hot water heaters. California law already dictates that these fixtures be installed in all new construction (and all new remodels), but that only went into effect a few weeks ago.

That's not to say that spending hundreds on new bathroom fixtures is the only solution. There are plenty of things you can do to save water that won't cost a dime. It's all about efficiency:

  • Only wash full loads of laundry or dishes to maximize the utility of each load
  • Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth, shaving, or washing vegetables. Fill up the bottom of the sink with an inch or so of water and reuse it instead.
  • Let frozen foods defrost in the fridge overnight rather than under a torrential stream of hot water. Conversely, if you drink your water from the tap, don't let the faucet run while the water cools. Either stick it in the fridge for a minute or use refreezable ice cubes instead.
  • Scrape food off your dishes and into the compost bin rather than washing the plates off with water and running the garbage disposal.

How to Conserve Water During a Drought

Grow a "Greener" Garden

Just because there's a drought on doesn't mean you'll have to sacrifice your lawn and garden. You'll just need to get creative in how you care for it.

One of the easiest mistakes to make during a drought is to keep watering like you've always done. Don't do that. Install moisture sensors like the Koubachi, or set up an automated system rather than sticking with the existing regimen.

It's also not just how much but also how you water. Trees and shrubs with deeper root systems need longer but less frequent watering, using a bubbler or soaker hose than the sprayers you use for shallow-rooted annuals. Either way, make sure you only water your plants in the cooler early morning hours in order to minimize evaporative water loss.

If you use an automatic sprinkler system to water your lawn, make sure that the spray is actually making it onto the turf, not soaking the sidewalk. What's more, when you mow the lawn, raise the blade height a couple of inches than what you'd normally use. The grass may look a bit shaggier but the extra length will help the plants lose less moisture, and better shade one another, thereby reducing their watering needs. Plus, you don't need to rake up the grass clippings; they'll quickly disintegrate into mulch which helps retain soil moisture. And whatever you do, don't fertilize! That only instigates plant growth and increases their water intake.


How to Conserve Water During a Drought

Collect What You Can

Just because it isn't raining much, doesn't mean it isn't raining at all. So when the skies do open up, make sure you take full advantage of the free water. Install rain barrels at the base of every downspout; each barrel can save homeowners up to 1,300 gallons of water annually according to EPA estimates. What's more, rainwater doesn't contain the chlorine, lime, or calcium impurities that tap water does and is healthier for your lawn and garden.

You may also consider installing a rain garden. These landscaped areas are designed to trap runoff from the sidewalk or driveway and slowly release it into the surrounding garden and lawn. They're far more efficient (by up to 30 percent) at trapping water than a similarly sized plot of turf. Check out this comprehensive PDF guide from the University of Wisconsin for more details.


How to Conserve Water During a Drought

Water Only When You Need It

Leaving the garden hose running while you wash your car is like leaving the faucet on while you brush your teeth, only exponentially worse. Hoses can pour up to 6 gallons of water every minute you leave them on. Instead, fill up a bucket with suds and use that for the washing, only turning the hose on to do the initial spray down and final rinsing. Or, if you've got the cash, take your car to a commercial car wash and let them deal with the water bill.
Similarly, just as it's better to scrape food off your plates rather than rinse it off, grab a broom and sweep your driveway, front steps, and sidewalks clean rather than using a hose and sprayer. Doing so requires no water and will give you a good bit of exercise to boot.
What's most important to remember is that every little bit helps. Even if it seems like an annoyance, it's worth doing your part to make sure there's enough H2O to go around.