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Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink

(from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner)
article by Sharmagne Leland-St. John

In this season of terrible drought, we must be conscious of every drop of water we use.

I have been a water conservationist for many years. When my daughter, Daisy, was a little girl, I always made it a point to siphon off her nightly bath water out into the garden. I used the old green garden hose to make the siphon. It worked quite well and in those long ago years, not one drop of bath water ever went down the drain; and even though we live on decomposed granite, our garden always looked beautiful and healthy with abundant, colourful blooms.

As Daisy grew older, and time seemed to grow shorter, we began to substitute daily showers for our usual warm bubble baths. One day I noticed the amount of water being wasted, traveling from the hot water heater which is on the fourth or top floor of a rambling old 1935 four story house, down to the shower on the third floor, and then flowing down the drain whilst I waited for it to warm up enough to step naked under its spray.

Just after the Northridge Earthquake back in 1994, without much thought for ecology, the hot water heater was relocated by my contractor to the upper level of the property on the side of the house behind the dining room to make room for a state of the art wine cellar. (Another way to conserve water!) At the same time, I redesigned the third floor shower, converting a tiny 3'x3' stall into a luxurious 5'x5' steam shower, with beautiful tile murals and painted mud flaps to match. On chilly mornings, it seemed to take forever for the water to get hot enough for a comfortable shower as I ruefully watched it flow down the drain.

A few years ago, I discovered if I saved the big plastic buckets left over from the laundry soap we used to buy before I was introduced to a more ecologically friendly detergent and kept one or two in the shower, I could put the hand-held shower head into the bucket, turn on the hot faucet and let the water collect in this bucket until it was warm enough for my morning shower. I could then use the cold water I had conserved, to refresh the window boxes on the front porch or use the water to flush the toilets. Does anyone realise how much water goes down the drain with every flush? If you don't have a garden, use the saved shower water and dishwater for flushing toilets.

When you wash your hands wet them first, then turn the water off while you lather, then turn it on again to rinse. Do not let it run the whole time. The same goes for brushing your teeth. Fill a tumbler with water and use that to rinse as you are brushing. It is a total waste to allow the water to run the entire time you are brushing.

I like to wash dishes by hand. It is something I have done since childhood. I have NEVER owned an actual dishwasher. I enjoy the feeling of my hands thrust deep into the warm soapy water as I wash and rinse each plate, glass and piece of silverware. Years ago, I learned from my father the gypsy way to wash and rinse. That is to take a small bowl of soapy water and a sponge to soap each dish then rinse in a pan of clean hot water. Another tip: If you refrain from stacking dirty dishes when clearing the table, you will use less water washing them.

In 2007, I discovered if I kept in the kitchen sink, a small length of rubber hose from an un- repairable garden hose and a bucket close by outside the service porch door, I could bring the bucket into the kitchen, set it on the floor next to the sink, siphon my dishwater into the bucket and then either use it to water the herbs and lettuces in my kitchen garden or, if it was too dirty and soapy, I could use it to “wash down” the pavement and stairs outside the upper level. Sometimes it is nice after sweeping to wash the pavements, but I can't see wasting the water from the tap.

Another good use for the water that is too greasy or dirty to put into the garden or walkways, is to get a siphon going with that small length of hose and insert one end in the full side of the sink and the other in the garbage disposal side. Place a lemon in the disposal, turn it on, and let the dirty water flow into the disposal. The lemon will give the kitchen a fresh scent and you will not have wasted any water running the disposal.

When you are dining out in a restaurant and don't intend to drink the water the busboy brings, let them know ahead of time that you don't want water. I can't even estimate how much of our precious water is wasted every day, by a restaurant’s habit of bringing water to every table whether requested or not.

When I first moved to “Treetops” my motto was, “ If you can't eat it, don't bother to water it!” Even though I composted and added lots of organic soil and nutrients to the garden, because of the decomposed granite, my gardens required a lot of water. The water bills were sky high and not conducive to growing one’s own food. I also have learned to make good use of an old galvanized watering can. I grow lots of flowers in pots and when I water with the hose, I notice water is lost as I drag the hose around or move the nozzle from pot to pot. When I water with the watering can not one drop is wasted. Place saucers under the small pots and you can re-water other plants with the run-off.

I set out “rain barrels” throughout the year hoping to catch enough water to supplement my other methods. A few drops of bleach keeps the mosquito larvae under control. The water is a free gift from Mother Nature. An old Sparklett’s or Arrowhead water bottle with a wide mouthed funnel is a good way for apartment dwellers to capture rain water out on the balcony.

Many local water companies will be giving discounts to customers who show less water consumption than last year. This is a good way to reduce the amounts you will be using this summer.

Now that I am recycling every drop of water that flows through the pipes inside the house, I have plump juicy tomatoes, gorgeous scented roses, aromatic herbs, tender lettuces and other delectable vegetables almost year round at no extra cost.


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