It is an interesting thing living through a California drought when you've experienced the same in other wetter states. Until recently, I wasn't even aware that we are currently experiencing the worst drought in California history. Were you?
We experienced a drought when we lived in Pennsylvania. In that area, when there is a drought, no one is allowed to irrigate at all (no watering lawns or gardens) or wash their cars. We had to save rainwater in barrels (yes, we got some rain during the drought) and use buckets to catch water from the shower as it heated up if we wanted to water anything outside.
In Colorado, we always had watering restrictions, whether or not there was a drought. You were only allowed to water on certain days of the week, depending on your address, and each sprinkler zone could only run for a few minutes maximum. The hours you could water each day were limited as well. If you were caught watering too long or at the wrong time, you faced hefty fines. Also, there were only a few months during the year you were allowed to plant sod, because it requires extra water the first few weeks.
After living in these states, we came to the California desert. We were shocked to find out that here we can water whenever we want, as much as we want, even during a drought (which have been most of the years we've lived here). It is not unusual to see lawn sprinklers going off in the middle of a 100-degree day, to see them running in the middle of a heavy downpour, or to see excess water pouring off the lawn onto the sidewalk.
Now that we are in a pretty severe situation, I've heard we may actually have water restrictions headed our way. Some people see this as a sign of how bad it has gotten, but I'm just left thinking, "It's about time!"
Whether we are legally restricted in our water use, it would be wise for all of us to assess our water use habits and make some corrections. If we all do our part, we can make the water we do have stretch a bit further.
In our family, we've talked to our children about the severity of our drought here in California and most of the western United States. If we get all members of the house involved, little changes can make a big difference.
Here are some simple ideas my family is working on. They don't require a trip to the home improvement store, so you can start saving water today!
1. Only water the lawn during early morning hours. Right now, lawns need little water. Once a week is sufficient. In the summer, split your watering into two very short cycles a couple hours apart. This allows the water to soak in deeper and minimizes run-off.
2. Limit showers to five minutes. For some, it also means limiting showers to once per day. (I never would have thought that would happen in my house; there was a time I had to plead for my kids to shower!) Using a timer not only helps keep you on track, but it can help turn the task into a game for your kids as they race the clock.
3. Start filling the tub immediately. Don't let the cold water go down the drain while you wait for hot. Just mix them together and adjust the temperature as it fills.
4. Turn off the water when you brush your teeth. We've all heard this; now let's do it!
5. Run only full loads in the dishwasher. For those who wash by hand, fill a sink with rinse water instead of running the tap the whole time.
6. Use a broom to clean off your patio instead of hosing it down.
There are many, many more ways you can conserve water. The key is to be aware of the problem and do something to help California get through this drought. Make sure your kids understand the situation and make them feel empowered to be part of the solution. You just may find that they are the ones reminding you!
Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.