Friday, April 17, 2015

The Water Witch

from Jacqueline

 I have become a water witch.  Frankly, I believe it was a pledge I had to take as a resident of one of the most water compromised states in the USA. I wish I had a magic wand to bring on some serious, consistent rain across this continent’s parched lands, but I don’t.  No one does.  There is no magic wand, no silver bullet, and it is very, very serious. If you live here and you didn’t know that already, then your head is in the fast deepening sand.  If you are not taking personal measures to conserve water and play your part as a member of a community that needs everyone on board, then you’re in denial.

When my brother – a landscape gardener who originally trained with the Royal Horticultural Society and the National Trust in the UK – first came to live in the USA, he was stunned at the overwatering here in sunny CA. Even though his professional experience until that point had been in the UK, at that time southern England was experiencing its own drought (inadequate rainfall for years, plus the ground was so hard the typical English light drizzle could not impact the water table at all), so he understood the fundamentals of drought tolerant landscape management.  He would tie little notes on trees in LA. “You are killing this tree with over-watering.”  I remember twenty-five years ago he said to me, “Lawns are one of the biggest threats to California – why try to have an English country garden in a desert?”  But there you go – people like their lawns.  I have one, though I am letting it die. Why should I have a lawn when it’s on the cards that we’ll be scrambling for a few glasses of the clear cool stuff to whet our whistles before too long? 

But back to being a water witch. My mantra regarding water is, “Don’t let it go down the drain.”  You may think my measures are over-the-top, but this is just the beginning.  I am on a quest to reduce my water consumption and conserve water to the nth degree.  When I told a friend about my efforts, he said, “Well, up here in the Bay Area we don't have to worry, our reservoirs are 96% full.”  I said, “At the moment.” Summer is all over the place and it’s only April, so with evaporation, increased watering, and the fact that so many people are just hoping the drought will go away, that 96% full will be down to a puddle before you can say, “Turn that hose off!”

 So what is this water witch doing?

I invested in a water barrel for the garden.  It’s a nice one, faux wood, with a stand and a spigot, and though I have yet to get it linked up to the gutter (got to remain hopeful), there is an opening at the top with a filter.  I popped an “organic” mosquito killer in there, and that water barrel is there for my “gray” water, which comes from two main sources – the bucket in the shower, which minimizes water going down the drain, and the water from washing dishes.  Sometimes that water is used immediately for the garden and sometimes it goes into the barrel. And you would be surprised how it mounts up, ready to use for my garden, instead of a hose, which I refuse to use again anyway.  And when they start to ration water one day, or when there are standpipes in the street, at least I will have a few gallons set aside for flushing the loo! ( I am sure I don’t have to repeat the old mantra about when to flush and not to flush, not in polite company, anyway).

I have a timer in the shower, limiting myself to two minutes.  I think that's plenty.

I do not run the water to brush my teeth – in fact, this is an old one. I don’t think anyone does that any more anyway.

I am getting one of those devices that loops water around back into the system while you are waiting for hot water to come through. Even though I save that water anyway, it seems sensible not to risk wasting it in the first place.

Although I am not new to trying to act upon my concerns for the environment, my status as water witch is somewhat recent, so I know there’s much more I can do, and I know people out there have more water-saving ideas up their sleeves – so feel free to share yours. I will be the first to take them on board. We are in this together – for better or for worse, and it seems it is going to get worse, so best we become kin when it comes to water conservation.

That thing there should be a huge no-no right now. They break anyway, so let's ditch 'em.  I know how vulnerable they are because I once worked for a sprinkler-fixing company. Yep, the things you never knew about people!

I believe not using dishwashers could bring a whole generation of kids back to the all-important truly hated chore of clearing the table and doing the dishes.  Then wiping them dry and putting them away – and then taking the dishwater outside and using it on the roses and shrubs instead of having to irrigate with the hose. 

By the way, my mother always puts her used dishwater on the roses – keeps aphids at bay, and her roses are always just gorgeous.

I never run the washing machine unless it is absolutely full, and even then I wonder what I could have washed by hand, just to save some water. Oh, and here in CA – what the heck are we doing with dryers? OK, so who loves ironing?  But with all that sunshine, save energy (and therefore water) by drying outside. I have a clothes airer which is great for drying the laundry, and I live by my friend Corinne’s old mantra about wearing wrinkled clothing, “Oh the creases will come out with the heat of your body.” 

It must have been about 15 or so years ago, I was in England visiting my parents during a drought. Increased house building in the south-east, together with insufficient rainfall had led to a serious situation.  I hadn’t quite grasped this fact, and having borrowed my parents’ car, I thought it was looking a bit dusty when I brought it back, so I dragged out the hose to give it a wash. In an instant my mother came running out of the house, yelling at me to stop.  “That's a £400 fine if the inspectors are driving round and see you doing that!”  What?  Yes, it was so bad, there were local hot lines to report water wastage, and you absolutely would receive a visit and if caught, that was you, £400 worse off.  The threat worked. People did not waste water. Now I come to think of it, perhaps I’m a water witch because my father was something of a wizard when it came to water conservation, even before it was necessary.

He linked the washing machine and all drains from the bathtub and every sink to a central sort of outlet that whooshed waste water right across the lawns and into another receptacle. It wasn’t pretty – a bit mad-scientist, to tell you the truth – but it did the trick.  I was really impressed.  My efforts pale beside such ingenuity.

 Now, do you live in a water-compromised region?  And what are you doing to conserve water?  I’m really open to new ideas, as I build my water-witch resume.

Let's not take this for granted ...

And by the way, this little piece is meant as no disrespect to real water-diviners, who are often known as "water witches."  


  1. James O. Born4/17/2015 6:19 AM

    I live in the Florida swamps and I conserve water. We need many fewer people. Florida like CA if overcrowded.


  2. from Jacqueline: Thanks for your comment, Jim. Funny, I never knew Florida was water-challenged, but I guess that, with development and increased population, even states with swamps require water conservation.

  3. Like many ecologically-aware Angelenos, I've been conserving water for years, but I just started collecting water in the shower. Now let's hope those golf courses do their bit for the cause. There is a new non-toxic lawn paint. I hear it looks great.

  4. from Jacqueline: You know, as weird as it sounds, that thing about the lawn paint is really true - who would have thunk it? And yes, golf courses are huge water-users and they do need to really cut back - hey, it would make the game more of a challenge! I think the bucket in the shower thing is a really easy way of "recycling" water - heck, it gives the plants a bit of body ...

  5. Great article! I'm going to share it on FB. We do some the same practices. I use the water with which I rinse vegetables to water the flowers in the yard.

  6. from Jacqueline: Yea! Spread the word about really ramping up on saving water. Personally, I think some of our local recommended measures are way too little. We have to get used to a new way of being in the world with regard to our water use, and now is a good time to start.

  7. Jackie, another great post as usual. My family have been conserving as much water as possible. On a different topic, I was in Denver for a meeting and seeing friends. We went out to dinner last night and my friends from New Engkand ( I am from California ) were surprised that I ordered the smallest entree in the menu. The waitress asked me if I wanted to ass chicken or something to my order. I showed them your post about Park City and the Hollywood couple who did not finish their meal. I said that I wanted to make sure that I finish what I order.

    Hope your recovery is continuing well and have a great week!

    1. from Jacqueline: Thanks so much for your comment, really appreciate it! And yes, my mother always warned us about having eyes bigger than our bellies, and not wasting food!

  8. Great post! You have given me some excellent ideas, and I live on the east coast where we have plenty of water, at least right now.

    1. from Jacqueline: As we know here in CA, you can never be complacent about something as important and life-sustaining as water. Thanks for your comment!