Every Drop Counts

Last July, responding to the drought emergency, Governor Newsom asked Californians to cut their water usage by 15% (compared to 2020). Nevertheless, in March, our usage was up 18.7%. Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties are under restriction to reduce outdoor watering to once a week, and could face volumetric restrictions. Their water provider asked all Southern Californians to voluntarily slash consumption by 35%. 


By now, many of us have adopted water saving measures by fixing leaky toilets (up to 200 gallons/day), running only full-loads of laundry (with high-efficiency washing-machines), embracing drought-tolerant landscaping, drip-irrigation and mulch to retain humidity, turning faucets off while brushing teeth or shaving, timing our showers to “I Feel Fine” (Beatles), and gawking at the bathtub with shameful envy. What’s next? 


Beyond attracting rebates (check on SoCalWaterSmart.com), upgraded appliances and bathroom fixtures will save gallons. An old toilet can waste 6 gallons/flush, while newer models use 1.28 gallons/flush. The Niagara Stealth, an ultra-high-efficiency toilet, uses only 0.8 gallons/flush. An old shower head can use 2.5 gallon/minute (GPM), while newer options include guilt-free 1.8 to 1 GPM with pressure-compensated flow rate. 

Shirley King with her 200-gallon rain barrel. Photo by Art Olson.

What about dishwashing? Knowing that a faucet flows at 1.8 GPM will make one reconsider hand washing dishes. An EnergyStar certified dishwasher uses about 3.2 gallons/cycle. Running the sink for couple of minutes to hand wash equals an entire dishwasher cycle. So, let’s load up!

Since our gardens make for 53% of our consumption (2011, California Department of Water Resources), it sounds reasonable to irrigate with rainwater and gray water. Using rain barrels for irrigation works beautifully in Del Mar! Shirley King, Del Mar resident, has four barrels (total 360 gallons). Despite poor rainfall, she has been able to avoid using new water for half a year, with more to spare! Following specific City guidelines, redirecting laundry water could save an estimated 4,000 gallons/year. It is also possible to redirect gray water from showers and bathroom sinks, following permitting requirements. To top it off, condenser clothes dryers extract moisture and generate more collectable water for the garden!

Manually collecting gray water inside our homes allows to water houseplants or thirsty gardens, and to rinse dishes before loading the dishwasher:

  • When waiting for hot water in the shower, collect cold water in a bucket.
  • Wash your veggies in a large bowl to collect the water.
  • Use your dehumidifier water.

As of writing, Drought.gov indicated that 95.18% of the state is under severe drought, 60.97% in extreme drought. Let us pitch in with meaningful ways to reduce our consumption.