If you live in a city or geographical region where water is scarce or expensive, you probably already do your best to use it wisely.
There is plenty of water where I live. Freshwater lakes and streams abound, and we generally get all the rain and snow we need.
We did have one particularly dry summer about five years ago which really made the gardeners in my area begin to worry about crops. Good wells that rarely run dry were beginning to turn out water with an off color and odor, and nobody dared to use what limited water might be left on gardens. People began to consider creative alternatives. One of my neighbors used a small gas-powered pump to fill barrels of water at the nearby lake and haul it home in his pickup truck. Others scooped up water out of the river by hand, using five-gallon buckets and pouring it over into larger containers. Some folks set up rainwater collection barrels, but rain didn’t come.
I made it through that season unscathed, as did most of my neighbors, but it changed my way of thinking about the abundance of water. The very next spring, I leapt at the opportunity to purchase a large food grade IBC tote, and used a flexible plastic hose to hook it up to the house gutter and collect roof runoff for garden water.
I have changed other practices with respect to water, as well. I try to collect, use and conserve water as if it is the most precious resource on the planet.
During seasons of adequate precipitation, like most are in my area, it can be difficult to be proactive about saving water. Wasteful habits are so ingrained in most of us today that conservation needs to be an intentional act.
Why should I worry about it at all?
Water is a finite commodity. While it’s true there is roughly the same amount of water on the planet as there has always been—what little amount of water vapor that escapes into space every year notwithstanding—the quality of the water remaining may not be the same. Fresh water becomes salinized when glaciers melt into the oceans, and water can become irredeemably contaminated when exposed to fracking or pollutants.
While the supply of arable water dwindles, the demands upon it are increasing exponentially. Not only are there more humans in need of water today than ever before, but the amount of water used by people in developed countries exceeds that of our predecessors. We shower more, wash our cars more, change our clothes more, and consume manufactured products which entail excess water during production.
The bottom line is this: Sooner or later, most people are going to have to conserve water. Homesteads relocate, and conditions change and needs fluctuate. If not on a wide scale or long term, then at least for a season or two.
The time to develop good water-saving habits is now, before it becomes imperative. If you are on “city water,” there’s a great bonus: You will save money!
Easy Ways to Do it
As with any habit, it is easier to cling to old ones than develop new. Here are suggestions of painless ways to start conserving water ahead of time in your home, lawn and garden, and farmyard.
There are a lot of changes that can be made in the house, and none of them are drastic measures. But doing simple things now might help mitigate the chances of dramatic changes later.
For example, it is wise to limit time in baths and showers—take them to get clean and only as needed, rather than as a routine. Wash full loads in the clothes washer and dishwasher. Run water from the faucets only as needed; shut it off while brushing teeth, between dish rinsing, and other times during which you are not actively using it. And when cleaning house, wash only that which is dirty and needs cleaning—clean clothes can be hung back up, and try spot-cleaning first on rugs and furniture.
Little things like emptying the dog dish into a house plant instead of down the drain before refilling, or pouring the teakettle water into the humidifier, can add up to make real differences in consumption.
The bottom line here is to use water intentionally. Before you open a faucet, ask yourself if doing so is the best option.
There are things you can do outdoors, as well.
If you find you are having to water your lawn a lot to keep it green, consider a smaller lawn. It may be that your particular region’s rainfall amount does not support the idea of a massive expanse of lawn. A smaller, lush lawn for playing and relaxing might be just enough, and the rest could be converted to native wildflowers or shade trees.
Drought-tolerate vegetable choices make more sense in arid areas than do water-hungry plants like lettuces, celery and fruits. For these types of vegetables, consider keeping their numbers to a minimum so that they can be well-watered and worth your time and space to grow.
Use other practices to minimize garden water use, as well. Mulches of any kind—grass clippings, garden waste, cardboard or plastic—help retain groundwater. Techniques such as hugelkultur are water-savers as well. In addition, soaker hoses are generally better options than hand-watering.
Washing cars at home is often not as good an idea as using a commercial car wash. Recycled water and higher pressure sprayers can reduce water volume while maintaining effectiveness. If feasible where you live, try collecting rainwater. Just a few inches of rain runoff from the roof of an ordinary size house can fill two or three 50-gallon barrels. My 325-gallon IBC tote fills up in as few as two good rainstorms and is easy to use for garden watering.
By using only what is needed in the yard and avoiding waste now, it will be easy to adopt water-saving practices if necessary in the future.
Farmyard water conservation is also important.
Change animals’ water only as needed. And when you do dump buckets, use them for dual duty when possible. Pour them onto vegetable beds or over top of something that needs to be rinsed—like calf milk pails or soiled walkways and fences—instead of into a patch of weeds or mud.
Adequate shade for animals can help reduce their water consumption, and placing waterers in areas where they will get soiled and spilled less often can reduce the frequency of changing them out.
Certain animals love to waste water, and pigs are some of the worst offenders. One way to work around that is to teach free-range swine to drink out of a spicket attachment—pigs are smart enough to learn quickly that biting down will yield them a drink.
By conserving water before it is truly necessary, we can do two things. First, we can help avoid water overuse that can contribute to its eventual scarcity. And second, when the time comes to take conservation seriously, it will already be second nature. Although many in our culture are unaccustomed to being careful about water use, it is a good practice to begin using less as soon as possible and be ready for whatever happens.
What water-saving tips would you add? Share your advice in the section below: