Living in the American West during the age of climate change, drought is always in the back of my mind. I’m not a farmer or rancher, but the signs of what drought can and will do to my beautiful state are all around me. Wildfires, infestation of invasive species, and “biblical” flooding are just a few.
That’s why, unlike our friends on the East Coast, we in Colorado rejoice in every snowstorm (and the rare rain storm). The amount of snow pack that accumulates during the winter is directly related to summer drought risk–and not just for Colorado. As you know, the Rocky Mountains contribute to water resources on both sides of the country.
We had a fairly decent winter this year, but it’s not nearly enough. Experts have already issued severe drought warnings for the Western U.S. in 2014. This is bad news for California, which is experiencing its worst drought in 500 years. Slowly but surely, this continuous drought is making itself known in the form of food price spikes, threats to drinking water supplies and aquatic life, and (gasp!) beer shortages.
The situation is dire, but we can’t relocate an entire section of the country. And we can’t wait for government officials to order mandatory water reduction. Instead, we have to change our behavior now, learning new ways to find and conserve water in a time of ongoing drought.
How to Survive in a Drought-Stricken State
1. Stop Watering That Stupid Lawn
Yeah, I said it. If all you’re growing is grass, you’re wasting a horrifying amount of water on a non-edible crop. Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day. According to the EPA, approximately 50 percent of this water is immediately lost to evaporation. That’s 4.5 billion gallons that could have been used on food crops or consumed by animals and humans. Stupid, right?
2. Reduce Shower Time (and Bring a Bucket)
Each year, American showers consume more than 1.2 trillion gallons of water, which is more than the entire volume of Lake Okeechobee in Florida. Each minute you’re singing and soaping up, gallons of precious water are swirling down the drain. Use these tips to limit your shower time to 5 minutes. If your shower head was installed before 1992, it’s wasting tons of water. Replace it with a low-flow shower head to save even more. At the very least, bring a shower bucket with you: then use the captured water on indoor and outdoor plants.
3. Upgrade Your Toilet (and Stop Flushing it)
Ever heard the saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down”? You know what I’m talking about. Toilet flushing is the single highest use of water in the average home. Pee is mostly water. It makes no sense to dispose of water using more water. After you urinate, toss the used paper in the trash, and leave the pee in the toilet. Nothing gets flushed until there’s something brown. (It’s not as gross as you think, trust me.) If that’s just too much for your delicate sensibilities (after all, it’s only a global water crisis), consider installing a low-flow or dual-flush toilet, or follow these tips to modify your old one.
4. Limit Washing… of Everything
We’re obsessed with dirt in this country. We see a speck, and we’re on a mission to eradicate it. In a time of severe drought, however, washing becomes a luxury–whether it’s dishes, clothes or your car. If you use a dishwasher, only run it when it’s absolutely full, and use water-saving modes whenever available. If you can handle it, wash your dishes by hand using a sink basin instead. Same thing goes for clothes: Re-wear clothes for as long as possible; hand wash one or two items when needed; and only run the machine when you’ve got a full load. Never, ever wash your car in the street or driveway using a garden hose. To do so only sends hundreds of gallons of water (not to mention soap) down the drain. Instead, seek out a commercial car wash that recycles their water.
5. Capture Rainwater When You Can
Because we love to pave everything in this country, most rainwater immediately ends up in the sewer system. Using a homemade rain barrel or other capture systems is a great way to harvest this free resource, reserving it for more important use, like watering your garden. There has been much controversy–especially here in the West–about who owns the rain and who can legally capture it (crazy, huh?). The truth is, there are no outright bans on citizen capture of rainwater–even here in Colorado. Want to know more? Check out this blog post and this map of rainwater harvesting laws.
Do you live in a drought-stricken state? Share your best survival tips in a comment below.
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