Bathtime in a Global Drought: Water-Saving Tips
Journalist Steven Solomon recently delivered a talk arguing that in the next 30 years water will become “the new oil,” meaning that global water shortages will cause people to start killing each other (especially in places like Pakistan). And despite plentiful rain in California this year, our fresh water supply is rapidly dwindling. So, do I give my kids a bath before bedtime?
I was an environmentalist before I became a mom. I water my plants with undrunk water glasses. I take 2 minute showers. I plant native plants. But when my first baby arrived and the seemingly timeless advice “babies need a bath before bedtime” was bestowed, I had to think really hard about it.
I was told that bathing babies before bed should be part of every healthy bedtime ritual. But in drought-ridden California, it felt wrong to bathe a child that showed no visible signs of dirt every single night. So I didn’t do it (and they did not sleep very well, I might add.)
Then my children got older, more enthusiastic about their baths, and it became harder to deny them. Bad day? I need a 30 minute break? I know that if I throw those children in the bath…ahhhhh…take me away!
But I struggle with more than just the nightly bath. Children LOVE water in so many forms. They make rivers in the sandbox, potions with flower petals, mix colored waters in old glasses, play in the sprinklers, spray it from spray bottles, fill baby pools with it… Generally, when you introduce water to children, you’ve got a recipe for fun and thrills.
Yet children have virtually no concept of conserving water, and it’s so awful to feel like the crotchety witch warning them not to use any more of it. Especially when the little ones just don’t really understand that when they pour the cup of water into the grass, they won’t have it anymore…so they want another cup or, better yet, the hose.
Next: Water-saving tips
Every drop of water matters, but I also I don’t want to stop my kids from enjoying one of the simple pleasures in life – the touch of water. With that in mind, I’ve managed to incorporate a few water-saving water-play strategies into our fun family time:
- I save baths (roughly 60 gallons of water) for biweekly events and invite the kids to share my shower any other time.
- Though I do allow the occasional sprinkler romp when our grass needs a drink (average of 1,000 gallons to water the grass), I usually rely on spray bottles. The kids spend hours spraying everything with only a couple refills.
- Rather than providing a hose or unlimited water in buckets for play, on warm days I freeze large chunks of water in mixing bowls and let the children play with the ice as it slowly melts. (Coloring the chunks or adding bits of plants makes things even more fun.)
On the other hand, I can make other lifestyle choices that save considerably more water – savings I don’t “see” because it’s embedded in the production process:
- Skip the beef: it takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of California beef. (A bath, by comparison, is around 60 gallons).
- Avoid fast food: It takes roughly 20 liters of water to provide the packaging for a single fast food meal, to say nothing of the water-intensive process it takes to produce a single hamburger. Whenever I can, I make my food at home from bulk grains and local vegetables.
- Buy used rather than new clothes: it takes 400 gallons of water to grow the cotton required for one cotton shirt.
- Drink tea over coffee – and bring your reusable mug: it takes 53 gallons of water to produce a single take-out latte. A cup of tea requires roughly 1/4 the amount of water to produce.
- Bring my own water bottle rather than buy bottled water or drinks: every liter bottle consumed requires 3-6 liters to produce. Sometimes I fill it with homemade iced tea, or water with a sprig of mint, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on a tasty drink.
- Use low flush toilets: In just 10 toilet flushes I can save 50 gallons of water.
Because some of these choices save so much more water than a single bath might waste, can an eco-conscious person save on the big things and then not feel so bad wasting a little water to share joyful water experiences with kids? Or at this point in our existence, should we be saving every way we can?
Share your water saving strategies and thoughts below.