In all my years of preparing to work in Emergency Management, it never occurred to me that one of my biggest personal challenges would be a California drought.
I was in Sacramento for the Yuba County floods of 1997, when flood waters caused 80,000 people to evacuate. In 2010, I was working in Orange County when the floods came, warranting a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Drought was something that happened overseas somewhere. We usually had much more water than we knew what to do with.
And yet, here we are in a drought. Families in central California have wells that have gone dry. Big plastic water tanks sit in front yards, periodically refilled by water trucks. Firefighters are honestly asking, will we have enough water to fight fire? Our Governor has made abundantly clear that the drought is a priority for all Californians.
Taking it personally
I have a challenging environment: a ¼ acre lot with a 2,000 gallon pond and a school of mixed koi and goldfish. The pond is part of my preparedness, so draining it is non-negotiable. The water is easy to filter and treat for safe use if needed.
I also have a bunch of rose bushes and other ornamentals in my front yard that hold sentimental value, so my plan must include their survival. On top of that, I am known to work for the state government, so I can expect no slack from my neighbors.
Inside and Outside
“Experts” say we use much more water outside than inside, on our lawns and landscaping. In my case, I didn’t spend a lot of water on my front and back lawn but the pond needed about 15 gallons a day just to offset the evaporation loss. Based on what I’ve read, the average per-person use was about 50 gallons a day; my goal was to use under 40 gallons a day, or 1,200 gallons a month. What this goal required was a complete survey of how I used water in the house, from tap to toilet.
Inside the house, there are four major water uses: shower, toilet, dishwasher, and washing machine. Also, sinks are used for hand washing, hygiene and dish rinsing, and this water can be re-used. All of these uses have control points, and secondary uses. In other words, I have control over the amount of water used for each of these uses, and with the exception of toilet flush, I can re-use the water for another task.
Making it Count
Water coming out of the tap is potable water. In reality, only a few uses require potable water. Showers, hand washing, and clothes washing require potable water, so my most serious attention is focused there; water used for these purposes can be collected and re-used as gray water.
I choose soaps and shampoo that are known to be biodegradable. I start with the shower. I have to shower for work, but I can collect the cold water that flows until the hot water reaches the shower and I can get in; about three gallons per shower for the pond is collected here.
I placed concrete paving stones in the shower pan to displace water (makes it easier on the pump) and provide an elevated platform for me to stand out of the collected water. A small centrifugal water pump moves the used shower water into a 10-gallon capacity plastic tank for re-use. Is it easy? Not hardly, but it makes me conscious of every gallon I use.
My recovered shower water is designated for toilet flushes. Each sink (kitchen and bathrooms) has a basin to collect water used for hand washing and dish rinsing; this water either supplements toilet flushes, or helps water the landscaping. In the garage, I have a 55-gallon drum that collects water discharged from the clothes washer. A pump draws water out of the drum to irrigate the lawn and plants. In the kitchen, a 15-gallon container collects the gray water discharge from the dishwasher, which is also used to irrigate ornamental plants. I would use caution about using untreated gray water on edible plants, but the roses and bushes love it.
In the drought, rain is a rare blessing. When we do get rain, I have a method to divert roof runoff into the pond. Even in a moderate rain, I can usually recover several hundred gallons to refill the pond.
Evaporation from the pond was a serious issue, so I covered half of it with a vinyl pool cover. While it reduces the aesthetic appeal of the pond, I’m hoping it will be a temporary measure during the drought, and when the rains return I can pull it out. The fish don’t seem to mind! It reduces evaporation loss to about 5 gallons a day, which is easily replaceable.
The Bottom Line: I’m Better Prepared
Any reduction in the consumption of a valuable resource like potable water is a positive, especially in context of preparing for disasters. Not only do I have a water conservation routine that has been refined with experience, I have those “infrastructure” items like containers, pumps, and hose that make it work and can be modified quickly if needed. My next step is to plumb a water line from the pond to the house, to make use of the pond water easier.
For an extensive list of water conservation ideas that range from mundane to radical, click here.
More resources for water purification
- Big Berkey Water Filtration System — dependable brand, recommended
- Katadyn Gravity Water Filter — 1 to 6 persons
- Lifestraw Personal Water Filter — inexpensive and lightweight
- The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide by Daisy Luther
- Sawyer Complete Water Filtration Kit — one of the best brands
- Sawyer Mini Water Filter — a good size for emergency kits. I keep one in my suitcase for family travel.
- Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst Case Scenarios by Lisa Bedford
- Survival Still – a water distillation kit