Friday, March 01, 2013

Living with Less Water

           For a week, residents of Pasadena were asked to do no outdoor watering. This was not because of a drought, or because there are too many of us residing here for the available water. This was because a major regional water pipeline needed repair, and it had to be shut down to make the repairs.

Nevertheless, water is a scarce commodity when you have so many people wanting so much, living here in a coastal desert plain. It’s wise to practice water conservation all the time, and work such water conservation practices into our automatic lifestyle.

The week’s outside water use ban had very little impact on me.  For one, I no longer have a large outdoor yard with lots of flora to maintain, though I do raise some of my food.  Also, except when I lived with my parents, I have never maintained a front lawn.  When living at home, the upkeep and reseeding and fertilizing and watering of the front lawn was one of my father’s rites of spring.  It was a ritual that my brothers and I were all expected to participate in.  Interestingly, with all that focus on the lawn, we were not even allowed to walk on the lawn because  – and yes, this is what my father told us – it would appear that someone walked on the lawn!

Still, about 50 years later, most residents here in Southern California have the same fixation about maintaining a grass lawn.  It is, in many areas, a status symbol.  You will not be regarded as a “good neighbor” if you do not maintain your lawn to the neighborhood standard.  You might even be accused – as I was on several occasions – of bringing down the property values of the neighborhood by not maintaining the status quo. Little wonder we spend so much time, money, water, and energy to maintain the green grass.

When I did my usual early morning neighborhood walk on March 1, when the Pasadena watering ban apparently expired, I saw many front lawns with sprinklers flowing, and water running down the sidewalk and curb.  It was as if these folks could not wait to get the green back into the lawn.

I am well aware of the effect of peer pressure and the value that so many place on “appearances.”  Still, there are a few of my neighbors who have eschewed green lawns and instead have beautiful front yard areas full of river rocks, succulents, and various drought-tolerant bushes and vines.  These yards are a pleasure to look at, and they tend to be places that support the lives of the “little fauna” – butterflies, insects, bees, ladybugs.

           In a few cases, I see attractively arranged food-producing front yards, with fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs, well mulched to maintain water.

Living in the desert needed be a chore, nor is there a need to shake your fist at the water companies or local government.  We chose to live here. It’s a desert.  We can choose to live a water-wise life-style here in the desert, or we can attempt to continue to “conquer nature.”  The latter choice is not sustainable into the future.

There are many, many ways to live with less water, and use water more wisely. Many of these methods have been widely publicized n the last few decades.  I’ve included many in two of my books, “Extreme Simplicity” (2000), and more recently, “Self-Sufficient Home (2009),” where I shared the stories of people who took action on their own, without waiting for “government,” and without loans or assistance. I describe local residents who’ve figured out how to collect rainwater and use it on their properties to water the fruit trees and other flora.  I’ve described those who have purchased or made composting toilets and learned to use them safely and hygienically.

In my “Extreme Simplicity” book, I describe how I have taken the dish water from the kitchen – as my mother did her entire life – and pour the used dish water outside on the kitchen garden.  Yes, this requires buying dish detergents that are not harmful to the garden.

There are many ways to save water, including – where possible – re-routing your household water, minus the toilet, so that the used water flows into your yard and garden. This is called grey water, and in most cases it is easy to do, wise to do, and illegal.  Illegal to direct your used water into the  yard, especially here in this desert?  Yes, because city ordinances and Building & Safety departments recognize that not everyone do these water-wise practices in a way that’s both clean, and disease-free.  No one wants a neighbor who breeds mosquitoes for the neighborhood.  Yet, it is not “rocket science” to use grey water in the yard.  Local government needs to recognize that this is a positive wave for the future, and they should find the ways to assist homeowners to do this easily, safely, and inexpensively.

Still, if we are to “save ourselves” from our own pollution and over-population, it will come from the grass-roots efforts of those who deeply desire to be a part of the solution.  And there are plenty of positive signs today, from the voluntary simplicity movement, to the backyard urban farmers which are now all the rage.  It is from these new pioneers that this silent revolution is taking place, which can provide living solutions to the many problems facing us today, including our ongoing water shortages.

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