Tag Archives: water


1 Sep

I’ve been thinking a LOT about the drought lately.  It’s hard not to when you live in an area that’s marked by a red so dark it borders on black on all the drought maps.  It’s as if they ran out of shades of red with which to convey the seriousness of the situation.

Then, I went here.


And hallelujah, if I wasn’t already thinking about water issues I was now.  There’s nothing like going somewhere where your scarce resources are abundant to put things in perspective.  It’s like when my mom comes to California and discovers that avocados are two for a dollar.  It’s guacamole time all the time.  I could regale you with tales of what it’s like to have so many avocados that you worry they might go bad, but instead I’m going in a little more sobering direction.

This is what it’s like to live in a drought.


There’s so much blame. Have you seen the #droughtshaming hashtag?  A quick Twitter search will give you pictures of runoff from faulty sprinklers, well-manicured golf courses, and more watered sidewalks than you can count.  It’s like environmental McCarthyism.  I may be guilty of overusing the term, but I tend to do it in conversation and not on the internet.  Whether that’s better or just makes me so fun to hang out with?  You be the judge.

Even the cities are getting in on it.  Most cities have hotlines that you can use to turn in your neighbors.  I haven’t done so, but I may have been tempted by the neighbors watering down their plastic chairs int he middle of a light rain.

Drought shaming is a nice vehicle for righteous anger, but doesn’t really solve anything.  Luckily Californians are looking for more positive ways to address water waste.  In fact, if you look at the #droughtshaming hashtag, at least a third of the tweets offer other solutions.  That’s not something you normally find on social media.

You can find resources. It seems like everyone in our community is offering programs to learn more about how you can conserve.  Our library recently offered a Water Wise Gardening program, but I was surprised when I saw similar programs offered several times a month through different organizations.  There are rain barrel classes at the nature center, landscape seminars at the universities, and drought-tolerant workshops at the garden centers.

Water districts, which really had no need for flashy graphics before, are now among the top destinations on government websites. Residents who would like to get a rain barrell, tear out their lawn or replace their faucets can find rebates and classes from their city or water district almost anywhere in California.  Unfortunately most of these rebates don’t apply to California’s many renters.


The rules are a constant source of frustration. Conversations on water usage come up all the time.  I spoke with a coworker who was concerned that her city’s prohibition against planting new plants that aren’t drought-tolerant meant she had to forgo her garden.  I leaned toward the growing your own food uses less resources than purchasing shipped food side of the equation, but the answers aren’t always clear.  Different cities have different rules.  Even neighbors might have different days that they are allowed to water on.  Certain rules, like that you can’t water within 48 hours of significant rainfall, come into play so rarely that it’s not a surprise people forget they exist.  Then there’s the distinction between restrictions (mandatory) and conservation measures (recommended)… If you haven’t already been immersed in water education, it’s easy to get a little lost.

It’s working (kind of). Many cities are meeting or exceeding the conservation thresholds Governor Brown has mandated and the savings have been improving drastically throughout the year.  You can have tons of fun with the State Water Resources Board’s conservation reports to see the statistics.  My city went from a 5% decrease in February (over 2013 statistics) to a 22% decrease by May.  That’s higher than our mandated benchmark of 20%.  Some places (yay! Merced at 43%!) are doing much better and some (boo! El Monte at -10%) are doing worse, but the good far outweighs the bad.

Remember all those rebates I mentioned?  Our water district has already run out of funds for turf removal and that’s pretty common throughout the state.  Other rebates are taking months to get to processed there are so many of them.  On one hand it’s frustrating, but on the other it means people are making changes and making them rather quickly.  That’s exciting!

Water conservation is a topic that seems to cross political boundaries, too.  I could have a half hour conversation with someone about water usage and still have no idea where they stand politically, despite water conservation being tied into government regulations.  Anytime people come together to make the world a better place,  it’s a positive step for our state.


Now, I hate to be a downer, but even with all these positive steps, it’s unlikely that our drought problem will be solved.  The state even has a website that allows us to watch our water supplies dwindle.  California supports too much agriculture, too many people, and has too little precipitation.  Unless that changes, these are only delaying tactics.  I think that’s what really captures the reality of living in a drought. Even when we know we’re fighting a losing battle, we still band together to resist.  And talk about how, hopefully, El Niño will be strong this year.



Earth Day: Books in Nature

26 Apr


Everyone in Yosemite is slightly relieved that we finally got some precipitation this past week. It isn’t even close to enough to relieve the drought, but every little bit helps. We’ve seen the effects of the rain most dramatically in Crane Creek, which runs smack through the middle of the burned area from the El Portal fire last summer. With no plants to hold the soil back the deluge of water has filled the creek with sediment.

The book in the picture is Your Water Footprint by Stephen Leahy. It provides a good overview of current water use issues, and includes a pretty extensive section on the water footprints of everyday products. It also provides several suggestions for how to reduce your individual water footprint, and well made visuals accompany the information.

In truth, I wanted to review more books about reducing water footprints, and after scourging the local libraries, the shelves of Barnes and Noble, the collections of other Central Valley libraries, and even the library of the environmental organization I work for, I was disappointed by how little I found. You would think that in a place in such a dire state of drought, resources like this would be in high demand. Friends, this does not bode well for us.


Read Green 4

Earth Day: Every Last Drop

14 Apr

Earth Day Banner

Arthur C Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  While this usually conjures up images of Google Glass, sophisticated AIs and (in my dreams) teleportation, sometimes I see an amazingly-designed website and think the same thing.  That’s the case for Every Last Drop, a UK website aimed at bringing awareness to water usage.  Not only is it informative, it’s also beautiful, and that makes it effective.  I’m not a coder by any means and so it’s probably not surprising I think this level of computer skill is magical.  I challenge anyone not to be a little impressed at the whimsy this site offers though.

Make sure you check out the website for the full effect, but for a little more info and some simple Earth Day water-saving tips, enjoy their video as well.

Every Last Drop – How to Save Water Film from Nice and Serious on Vimeo.


The Earth Day Index

30 Apr

Earth Day Banner

I hope you enjoyed our 30 Days of Earth Day series.  We really enjoyed working on it!  Since we’re both pretty research-oriented, I’m sure it was a lot to take in, so to make life easier we created an index of all the resources we shared over the month – plus a few extras!  You can view all the posts in our Earth Day series right here.

Ways to Go Green
How to Save Energy by Eliminating Phantom Loads
How Smart Power Strips Work
10 Ways to Go Green and Save Green
Saving Money by Going Green
Earth Friendly Tips for a Lush Lawn
19 Easy Home Winterization Projects
12 Household Appliances You Should Unplug to Save You Money
How to Turn Down Your Hot Water Heater
10 Tips for the Thermostat
Pledge an Act of Green
Audit Your Home’s Energy Usage

Going Green in the Kitchen
How to Go Green: In the Kitchen
8 Ways to Go ‘Green’ in Your Kitchen
Go Green in the Kitchen
5 Simple Kitchen Composting Tips
Refrigerators: Cooling Down Your Electric Bill

Going Green in the Laundry Room
A Clothesline will Save Big Money, Energy and Carbon Emissions
8 Trips for a Green Laundry
Washing Machine Water Usage
Chronic Over-Washer?
Go Green in the Laundry Room
Green Laundry Tips
How to Go Green: Laundry

Going Green in the Bathroom
Navy Showers
The Great Unwashed
How to Convert Any Toilet to a Low Flush Toilet
If It’s Yellow, Let It Mellow
Replace Your Kitchen and Bathroom Faucets
10 Ways to Green Your Bathroom
How to Go Green: In the Bathroom

Going Green on the Go
How to Ditch Your Car and Bike Everywhere
How to Start a Carpool
Save Gas, Money, and the Environment with Properly Inflated Tires
Public Transportation Benefits
Environmental Benefits of Bicycling

National Geographic Water Footprint Calculator
Grace Water Footprint Calculator
Kemira Water Footprint Calculator
Of Farms, Folks, and Fish
California’s Water-Energy Relationship
Water-related Energy Use in California
A New Plan to Fix California Water System
How to Check for Water Leaks
Fixing Leaks Around the Home
Earth-Friendly Water Saving Tips

Reduce, Recycle, Reuse
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Revisited
Online Catalogs
Paper Karma (app)
How to Dispose of CFLs
How to Make a Party Box
Paper, Plastic, or Something Better?
Council for Textile Recycling

The Planet, Nature, And Us
The Economic Impact of Climate Change
The Environmental Justice Movement
Almost Everything You Need to Know About Environmental Justice
Race and Poverty Matter, Even on Earth Day
Environmental Justice Organizations
Greenbelt Movement
Give Us National Parks, But Please, Not Its Regulations
Diversity in the Outdoors
We’re Rich! (In Nature)
National Wildlife Federation
Outside Mom
National Get Outdoors Day
National Park Foundation
Trust for Public Land
Nature Deficit Disorder
National Park Service Volunteer Page
Plant a Tree
Benefits of Parks
Health Benefits of the Natural World

Environmental Benefits of Organic and Local Food
Local Harvest CSA Locator
5 Reasons Not to Drink Bottled Water
Cannery Launches a CSA for Seafood
Community Supported Agriculture for Meat and Eggs
Smoky Tomato and Lentil Soup
Seafood Watch Ocean Issues
Unhappy Meals – Michael Pollan
Organic vs. Pesticides
The Carbon Footprint of Food

Interactive Education
Without a Map’s Earth Day YouTube Playlist
OpenYale Courses
Harvard Open Courses
MIT Open Courseware
Open Education Database
Intro to Environmental Science
iTunes U
TED Talks: Environment
Good Dirt (podcast)
Living on Earth (podcast)
NPR Environment Podcast
NPR: Climate Connections Podcast
Monster Talk (podcast)
Slate’s Table to Farm (podcast)
Radiolab (podcast)

Big Box Detox
How To Make Plarn
T-Shirt Surgery
Upcycling on Craftster
Upcycling on Pinterest
Rolled Kitchen Towels Tutorial
Green Crafting Round-up
20+ Unique Bird Feeders
How to Make Hypoallergenic Laundry Detergent

Buying Green
Upcycling Becomes a Treasure Trove for Green Business Ideas
Good Guide
Save the Environment with Thrift Shopping
Alternative Reuseable Menstrual Products
Online Shopping: Better for the Environment?
Better World Shopper
How to Shop Green

Green Products We Mentioned
Alchemy Goods
Klean Kanteen
Platypus Bottle
Bobble Bottles
Energy STAR Qualified Products
Go Glass
Contigo Autoseal Mugs
Ecologix Daily Planner
Glad Rags
Diva Cup
Energy STAR Light Bulbs
Soap Nuts
Folding Laundry Rack

And Some Other Fun Stuff…
If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online
Earth Day Events
Captain Planet
Where Does a Mother’s Time Go?
The Future of Leisure that Never Arrived
5 Marketing Lessons from the Bottled Water Industry

Thanks for joining us!

~April and Robin

Earth Day: Shower Hacking

20 Apr

Earth Day Banner

I thought about instituting a navy shower to help meshorten my showers but I hit bit of a road block.

The hot water system in our house finicky. When I turn on the water for a shower it’s freezing cold, and it takes forever for the water to start getting warm. Once the water is warm a fun game of “turn the faucet handles” begins. If you’ve ever played one of those deceptive carnival games you have an idea what this is like. If the water is too cold I turn the hot water handle up and nothing happens. I wait, still nothing. So I turn the cold water down a tiny bit. Bam! Suddenly I’m standing in scalding torrent. I panic and turn up the cold water and now it’s a sub-arctic waterfall. After a couple of minutes and a fair amount of cussing I finally get the water to a temperature I like but it still has a tendency to fluctuate for no apparent reason.

With this reality, turning the water off and on for a navy shower just isn’t all that practical. I also realized that I am unwilling to sacrifice a warm shower, particularly on those days when I’ve spent an entire day working outside in the rain or snow (or the ungodly, unspeakable combination of the two).

However, as inefficient as this system is at providing consistent water temperature it does have one advantage. It’s still possible to get the shower to a comfortable temperature without turning the water up to full blast.

The difference is subtle, this is our shower turned up all the way:


And this our shower turned up not quite all the way, but high enough that I could still comfortably shower in it:


I suspected that this little difference was enough to save water (I guessed it would reduce water use by about 15-25%) but I wasn’t sure. Fortunately, I have the knowledge and the tools to help me answer that question.


I emptied our recycling bin and used it to catch the water from the shower head. I started off using a one gallon container as a measurement device, but quickly realized I could get more accurate measurements with a Nalgene container that had graduated fluid ounce markings on it.

I used a stop watch to time the flow of water from our faucet for thirty seconds and multiplied it by two to figure out the flow per minute. I also converted the measurements to gallons per minute because my brain doesn’t work in ounces. I repeated the measurement process three times for better accuracy.

What, don’t you don’t regularly use your windows as a dry erase board?

With the water running at full flow I used an average of 1.52 gallons of water which is typical for a low flow shower head. When I turned the water down I used an average of 1.22 gallons of water. That means I saved about .3 gallons of water per minute which is a savings of about 20%. Just by turning the water down I’ve saved a significant amount of water even before shortening my shower time!


P.S. You may be interested to know that there are low flow shower heads that allow you to change the flow of your water without changing the temperature. I can’t exactly install a new shower head in my rental house, but I may recommend them to the home owner when it’s time to replace the existing one.

Earth Day: Dirtbags and Dirty Hippies

17 Apr

Earth Day Banner

Yosemite is full of dirtbags.

In most circles this word is derisive, but here you will often hear the word used with affection.  I may even go so far as to call it a term of endearment.

Urban Dictionary defines Dirtbag as:

A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. Dirtbags can be distinguished from hippies by the fact that dirtbags have a specific reason for their living communaly and generally non-hygenically; dirtbags are seeking to spend all of their moments pursuing their lifestyle

Since I started hanging out with this crowd I have eaten food from dumpsters and compost bins, I have eaten dairy and meat products that weren’t refrigerated for a few days, and leftover food from random strangers (which we affectionately call “road kill.”) Hell, I have even eaten actual road kill.

I’ve also gone from showering almost everyday to showering two or three times a week.  I have gone from washing my shirts every time I wear them to wearing most of them a few times before I toss them into the hamper (or the floor).

And guess what? I haven’t died or been cast out of society.

I realize that everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to hygiene and that my own is particularly roomy.  If the previous paragraphs made you want to run screaming from the room: I’m sorry, and you might want to stop reading now. If you aren’t put off by the “ick” factor: Read on, your steadfastness can be an advantage and help you live a greener lifestyle:

Shower less: If The New York Times suggests that I’m not the only one choosing to shower less often than it must be a legit thing. The precious amount of time you save skipping the morning shower could go to other world-saving activities, like sleeping.

Wash your clothes less: Laundry hogs a lot of water and energy, not to mention time. Reducing the number of trips your clothes go through the wash cycle will save resources and make your clothes last longer. It’s always helpful to have a caring roommate who isn’t afraid to tell you if you stink.

If it’s yellow, let it mellow: I was horrified by the very idea of this water saving technique until I moved into a community where it was a common practice. I got used to it within a week, and I still practice it in my home.

Use alternative menstrual products: After years of guiltily going through box after box of tampons I finally started using a Diva Cup about a year ago. I did have a difficult time using it at first. (Dear Period, Why do you always show up when I’m backpacking?) Now that I’ve gotten used to it I love it. I am also intrigued by Glad Rags.

My poor mother is mortified after reading this post, but I’m not sorry I wrote it. Love you Mom!


Earth Day: Water Footprints

9 Apr

As I admitted earlier, I have a bad habit of taking long showers. It never seemed like a pressing issue until I started to learn more about California’s water problems.


Water is a fascinating and divisive topic in California. I suspect most of the population doesn’t think about water much, but once you start talking to the people who do, you will find that they have very strong opinions on the subject.

The short story of California’s water crisis is that California doesn’t have enough water to meet its needs. There are three major parties interested in water rights in California: household users, agriculture, and environmental groups. Further complicating the situation is the fact that two-thirds of California’s precipitation falls in the northern part of the state while two-thirds of California’s population lives in the southern part. Water has to be pumped long distances across the state and that uses a significant amount of energy. The California Water Project accounts for 19% of the state’s electricity use, making it the biggest single energy user in the state. This system is already strained as the population continues to grow and seasons have gotten drier. Other hot topics in California’s water scene are how water pollution and and climate change affect this already taxed system.

While all of this makes water use a pressing issue for California, it doesn’t matter where you live in the U.S. or what source you get your tap water from, it still takes electricity to get that water to you. Your water has to be cleaned, pumped to the tap, and treated after it goes down the drain. There is a hidden carbon footprint embedded in your water footprint. Just how big it is depends on where you get your water from, how it is processed before and after you use it, and how much alternative energy your water utility uses.

There are a lot of things driving my motivation to reduce my shower time. I love the beautiful Merced River that flows through Yosemite Valley and past my house. I know that water is scarce in California and that I’m lucky to have such a clean source of drinking water. I know that by reducing my water footprint I am also reducing my carbon footprint. I know that I will save money on utilities if I start taking shorter showers.

Water Footprint 1

If you want to reduce your water use but don’t know how, a great place to start is by using a water footprint calculator. Even though I consider myself to be fairly educated about water issues there were still some surprises in store for me as I started plugging my information into various water footprint calculators.

I already knew that the water I use in my house (for showering, cooking, brushing my teeth, etc.) is only a portion of my total water footprint. The rest of the water is hidden water: water that is used to produce the food I eat, the fuel that I use, and the stuff that I buy. What I didn’t realize is that hidden water accounts for a huge portion of my total water footprint, roughly 95%.

Each of the water footprint calculators I used measures water using slightly different methods so there was some variation in the results.

National Geographic Water Footprint Calculator: 1,313 gallons/day
Grace Water Footprint Calculator: 813 gallons/day
Kemira Water Footprint Calculator: 1836 gallons/day

I averaged these results to figure that I use about 1,193.5 gallons/day.

I was surprised that even when I factor in my ridiculously protracted showers I still use slightly less water than the average american. Again there is some variation in the statistics I found (here, here, and here), but when I averaged them together I got about 1981.3 gallons of water a day.

The Kemira calculator allows you to compare results to averages of other countries. Not surprisingly the U.S. uses the most per person (1797 gallons/ person/ day). Yemen uses the least (448 gallons/ person/ day). This means my average daily water use can be compared roughly to someone living in Belize (1191 gallons/ person/ day).

Picture 2

The National Geographic calculator breaks down your results based on household use, diet, energy, and stuff. I was surprised that diet was by far my biggest user of water, using almost twice water as much as the next category. I am still committed to shortening my showers this month, but for the future I know could have an even bigger impact on my water use if I make changes in my diet.

Each of the water footprint calculators I used have links to more information about water footprints and how to reduce yours.

It is next to impossible to find an unbiased sources about water issues in California. These are the articles I found to be the most helpful:

The Economist: Of Farms, Fish, and Folk
California Energy Commission: California’s Water – Energy Relationship
California Energy Comission: Water Related Energy Use in California
New York Times: A New Plan to Fix California Water System

Stay hydrated California!


P.S. The California Waterways Map in the top image is from the California Department of Water Resources.