CA drought: SLO County residents share water saving tips

CA drought: SLO County residents share water saving tips

Catherine Maynard, a natural resource analyst for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, washes dishes in her home in Rimini, Montana, in 2019. What’s the best way to save water?

Catherine Maynard, a natural resource analyst for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, washes dishes in her home in Rimini, Montana, in 2019. What’s the best way to save water?


Here we go again, San Luis Obispo County.

On July 8, California Gov. Gavin Newsom added San Luis Obispo County to the list of 50 of the state’s 58 counties that are now under an official drought state of emergency. He has asked Californians to cut water use by 15%.

As drought conditions worsen across California, I believe reducing our use of potable water will be required of all of us, not just requested.

The Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors unanimously declared a stage 4 water shortage emergency on July 15, asking Cambria residents and businesses to reduce water consumption by up to 40%.

Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach have water use restrictions in place. Those cities prohibit any excessive water waste, prohibit outdoor irrigation from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and are asking residents to conserve water wherever possible.

Paso Robles is also restricting some water use and asking residents to limit outdoor water to only what is required and avoid watering between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.

In my decades as a reporter for The Cambrian and The Tribune, I’ve written volumes about droughts, water-conservation rules and handy hints.

Here are a few of those tried-and-true methods.

What are easy ways to save water?

Most of us have kept some of our water conservation habits. Cambrians are water-saving champs.

There are basic, common sense ideas, such as using a professional car wash rather than your hose — they recycle their water — or checking your toilets, hose bibs, landscape watering systems and other plumbing for leaks or other problems.

We turn off the water while brushing our teeth and between soaping up and rinsing in the shower. We pull out the paper plates, and put folded paper towels in the guest baths for hand wiping.

We save and reuse warm-up water in the shower, tub and sink — or take shorter showers, sink baths or sponge baths instead of real ones. We regularly make do with a quick wipe-off, rather than taking a daily bath or shower.

While baby wipes will do for a pseudo shower, disposable cloths designed specifically for bathing are so much better. Aloe is one ingredient in the brand we use, so those soft, sturdy wipes don’t dry out our skin.

We always use a shut-off nozzle when using our hose. Next, we’ll reduce the number of plants in our garden that need regular watering (sob!), and make arrangements to have recycled or landscaping water delivered.

We also carry our at-home water conserving habits into restaurants, doctors’ offices and motel bathrooms, as well as vacation rentals and the homes of people we’re visiting.

After all, those areas are trying to save water, too.

SLO County residents share tips for water conservation

In 2015, I asked my Slice of Life readers to send me their favorite water-saving tips. And boy, oh boy, did they!

Maybe sharing them again will encourage others who haven’t yet gotten the hang of conserving water to join the effort, or at least nudge them into stepping it up a bit.

Active Over 50 columnist William “Bill” Seavey of Cambria and others recommend installing a water collection arrangement to trap rainfall, roof runoff water or gray water. We’re probably not going to get much rain now until the next soggy season, but it’s good to be prepared.

Systems range from a simple collection of hoses and trash cans to formal projects that recycle the water through specially installed plumbing into sophisticated storage systems.

Regulations on those collection systems vary, however, so be sure to check what applies in your neighborhood.

Some readers urged recommended no-phosphate detergents and soaps, so reused gray water doesn’t hurt the plants.

Some people still wash all their dishes by hand. Yes, modern-day dishwashers are more efficient, but some folks don’t have one, and some dishes cannot go into a dishwasher due to size, fragility or antiquity.

Candee Forbes of San Luis Obispo said, “We leave an empty 32-ounce yogurt container in the kitchen sink, which fills as we wash hands.”

They then “use the water to rinse off food bits from plates if needed, after ditching the big bits into trash with used napkins. We also put our silverware items in the ‘bucket’ after meals to remove food before putting them in the dishwasher.”

Bonnie Thompson of Los Osos recommends putting the stopper in the kitchen sink and adding some hot water to use for wiping down the dinner table and kitchen counters. Then add the lightly soiled dishes and soap.

“As you rinse them, the sink will fill with hot soapy water, thus providing soaking water for the pots, pans and plates that need more intensive cleaning,” she said.

At the Tanners, we keep a big, red bowl in our kitchen sink. It serves as a pre-wash, so our dishes are either clean enough to rinse and dry or they’re cleaner when they go into the dishwasher. That way, we can wait until the dishwasher is really full before running it, then use the gunky bowl water to run the disposal.

Jennifer Smith of Cambria said her household switched to a Keurig K-Cup-style coffeemaker, which eliminates “cleaning the pot and filter.” It uses “exactly the water we need per cup, so there’s no waste,” she said.

Some K-Cup pods are recyclable, which helps alleviate environmental concerns.

Grace Mccay of Morro Bay said she collects her “warm-up” water for flushing toilets and watering plants, and she plugs the drain when she takes her “sailor showers.” She scoops the shower water from the tub into a bucket, and uses this on “the weed patch we call a lawn.”

Cathy Marvier wrote about a mid-1970s drought, when she and other young moms bathed their toddlers in a wading pool. “The water department asked us to use more water, because we weren’t flushing out the sewer lines enough!” she recalled.

Marvier said she and her family stored gray water in many barrels, used shower water to flush and bagged “damp paper” throughout the day before tossing it in the garbage each night.

Nancy Harris of Huntington Beach and Cambria uses a plumbing device that recirculates hot water to keep it available nearly instantly at the tap. She said she also uses vinegar in toilet bowls to keep them clean and reduce odors; it also keeps laundry smelling fresh.

As caregiver for a bed-bound patient, I reverted to a concept that reminds me of my diaper pail days as a young mom.

If your house, like ours, has elderly plumbing, you don’t want to flush too much paper at once. A well-lined, small, covered trash can works well for unsoiled (un-poopy) paper. Tie the bag and toss it in the trash.

John Plunkett of Nipomo said he washed his vehicles at commercial facilities that recycle the water. The super-saver said he has a hot-water recirculating system, an efficient dishwasher and a hand-held, soil-moisture tester.

He uses a broom instead of a hose or a leaf blower, and is “politely obnoxious to neighbors who act as if they don’t care.”

David Sassaman of Cambria said it takes two hands for dish cleanup in the sink. “Meanwhile, the water flows,” he noted.

His solution? “A foot-operated valve that controls the water flow,” he said, saving “a HUGE amount of water.”

Karen Lewis said she even asked family guests “to bring their own sheets and towels so they can take them home to wash them there.”

As Richard Clark and Gretchen Henkel of Los Osos wrote in 2015, “the result of these measures is that we actually take pleasure in finding new ways to conserve. It becomes almost a game, a brain teaser, if you will.”

I encourage you to do likewise, my friends. The time to start using less water is now.

If the need to conserve water already is great, just imagine how bad the situation will be by late September. Then consider how much worse it could be if we don’t buckle down and start saving water immediately.

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CA drought: SLO County residents share water saving tips

Kathe Tanner has been writing about the people and places of SLO County’s North Coast since 1981, first as a columnist and then also as a reporter. Her career has included stints as a bakery owner, public relations director, radio host, trail guide and jewelry designer. She has been a resident of Cambria for more than four decades, and if it’s happening in town, Kathe knows about it.

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