Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Going with the Flow (Conserving Our Precious Water)

Ever since we went on that first home tour hosted by Watershed Management Group, I have been longing to have our yard redesigned so rainwater from our roof and yard irrigates a big shade tree (we have yet to plant) by the house. Can’t wait to replace all that boring gravel with natural desert landscaping.  There will be a catchment basin surrounded by rocks and covered with organic mulch so the water can sink in. Imagine… in a few years we will have our own oasis in the desert.

catchment basin
At the WMG rainwater harvesting workshop, we got information on how to save money on our water bill AND get rebates from Tucson Water for using rainwater. But what really intrigued us was their co-op program. After working just 19 hours, the volunteers will work on your yard for FREE. (You pay for any consulting and the supplies.)  Excited by the opportunity to learn by helping other people landscape their yards, Dan immediately joined the co-op.  I couldn’t wait to start harvesting rainwater!

Now summer has arrived. Last weekend was a brutal 110 degrees. As temperatures continue to rise in Tucson and this drought continues into its 20th year, it seems even more vital to conserve our precious water.

That got us thinking… What can we do to conserve water until we can make our dream landscape a reality?

We looked into simple changes we can make to conserve water - like watering our garden and shrubs in the early morning or evening so it doesn’t just evaporate. I know, that seems obvious, but I used to sprinkle our hummingbird trumpets when they looked wilted in the heat of the day.  

We can put some of the other things we learned at WMG into practice. They taught us to watch where the water flows and puddles when it rains.  We observed that the water from our gutter dumps onto a brick sidewalk.  As monsoon season approaches, we will simply change the direction of the downspout so it pours into the nearby planter box to water a new kitchen garden.

We have a lovely backyard with a cactus garden and palm tree. But much of the yard is covered with bricks to keep out weeds. We noticed whenever it rains a pool of water settles on those bricks creating a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. A line of bricks prevents that water from flowing into the planter box that holds the patch of hummingbird trumpets. We thought we could simply remove some of bricks that line the Mexican Honeysuckle so they can benefit from that water. But some things aren’t as simple as they look. Dan informs me that the job requires a trip to the hardware store for the right tool (a pick!) Men and their tools! I got the job done with a sturdy hand spade, a shovel, and a hatchet! 

Look at all that rain! Who says there's no water in the desert?

In the greywater class, we learned how to adapt the plumbing so that our outdoor washing machine drains into the trees in our backyard. We plan to direct that water to irrigate sturdy desert fruit trees. 

Meanwhile, I’m trying to be more conscious of my water use in my everyday life. From simple things like changing my habit of leaving the water running while brushing my teeth to being aware of how much water we use when we wash dishes. We figured out that we were basically washing the dishes twice (because our dishwasher didn’t get them clean unless we rinsed every morsel of food off of them.) So we decided to just wash them by hand.
turning the tap off while I brush

A while ago (just before I met Dan) I noticed that my water bill had really gone up. I called the water company and they suggested that I check to see if my toilet was running.  So that’s what that noise was!  A simple part was all that was required to save hundreds of dollars and all that water going down the drain!  

While doing research for the Central Arizona Project blog, I found out how much water was expended to create electricity. I also discovered something much more shocking - how much electricity is needed from one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the nation to get our water here to Tucson.

Our water doesn't come outa nowhere!

Since then I have become conscious of how much electricity I use. I started noticing how many lights were left on around the house, and started switching them off.  Sorry dad for all the times I rolled my eyes when you bellowed, “Turn off the lights! What do you think, I’m made of money?!” Turns out you were right. We have also switched to energy saving LED light bulbs. When we can, we turn on the fan rather than turning up the AC.

Just keeping up on simple maintenance can make a difference, like making sure our air conditioner works more efficiently by changing the filters more regularly. Then there are the bigger decisions. When we got our roof retiled, we had them use cooler white tiles.  Eventually, we plan to follow the lead of our neighbors and have new energy saving windows installed.

Some small actions can have a big impact - like taking a few minutes to sign the petitions going around to stop our ground water from being sold to the highest bidder (whether it’s Nestles bottled water, the new housing complex near Sierra Vista, or the Rosemont mine on the Tohono O’odham reservation) and reposting them on your favorite social media.

By just being more conscious, I found out there was a lot I could do to conserve water. Sure it takes a little effort to change old habits. But if I can do it, anyone can! I am proud to announce that I finally remember my reusable bags when we walk to the store.

So grab your water bottle! It’s gonna be a long, hot summer!   

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