Let me be upfront about this: When you live in place famous for its rain, it’s sometimes hard to feel the truth of potable water being rare and precious on a visceral level. We’ve had a bit more rain than usual here this winter, and the sump pump in our crawl space, the one that keeps our floorboards from flooding, has been sucking water out almost every day. We live on the downhill slope of a major groundwater flow in our local watershed, and the groundwater seems to have flooded up to surface level – Walking across our back yard reminds me of hopping across a Scottish peat bog. Given this, I understand why my kids were somewhat puzzled when I told them that today was Water Day. “Well!”, said A, “Then I’m going to use up as much of it as I can!”…We had a short discussion to enlighten her as to why, instead, we wanted to use as little as possible, and we were good to go.
We don’t drink our tap water until it’s been filtered through our Big Berkey to remove any possible pathogens. We’re on a community well, and along with high levels of copper in the water, there is a possibility that the ground water filling our well interacts first with the surface water above it. Since that surface water is a beautiful lake frequented by ducks and other animals, we play it safe. We’ve had our filter for about 6 years, and haven’t had to replace our filter elements yet, so it was worth the price. We love our filter so much, it has becomes a sort of shrine to clean water, adorned with beaded offerings from the kids.
We filled our water filter twice today, once at the beginning of the day, and once in the evening. We flushed the toilet 5 times for 3 people, and we calculated our water consumption online. I had a bit of trouble with the online calculator as I’m not in the habit of tracking our food consumption in kilos; like most people who’ve been educated in the U.S., I am impaired when it comes to the metric system. I’m also not sure if there is a significant difference in water used for standard USA feedlot beef vs. open-range grass-fed beef, or a difference between eggs from chickens in battery farms and my backyard hens; it would be interesting to know. I may have guessed too low on our grain, vegetable, and fruit consumption, but according to the water calculator, we could make the biggest dent in our water use by reducing our coffee and tea intake and the amount of meat we eat. That makes sense to me.
I’m not sure I’m willing to give up coffee and tea completely, and we won’t be giving up our favorite beef for now, either. Perhaps by reducing our water use elsewhere (say, by not using the garden hose to spray the decks off any more), I can compensate a tiny bit for the higher water and carbon footprints of our vices.
I think I’ve discovered the silver lining to my slovenly housekeeping habits. Because I’m too lazy to take care of our laundry and dirty dishes each and every day, I always have enough dirty dishes to fill the dishwasher, and enough dirty clothes for full loads in the washing machine. This delay between loads of wash means we wear our clothes until they’re truly dirty (although that doesn’t take all that long given the fun my kids have with mud, sap, and chickens) because those are the only available clothes. I’ve been in the habit of using only just enough detergent since I washed our own cloth diapers for my kids and quickly learned just how little detergent we could get by on; build-up of excess detergent really does mean dirtier, smellier diapers and clothes. My Google search results tell me these things help lower our water footprint, although I started doing them for the sake of frugality and diapers that didn’t stink.
At the top of my water wish list are rainwater barrels to catch the runoff from our roof. I see beautiful ones made from recycled olive barrels at the garden supply stores here, but they’re just too expensive for me. I’m going to make this my spring project – Surely there is a way to make my own, some elegant and simple solution that I can put together from found objects, something safe (no way for my kids or animals to fall in) and functional (a spigot to attach a hose would be lovely). It seems crazy not to capture some of this amazing excess of water that falls down on us for 9 months each year