Water, Water, Not a Drop to Drink

Hi~ We are back from our three weeks on the east coast and I will be posting the photos on Flickr as soon as I can. In the meantime, I wrote a commentary for the Op/Ed page of the August 21, 2008 edition of the Alameda Sun. (You can see it here.)

Comments are welcome and appreciated!

I have started to obsess about water. As you know, our rainy seasons haven’t been very rainy in the past couple of years. As a result, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) recently instituted a Drought Management Program and we folks living in the East Bay were asked to reduce our water usage. The announcement came in May, but it all didn’t really hit home until just before I left for a summer vacation with my three daughters.

In July, the Water people (EBMUD) sent a letter detailing the need for us to cut back on water usage by 19 percent, based on the average of the last three years of water bills, and provided the guideline for what we should strive for in our household. Next, the letter informed me that I was 150 percent over my rationed amount for the 58 days between May 6 and July 2, 2008. Oops. This was after I plugged up all the drips and had the leaky toilet replaced. This was us trying to be conservation minded. We don’t water anything outside because according to some sort of bad gardener blessing, the only things alive in the back yard are through an act of God. We try to limit our showers and take the appropriate steps to keep us out of hot water—literally. And yet we somehow managed to use 210 gallons of water per day.

So I left Alameda at the end of last month, happy that we wouldn’t be using water for a few weeks, but wondering, is 210 gallons per day too much water for a family of four? I can’t help feeling penalized for being cautious with our water usage in the past. If only I had a lawn to water, or operated a laundry service out of my home or took much longer showers in the past three years. My past water usage would have been much higher, making our ration higher than 103 gallons of water each day.

After spending a week in the rain-drenched New England state of Vermont and a few weeks traveling around the verdant East Coast, I returned a little bitter about the water shortage. Everywhere we turned on our trip the abundance of water struck me. With more than 9 inches of rain in some places, Vermont experienced the wettest July on record (the average precipitation for July is 3.84 inches). Creek beds, usually cracked dry at this point in the summer, looked like white water rapids. I took advantage of the bounty in an unusually selfish manner. I took long showers whenever I could. I did less-than-full loads of laundry. I boiled big pots of spaghetti and fresh corn. I reveled in the rain that fell while we were there. Back East summer storms took on new meaning with every crash of thunder and flash of lightning.

Now that we’re back, what’s a mother to do? My twin teenagers and ‘tween have discovered the joys of a long, hot shower. They also seem to care about their clothes being cleaner all of a sudden, requiring the repeated use of the washing machine. They are endlessly hungry, so the sink and the dishwasher seem to be in constant use, and subsequently, the bathroom, too. The thought of all that flushing is keeping me awake at night.

I’ve started counting the seconds I run the faucet in the kitchen sink for my coffee in the morning, I calculate the gallons used for the number of times we flush and have enforced a cut back on the number and length of our showers.

I am hoping that the rains return this winter in full force, that maybe, in some kind of cosmic meteorology, we brought back the potential for extra rain with our trip to Vermont. In the meantime, I will continue to obsess about the liquid gold, counting each drop as it disappears down the drain.


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