Water drips from a low-flow shower head.

More than two-thirds of California remains in an extreme drought. Gov. Jerry Brown recently announced the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions. Many of us in the state want to cut back on our water use, but simply aren’t sure how. As part of our Drought Watch series, a panel of water conservation experts will provide tips on the most effective ways to save water.

Guests:
Julie Ortiz, water conservation manager for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
Heather Cooley, water program director for the Pacific Institute, a water policy think tank
Stephanie Nevins, water conservation supervisor for the Alameda County Water District
Chris Dundon, conservation supervisor for the Contra Costa Water District

  • olive

    Please make a distinction between potable water and “other” water. For me, “other” is the water I catch in my shower or use 2- 3 times in my kitchen sink and then water my trees. Yes it is good to cut back on potable water, but you’d be surprised about how much non-potable water for tree watering you can get by re-using water (like when you boil water for cooking).

  • Mason Gibb
  • jurgispilis

    How about cutting back on the development?

    • Bob Fry

      Exactly. Quit issuing new water hook ups. Why can’t California be a pioneer in learning how to have a good economy without physical growth??

      • peter

        Exactly x2. Also, how about a show about the elephant in the planet: 7 billion of us!

        • Aha!–perhaps if we all cut waaaay down on our bathing, there won’t be as much hanky-panky being had, and hence, less water-consuming rugrats.

      • Maybe the economy won’t grow, but the biosphere might!

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      This past week Pleasanton CA said NO to a 10k new housing development.

  • Bob Fry

    Is the North Coast (Lost Coast, Crescent City, etc.) in a drought? A uniform reduction demand can’t work for the entire state.

  • Tricia

    Rain Water collection! It’s missing in this equasion US! In Australia & New Zealand water collection is Required and that is a large part of their lower water use. Please, please talk about this on this discussion.

    • Another Mike

      Typically, in densely populated parts of Australia, it rained every month of the year. In the Bay Area, most months are free of rain. Saving rain from year to year makes less sense for individuals than saving rain from month to month.

      • Tricia

        Good to know, but the difference in water usage still is relevant. I know people who are working as hard as they can to cut back on their water usage and I want to know the comparisons account for rain water collection as well.

        There are good storage tanks (although expensive) that can help. If we con figure out ways to use our grey-water effectively this would also help.

  • Ehkzu

    To reinforce what jurgispilis and Bob Fry said, I thought the rule was if you find you’re in a hole, first thing is to stop digging. So why is the issue of new water hook ups never–and I mean never–even mentioned?

    It’s as if the Powers That Be consider any limitations of any sort on “growth” to be simply unthinkable.

    Yet we’re being asked to sacrifice our lawns and lifestyle for millions of people who do not currently live in California. Why are we morally obligated to help them move here?

    The Governor could put out a mandate that cities and counties can’t authorize new hookups unless that city or county could demonstrate a net 20% water reduction WITH the new hookup(s) being authorized. Then these decisions would be being made by people answerable to local voters.

  • Chemist150

    I have 540 gallon rain water storage for my plants. I have a high efficiency washer. We produce over 125% of our energy usage from solar. I have a dry lawn and I am considering 1/2 flush toilets. However…..

    The water shortage is a result of poor leadership to build the right infrastructure at an appropriate time. I emailed the White House 6+ years ago when they announced the “stimulus” for infrastructure and suggested water project due to the fact it would allow growth and prevent shortages. Unfortunately, too much was to redo existing infrastructure. Infrastructure is to allow growth and should pay for it’s own maintenance. Thus, redoing infrastructure can never be a sustained economic benefit.

    So once everyone reduces their usage and the new project finally finish, this will happen again because of poor political leadership to do the right thing at the right time. We’ll all have efficient toilets, dry lawns, rain barrels and we’ll run out of water in the future because of poor vision from the politicians making the call to repave a road in their district instead of putting the money toward a larger sustainable vision.

    Point the finger at your representative.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      San Francisco and other cities also need to get serious about the amount of water wasted by old water pipes that need to replaced! San Francisco probably loses more water from city water pipes than all the residents of the city combined. But the city does not want to raise taxes to pay to get this done.

  • Jenlusc

    Turn off the faucet in between soaping while in the shower, don’t wait for the water to heat up (it’s more efficient than a cup of coffee), fill the sink half way with water while shaving, while washing your hands soap up before turning on the faucet, and finish your water at a restaurant.

    Jen– San Francisco

  • Curioso

    Do your guests recommend that homeowners with a well on their property hook it up to their irrigation?

    -Gabe in Petaluma

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      We have a well and wells have hook ups like homes on city water. Spigots outside are hooked to a drip system just like a city resident would do.

  • Julia

    Rising Sun Energy Center, a Bay Area nonprofit, is partnering with local water districts in 20 cities this summer to install water-saving devices for renters and homeowners. We’ll be in 20 cities in Marin, Sonoma, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, and Solano counties. Residents can call 510-665-1501 x5 to sign up for an appointment!

  • Steve

    I would love to conserve water but it is illegal. I live in San Jose and for years I let my lawn go dormant and turn brown every Summer. Then a neighbor complained and the city came and gave me a citation saying that all lawns have to be green. So I placed sod and keep it green and pay a lot more that I want by putting clean water on the ground. Ridiculous!

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      Thankfully Governor Brown signed a bill making what San Jose and homeowners assn. in giving fines to folks who do not have a green yard, illegal.

    • Another Mike

      In one San Jose neighborhood, one fellow’s front yard has been a pile of dirt for the past five years, since extensive remodeling. Another’s has been a circle of dead grass. Apparently enforcement is not uniform.

  • Virginia

    Regarding getting rebates. Be very careful to understand the details. We got burned by the Marin Municipal Water District when we spent a fair amount of money to get a good low flow toilet that saved more water than our current one. MMWD said that the former owner already got a rebate 10 years earlier and we weren’t qualified for one. I guess no good dead goes unpunished!

  • Tricia

    Please discuss rain water collection as part of the discussion! New Zealand & Australia require rainwater collection as part of the building permit process and this is a big part of the lower water use statistics.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      And family in Hawaii on the big island have huge 1000 gallon water cisterns to collect the rain from the afternoon rain showers that come thru. And in the Caribbean homes have cisterns under the homes to collect rain water for home use.

  • KMFN

    As for green lawns. Our lawn isn’t irrigated yet it’s green because we stopped mowing.
    It’s now a thick meadow that holds moisture better than a manicured lawn.

  • David Airey

    Wouldn’t it save a lot of water if we started transitioning to heat-on-demand or ‘tankless’ water heaters? Then all the water that’s wasted as we wait for hot water to arrive at the faucet would be saved.
    Also, I know this idea is anathema to Americans, but my wife and I now shower every other day instead of every day. My wife assures me I smell no worse!

    • James Ivey

      I love the idea of tankless water heaters — more energy efficient. As for waiting for hot water, I catch the water in a watering can for watering plants (as I commented earlier).

      • David Airey

        Well done. We can’t fit a watering can in our bathroom sink which is where the longest wait for water is.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      David we have one and yes they say a good 2-3 gallons per shower. One can also use a wash cloth and do spot cleaning rather than a daily shower.

    • davey

      No. It won’t save water or money. Also consider how much water it would take to make and install a new water heater. See my related comment above.

      • David Airey

        Davey; I read your comments and I’m sorry if I’m being thick, but I still don’t understand why it wouldn’t save water, unless you’re referring to the relatively small use by householders compared to farmers. The wait time for water reaching my faucet wasn’t my concern, it was the water going down the plughole during that time. I dare say that installing tankless water heaters does incur an expense that takes a while to pay back (if ever), but how long will we last without water?! Sometimes we have to sacrifice for the greater good. As for the water to make the heaters……where are they made? California? Plenty of places have no water issues.

        • davey

          Thanks for the respectful reply. The water that goes down the drain is the volume of water that is contained in the pipe between the fsucet and the water heater. That volume doesn’t change when you upgrade the heater. Actually since there’s a few seconds delay for the on-demand heater to fire up, that’s another few seconds of cold water down the drain.

          True the heaters are likely made elsewhere but still there’s the water, energy, and environmental costs of the transportation, installation, and disposal of the old heater.

          And yes, it’s a tiny, tiny savings on the scale of things. I’d bet it’s easily less than 0.001% Remember that eliminating ALL domestic water use would only be a 5% savings, and hot water use is a small fraction of that. Let’s be generous and say you save a gallon a day. That’s equivalent to the amount of water it takes to grow one-fifth of a walnut.

          You agree that it makes sense to make water heaters in less drought-stricken regions, I’m just saying that it also makes sense to grow water-intensive crops in places other than the CA deserts.

          I commented more elsewhere here, but a couple of interesting links:

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2015/04/03/agriculture-is-80-percent-of-water-use-in-california-why-arent-farmers-being-forced-to-cut-back/

          http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/02/wheres-californias-water-going

          • David Airey

            Thanks for the explanations Davey – I appreciate the civil dialog and learnings! I realized that my misunderstanding about the lost water derives from me thinking of the smaller water heaters that are installed at/near the outlets as opposed to the large central water heaters which you’re referring to. The former would certainly save several gallons a day in our house, and we’re only two people! Probably would mean a considerable amount of expensive wiring and/or plumbing work to get them installed though.

          • davey

            Yes, those would save some water but as you say it’s not cost effective particularly as a retrofit. The usual scenario is just swapping out a central tank with an on-demand unit where there is no savings of water. There are also systems that recirculate water through the pipes so there’s instant hot water at the faucet but those aren’t very energy efficient last I looked.

            As i commented below, all this is unnecessary. The water problems would evaporate if we would moderate one industry that uses 80% of our water. (pardon the pun!)

    • I have a heat on demand water heater for showers. It doesn’t even use a small BBQ size propane tax in the winter and two AA batteries. In summer I use a solar camping shower inside my regular shower. Saves lots of fossil fuel, but you have to be an Eco Geek. It saves a little water since there is less distance for water to travel.

  • Livegreen

    Your guests have skirted around Grey Water by telling us to go to another website in SF. Please actually answer these basic questions to installing Grey Water systems that have been very real obstacles in the recent past:

    –Are Grey Water systems now legal in California? (They weren’t just a couple years ago).
    –Are all Cities in the Bay Area permitting Grey Water & are the permits reasonably priced or super expensive to generate City revenues?

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      We are in the Sierras and have a well and a modern grey water set up. Some southern California and central valley towns encourage the new set ups.

  • James Ivey

    One small thing I do is capture shower water in a 2-gallon watering can while I wait for the hot water to reach the shower. I capture about 1.5 gallons per shower to water plants.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      That is one reason to consider investing in an on demand hot water heater, which give hot water once the hot water tap is turned on.

  • I really noticed how much water was going down the drain when I washed my face in the morning and evening. So, I recently switched from using a lotion-style facial cleanser to those facial cleansing wipes–I’m using Burt’s Bees brand–that don’t require any water and do a great job of removing makeup and cleansing your skin. The downside is that apparently some of those biodegradable wipes don’t always degrade enough in the sewer system and have been clogging things up, and I’m always conscious of the waste involved in using single-use disposable things.

    It’s a small thing that I can do; I live in a rented flat in San Francisco with no yard and low-flow toilets and showerheads, and we don’t have our own washer/dryer, so I’m somewhat limited in things I can back on.

  • jason

    The issue we have at our home is the Takagi tankless water heater takes over 2 minutes to heat the water for a shower. I know its wasteful so I would love to hear any recommendations to change it.

    • Another Mike

      Did it always work that poorly? I wonder if the heat exchanger is clogged with minerals.

      • jason

        Yes. Thanks for recommending checking the heat exchanger. I will do that this weekend. Another thought that came to mind was that the tankless heater was set-up in the front of the house in the basement while the kitchen and bathroom are closer to the rear of the home. Should I move the Takagi and place it underneath the kitchen where it is closer to the faucets and shower? I read on-line that sometimes the distance can cause the delay as well but not sure. Thanks for your reply Mike!

        • Another Mike

          Ideally the tankless heater would be right at the point of use. If there’s any significant distance of pipe between the heater and the point of use, the hot water from the heater must first push out all the now-cold water that had been resting in the pipe.

          The first tankless heater I saw here was in a restroom, under the sink. I guess enough water was being wasted by letting the faucet run till it got warm, to justify this.

          • jason

            A significant distance does exists. Sounds like I have a new project on my hands. I am going to move the Takagi so it sits in the basement underneath the kitchen area and see if that will make a difference. While relocating it, I will check for any sediment before stabilizing it in its new location. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for all your support Mike!

  • davey

    I’m surprised that you are still ignoring the elephant in the room that’s drinking all of CA’s water. You briefly mentioned agricultural use and then quickly dismissed it. As you point out, residential use is only a few percent of use; even a 25-50% reduction is less than a percent of total use. A toilet flush uses about as much water as just two almonds. Why are you putting so much of your resources in an area that does not address an effective solution to the drought?

  • Linda Nellett

    I love the idea of the hot water recirculating pump, but as a renter that’s not feasible for me. But i did buy a fantastic low flow shower head through High Sierra Showerheads that I can take with me if I have to move.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Look forward to the California homes have a grey water set up so wash/kitchen/shower water is reused. And we are on a well and waste as little water as possible. Including using the Back To Eden garden method for the vegetable garden. Also install an on demand water heater so the water does not have to heat which wastes water.

    http://www.backtoedenfilm.com

  • Anita Guerin

    San Jose Public Library has an Energy Savings Toolkit available for check out. The kit has tools to measure energy and water use and contains items to keep, such as faucet aerators and a low flow shower head.
    http://www.sjpl.org/blog/silicon-valley-energy-watch-diy-home-energy-savings-toolkit

  • rhuberry

    Will any of these relatively few cups or gallons saved per person make any REAL difference in overall state water use? Perhaps it will help the local water districts stretch their supplies, but with no restrictions on new housing developments, anything I save will just be used by the next new person to move to California to occupy the new housing. And agriculture, industry, fracking etc. etc. will no doubt also use what I save.

    Those of us who went through the drought in 1977 have already changed out our fixtures, checked for leaks and all of these suggestions.

    These suggestions of saving cups of water at a time are insignificant but I guess make people feel good.

    • Darryl

      http://www.gracelinks.org/1361/the-water-footprint-of-food

      Here’s one way (link above). It would also help if they fixed the levee’s in CA after the billions that Mr. Brown dished out for “them” to do that. Also, the farming that is allowed to waste water with run-off (most is going into Salton Sea). AND all the leaky reservoirs. http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2014/12/15/its-raining-so-how-do-those-reservoirs-look

    • Another Mike

      In 1977, there were 22.3 million Californians
      In 2014, there were 38.8 million Californians.
      California still gets the same annual precipitation.
      Conclusion: each cup you save will be used by another thirsty Californian.

    • davey

      Exactly. Even a drastic 50% household reduction would only save about 2% of total use. If we stopped (or reduced) growing high water demand crops in the desert there would be no drought problems.

      • Another Mike

        Turning fruit and nut trees into firewood would produce more snow and rain?

        How does that work?

        Remember that growing trees reduces our carbon footprint, which reduces the rate of global warming,which can reduce the annual precipitation amount here.

        • davey

          It will decrease water usage, far more than anything proposed here. A single walnut takes about 5 gallons of water to grow. A head of broccoli, almost 5. The corporations that produce these crops are literally draining CA dry. They are in essence pumping our water to other states and other countries. We actually use CA water to grow alfalfa to ship to China!! Why? $$$$ The entire state has to suffer through rationing and loss of business because of this one industry which accounts for only 2% of CA’s business.

          “.. In 2010, irrigated agriculture consumed four times as much water as urban users. The state could easily save the same amount of water [as the 25% reduction] if it required farms to increase water efficiency by about 5 percent.

          But it’s not.”

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2015/04/03/agriculture-is-80-percent-of-water-use-in-california-why-arent-farmers-being-forced-to-cut-back/

          http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/02/wheres-californias-water-going

          • johanna

            We can agriculture reductions by eating different foods and demanding less of the water intensive foods (aka meat, dairy, and eggs). Eating one less hamburger = 600 gallons saved! Eat more plants and save water.

          • Another Mike

            How do we capture those 600 gallons and divert them for use?

            Water runs into the soil. Some is absorbed by the plant while the rest runs off and can be recaptured. This is true whether the plant is there, or not.

          • johanna

            I’m not understanding this question. This conversation is about how we as individuals can save water. Rather than focus just on our residential use, we have the power to change how much water is used by agriculture by reducing our demand for water intensive (animal-based) foods. As we reduce our consumption of these products and eat more plant-based products, the production of these will be reduced and water will be saved. For every fewer hamburger that is produced, 600 gallons of water is saved.

          • Another Mike

            Where and how can it be saved?
            Rain soaks the ground.
            Enough rain creates flooding.
            Flood waters need a system of ditching and excavated ground.
            Eventually that water sinks into the ground.

            That water makes a one-way trip.

          • johanna

            It is saved by not being used to irrigate the crops that are then fed to animals that are then fed to humans. Same way you save water by taking shorter showers except exponentially more is saved through diet.

          • Another Mike

            The water from a single flush of even the most efficient toilet is more than enough to grow an almond.

            I would rather have an almond to eat,
            than flush a wh&zz to the street.

          • davey

            You can haz have both an almond and a whizz. There’s plenty of waster here for whizzing and plenty of water in other parts of the country to grow almonds.

            The point is that the citizens and businesses of CA are going through rationing and hardships so that one industry can use virtually unlimited, unregulated amounts of water to grow crops in the desert to sell around the world for corporate profit. Crops should be grown in environments that don’t require draining a state dry and destroying entire ecosystems.

            Would this be allowed for any other industry? Would we allow the likes of McDonalds and Chevron to consume 80% of our water and endure rationing to support their bottom line?

    • johanna

      We can make a difference in the area of agriculture by reducing our demand for meat, dairy, and eggs. When you eat an animal or animal by-products, you are eating that PLUS all the water, energy, and food it took to raise that animal. Go directly to the plants (veggies, fruits, nuts, grains, legumes, beans…) These foods use SIGNIFICANTLY less water (not to mention the reduction in land use and pollution). By reducing our demand on animal products even a little (say 1 meal/week), we can make a much larger impact than any home water use reduction. No one wants to talk about this bc they are afraid to step on the profits of animal ag, but it’s the reality.

  • Another Mike

    Another way to avoid waiting for the bathroom hot water to turn hot is to get an inline water heater, and install it near the point of use. These heat water only while the tap is on. I see them starting to appear mounted to exterior house walls in my neighborhood. These can save energy as well as water compared to keeping thirty gallons hot 24/7.

    • davey

      The wait time is due to the distance between the heater and the faucet, not due to the type of heater.

      “A 37% savings of water heating energy per household was found for replacing a typical
      natural draft storage water heater with a tankless one. However, this savings was not enough to
      offset the high incremental cost resulting in paybacks from 20 to 40 years.”

      http://www.mncee.org/getattachment/7b8982e9-4d95-4bc9-8e64-f89033617f37/

      • Another Mike

        I suppose I could shower in the garage, where the water heater is, but heating water just outside the bathroom makes more sense to me.

  • Darryl

    can we discuss the amount of water that could be saved by NOT eating meat?

    • David Airey

      Yes, please! Good point.

    • Another Mike

      My meat comes from Iowa, where enough water falls from the sky throughout the year to grow animal feed.

      • Darryl

        Towns in Texas have been lost because of the cost of water. You’re lucky.

  • Amy Ispaperless

    All three of my kids (including our 7 year old) take baths in an inch or two of water in the kitchen sink. Then dirty dishes soak there. We installed a recirculating pump so there is no wasted water waiting for hot showers. That is just a few hundred bucks. We replaced back yard grass with playground wood chips and veggies beds which we water either with caught shower water or water from our outdoor solar shower (caught in a half wine barrel and cooled over night).

    • De Blo

      By having THREE kids, you are still wasting far more water than more responsible smaller families. Ultimately your selfishness and contribution to overpopulation is the primary cause of all water problems. No couple should have more than 2 children in a drastically overpopulated planet. At a minimum, families with more children should see higher tiered water prices and additional taxes.

      • Another Mike

        The average Israeli uses 76 gallons per day while the average Californian uses 210 gallons per day. Thus an Israeli family can have three children for every child a Californian has.

  • Another Mike

    For people concerned about agriculture:
    The initial allocations from the federal water project are 25% of normal (75% reduction).
    http://www.usbr.gov/mp/PA/water/docs/1_CVP_Water_Quantities_Allocation.pdf
    The current allocation from the state water project is 15% (85% reduction).
    http://www.water.ca.gov/news/newsreleases/2015/011515increases.pdf

    Water, especially from the Sacramento River, is being managed principally to protect wildlife — steelhead smolts, Delta smelt, and so on.

  • Carolyn Vallerga

    Wherever there is a drain (like in a sink) I place a large container under the faucet. If I must rinse or wash vegetables, rinse a dish, etc, the rinsing water is collected and put in a bucket outside. When that bucket is full I use that water to water plants in my garden. No water goes down a drain.

  • johanna

    All of these home water use programs are just a drop in the bucket compared to what people can do by switching to a more plant based diet. For example one gallon of cows milk requires the equivelant of 2 months of showers. How about drinking juice or coconut milk instead. These kinds of changes are easy, cheap, and go a lot farther, yet the “experts” refuse to talk about them. The one time a question about livestock and meat eating came up, you quickly changed the subject. By ignoring the #1 cause of water use (producing and consuming animal products), you are failing your listeners.

    http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/change-the-course/water-footprint-calculator/

    http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/embedded-water/

    • Another Mike

      Yes, a movement sponsored by the soymilk producer Silk, encourages us to feel good by shunning dairy milk. But fear not, the program is also sponsored by Coca-Cola (where concern for consumer health is priority 1) and the Walton Family Foundation (if it’s good for the Waltons it’s good for America).

      • johanna

        Silk soymilk brand is owned by Dean foods, one of the largest dairy producers, so I hardly think they want us to shun dairy.

        My above comment is not meant to promote any particular food, just on the basic fact that animal products (meat, dairy, or eggs), require exponentially more inputs than the plant-based alternatives. The higher up on the food chain you eat, the more water, land, energy you are using. There is no other place in our day-to-day lives where we have a better opportunity to save water.

        • Another Mike

          Silk was made part of Dean’s White Wave Food subsidiary,, which was completely spun off in 2013.

          Water is not in short supply in 2/3 of the US, and can be used freely as it falls from the sky onto food crops.

          If you want to get exercised about something, why not the use of food to run our trucks and automobiles? Corn is turned to whiskey, which is then burned in internal combustion engines.

          • johanna

            I understand most people don’t realize animal ag is a serious issue for the environment given how hard big ag has worked to suppress this information…The mythology we tell ourselves is that it’s just about fossil fuels..Below is a link to a great documentary about the effects of animal ag on the earth and there are links on their website to all their sources. While transportation and energy changes are important with regards to water use and other environmental problems, they will take decades to solve. Eating a more plant-based diet is something we can start now and have an immediate and farther reaching impact.

            http://www.cowspiracy.com/

  • De Blo

    The best way to reduce water usage among renters, who tend to waste water because they do not necessarily pay their water bills or for maintenance of their plumbing, would be a program to automatically pass along all water costs and plumbing improvement costs to the renter from the homeowner. Additionally, rent control caps should be lifted for any landlord that improves the water efficiency of the plumbing in his home or homes that are rented out.

  • mike

    if 50% of homes used this one device, we would be in far better shape to save 90% water and energy bestwatersource dot com

  • Brain Ward, Sr.

    Water is one of the most important factor that needs to be considered in our daily life. So, people must use sufficicent amount of water and also save water to use it properly.
    http://www.airdexinc.com

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