Res­i­dents’ tips for sav­ing wa­ter just trickle in

Wash­ing clothes can al­somean ir­ri­gat­ing plants

The Mercury News - - Local News - By Judy Peter­son and Khal­ida Sar­wari Staffwrit­ers

Some­times when a car or SUV is re­ally dirty its owner will write “wash me” on the back win­dow. But if ever there was a sign of the times, a filthy ve­hi­cle spot­ted re­cently in San Jose’s Cam­brian neigh­bor­hood said it best: The owner wrote “CALIF DROUGHT” on the back win­dow.

Good to see peo­ple are still main­tain­ing a sense of hu­mor.

That’s get­ting tougher to do, how­ever, what with wa­ter price hikes and the threat of fines loom­ing for wa­ter wasters.

Long­time Los Gatos res­i­dent Diane Sharp isn’t too wor­ried about fines, though— she’s cut her wa­ter use from ap­prox­i­mately 7,400 gal­lons per month in 2013 to about 3,200 gal­lons used last month.

Sharp think­ing

Sharp achieved much of her sav­ings by elim­i­nat­ing drip ir­ri­ga­tion. In­stead, she spent $ 70 to have a plumber con­nect a 100- foot hose to her wash­ing ma­chine. Now her wash wa­ter goes di­rectly to the front lawn via the hose.

“You can turn it on or off if you want to use bleach; oth­er­wise, I use biodegrad­able de­ter­gent,” Sharp said. “It’s been a life­saver as far as my land­scap­ing is con­cerned be­cause it gets a very deep drink.”

Although Sharp only does a few loads of laun­dry a week, she es­ti­mates her hookup is putting as much as 10 gal­lons of wash wa­ter and 10 gal­lons of rinse wa­ter on her front yard.

Sharp has lived in Los Gatos’ Bel­wood neigh­bor­hood since 1975 and re­calls that dur­ing the early 1980s her house was un­der about two feet of wa­ter.

“I’ve lived through fires, floods and nu­mer­ous earth­quakes, but in a way this drought is more fright­en­ing be­cause it af­fects food pro­duc­tion and wildlife,” Sharp said. “We’re see­ing deer down here in the neigh­bor­hood more of­ten and coy­otes. The crit­ters are thirsty.”

Sharp’s lessons in wa­ter con­ser­va­tion date back to the mid- 1950s, when down­town Santa Cruz was un­der wa­ter. “My grand­fa­ther as­sured me then that drought was in­evitable, and he taught me to use wa­ter wisely,” Sharp said. “We did the dishes by hand, and it was my job to take the wa­ter out to the gar­den.”

So she was dis­mayed re­cently to see her grand­chil­dren wast­ing wa­ter. “I saw my grand­kids from Los An­ge­les turn the wa­ter on full to wash their hands,” Sharp said. “I think they do turn it off for brush­ing their teeth, but that’s it.”

Sharp was one of many read­ers who re­sponded to a re­quest to share their wa­ter- sav­ing tips with this news­pa­per. Ideas ranged from re­duc­ing the flow of faucets to dis­con­nect­ing the garbage dis­posal; from us­ing a dry sham­poo for wash­ing hair to catch­ing cold shower wa­ter in a bucket to later use in the gar­den; and, of course, “If it’s brown, flush it down; if it’s yel­low, let it mel­low!”

And while wa­ter may be slow­ing to a trickle, wa­ter­sav­ing ideas started to flow— some pretty ob­vi­ous, but many quite unique.

Beach in Saratoga?

For most peo­ple in Saratoga, the clos­est beach is in Santa Cruz or Half Moon Bay, but drought- con­scious res­i­dent Polly Hil­lis found a way around driv­ing at least 30 miles to feel sand un­der her feet, and she’s sav­ing wa­ter in the process.

Hil­lis elim­i­nated patches of grass in a sec­tion of her back yard which gets a lot of sun and re­placed it with ground rocks that give the ap­pear­ance of sand. The “sand” is ac­tu­ally a fine gran­ite that doesn’t stick to the bot­tom of feet, laid down over a fab­ric blocker, Hil­lis said.

Af­ter throw­ing in a ham­mock and suc­cu­lent pots for good mea­sure, the Hil­lises dubbed this part of their backyard “The Beach.” What started as a small sac­ri­fice ended up be­ing a serendip­i­tous de­ci­sion for the fam­ily.

On the first week­end of sum­mer, Hil­lis’ vis­it­ing grand­daugh­ters, Kyla and Sa­man­tha, en­joyed the fruits of their grand­par­ents’ la­bor by tak­ing a dip in the pool and then loung­ing in the shaded ham­mock, just like they would on a beach miles away from the Wardell Road res­i­dence the Hil­lises have oc­cu­pied for the last 34 years.

“It all just started with try­ing to save wa­ter,” Hil­lis said. “It turned out to be a good way to help with the drought and still en­hance our back yard.”

Hil­lis, who spends much of her time paint­ing and ex­hibit­ing her work, cred­its her artis­tic side for hatch­ing the idea last fall, long be­fore the cut­backs were man­dated.

“It was pretty ob­vi­ous we’d have to se­ri­ously cut back,” she said. “We take a lot of pride in our yard, es­pe­cially in our backyard— we call it the big­gest room in our house — and so I thought, well, how can I still make that at­trac­tive and use­ful?”

Now she’s think­ing about tak­ing a sim­i­larly cre­ative ap­proach to a patch of grass in her front yard. She’s first let­ting the grass die, just like she did with the grass in her backyard, and then she in­tends to plant laven­der flow­ers, which don’t re­quire much wa­ter. And she’s not any­where near done mak­ing her home as drought friendly as she can.

“Depend­ing on how long the wa­ter short­age goes on, I have some other ideas,” Hil­lis said.

Down the line, she’s look­ing at re­mov­ing a stretch of grass be­hind the pool area and turn­ing it into a suc­cu­lent gar­den.

Whether the Hil­lises have made a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on their wa­ter bill has yet to be seen, but Hil­lis is con­fi­dent she made the right de­ci­sion.

“I took le­mons and made lemon­ade,” she said. “Ev­ery­body loves it; my hus­band at first said, ‘ Oh, I miss the grass,’ but now he thinks it’s pretty cool, too.”

The les­son in this, she said, is that with a lit­tle bit of cre­ativ­ity any­one can find ways to tackle Cal­i­for­nia’s his­toric wa­ter short­age.

Dif­fer­ent shade of gray

Hil­lis’ fel­low res­i­dent Terri Singer is also try­ing an un­con­ven­tional ap­proach to con­serv­ing wa­ter.

Singer, who is also a gar­den­ing en­thu­si­ast, said she wanted to find a way to main­tain the land­scap­ing on her Or­chard Road prop­erty while con­serv­ing wa­ter — not the eas­i­est thing in a home with three boys who al­ways have dirty laun­dry.

“We did a fam­ily pro­ject re­search­ing and in­stalling a gray- wa­ter bar­rel to the drainage hose of the wash­ing ma­chine,” Singer said. “My hus­band and I are not engi­neers, ( but) we know it’s all about plumb­ing and pres­sures. We ended up fig­ur­ing out the en­gi­neer­ing.”

Singer said she came up with the idea af­ter go­ing to a class on gray wa­ter in San Jose. She then went on a shop­ping spree to find all the prod­ucts and tools to make this idea work. She said she found ev­ery­thing she needed lo­cally. Gene’s Fine Foods, for ex­am­ple, car­ries sev­eral dif­fer­ent brands of biodegrad­able de­ter­gent, while food- grade gray- wa­ter bar­rels can be found at Al­ter­na­tive So­lu­tions in Camp­bell.

With the help of their three boys, Singer and her hus­band, An­drew, el­e­vated their wash­ing ma­chine on an ad­justable plat­form in the back yard and then at­tached a spigot and hose, which she said she keeps con­nected at all times to pre­vent ac­ci­den­tal over­flow­ing.

To use the gray wa­ter sys­tem, Singer said, she sim­ply opens the spigot at the bot­tom of the bar­rel and the at­tached hose, and grav­ity pro­pels the wa­ter out to the land­scap­ing. With this setup, she’s able to wa­ter the plants and trees in her front yard and even ro­tate the gray wa­ter so that the hose can reach the sides of her yard as well. The hose, which mea­sures 100 feet, can wa­ter three- quar­ters of her 8,000- square- foot lot, Singer said.

So far, it’s been work­ing out great.

“I’ve had no prob­lems with it,” she said. “I do have to pay at­ten­tion to the hose— depend­ing on where I’m wa­ter­ing— and mak­ing sure the wa­ter pres­sure is good enough. My plants seem to like it.”

What she lacked in en­gi­neer­ing skills Singer made up for by tak­ing a class, re­search­ing gray wa­ter on the In­ter­net and do­ing a great deal of plan­ning. She got her boys in­volved in the process, and along the way ev­ery­one learned a thing or two about how wa­ter pres­sure works and how to prop­erly wa­ter plants.

“We all have to do our bit, and this is mine,” she said. “This is just a sim­ple way of do­ing what I can that’s mean­ing­ful, be­cause laun­dry and showers take up a lot of your wa­ter and those are le­gal to pump out to your prop­erty. You don’t have to be engi­neers; any­one can do it.”

GE­ORGE SAKKESTAD/ STAFF

Brush­ing your teeth with a glass of wa­ter and not let­ting the faucet run is also a great wa­ter sav­ing tip.

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