Residents’ tips for saving water just trickle in
Washing clothes can alsomean irrigating plants
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 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.”
Brushing your teeth with a glass of water and not letting the faucet run is also a great water saving tip.