By Vicki and James Foster – The drought started the year we bought our homestead property. Experiencing a drought will quickly have you researching 10 ways to conserve water. Our property was nothing more than a wooded hillside, still part of a cow pasture when we first saw it. At the base of the hill, there was a small spring-fed creek. That was to be our source of water, as well as the animals’ drinking hole. As the creek continued across the property, we started planning a farm pond design for the beautiful grey Toulouse geese and khaki Campbell ducks. The farmer who sold us the property promised this spring never dried up before, but it did that year!
We bought the homesteading land, built the house and moved in. By July we had made it quite livable, although there was still much to do inside. By September, our water was gone. I had never been in a drought before and thought of it as only temporary. Temporary was four months that year. In December, the rainy season started and the spring came back, the pond filled up and we took baths at home, instead of short showers at the neighbor’s. I washed clothes at home again, and we could flush the toilet every time we used it. Water seemed more refreshing than I had remembered and I certainly had learned a new appreciation of it.
By August, it was gone again. Hauling water, going to the laundromat, and taking showers at the neighbor’s is not fun. When this happened for the third year in a row, I insisted that we needed to forget the spring and dig a deep well. Turned out it was very deep—an almost unheard of at 565 feet. It about broke the bank. Wells are placed by the foot, and estimates are only that—an estimate. Our well man “estimated” 200 feet! But, hey, we had water! I thought our water troubles were over, but I was wrong.
By November the well was going dry. Well, not dry exactly. It was just that the ground water level had gone so low that our pump could no longer haul it so far up. I called the well company to see if anything could be done. They really didn’t want to come back, but I was as bothersome as a buzzing fly when you’re trying to sleep. It was mid-January when they finally came out and hydrofracted the well. That, in layman’s terms, is like setting off a bomb (made of air) at the bottom of the well to break up the small fissures and make more water flow into our well. That worked, and this past year we have had water in the house for everything we needed.
If you find yourself in a drought, here are 10 ways to conserve water:
1. Never let water run to rinse dishes. To wash the dishes, fill both sides of double sink, use one side to wash in, the other to rinse. When the rinse water looks too sudsy, wash in that side and put fresh water in the other side to rinse. That way you are using the rinse water to do double duty.
2. Never let the water run while brushing your teeth. Get one glass of water. Wet your brush in it, and brush as usual. Rinse your mouth with some of the water in the glass. If you have any water left over, you can rinse the sink with it.
3. Flush the toilet only when you have to. We had a saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, wash it down.”
4. To shower at home, try this. Purchase a two-gallon yard sprayer. Pump it up and spray yourself all over to get wet. Then soap all over, pump it up again, and rinse. (Children will need help.) I got so good at this, I could wash and rinse with one gallon of water, even with my long hair.
5. Go to the laundromat to wash clothes.
6. Start rain water harvesting in water storage barrels. Our containers held about 500 gallons and originally held glue for the carpet industry. The glue was fairly easy to wash out. We set the containers under the downspouts, and ran the downspout into the container. Keep your gutters clean for this trick to work, and take the downspout out of the tub before it freezes in the winter. Ours froze in, and as this giant ice cube expanded, it raised the downspout and broke the gutter.
The collected roof water is only good for outside watering of plants and trees, and possibly animals if there’s no algae. If you collect the water in a cistern, protect it from light and it should stay free of algae indefinitely. It would still have to be boiled for human consumption, because of possible contamination from bird droppings, etc., on the roof.
7. Forget about washing the car and other luxury water usage.
8. Buy plants that can withstand the drought.
9. Plant lettuce early in the season and use lattice to make a shady covering, to delay bolting. Other seeds to start early are peas and spinach. These three can’t stand the heat.
10. Stagger your water usage. If you have some water from your well but realize it is low, plan how to best use it. Make a list of your water needs. For instance: Wash dishes in the morning, wash the floor in the afternoon. We had to plan our bathing schedule one year, when our son’s family visited. I told them it would be necessary to have only one person take a quick shower per day, and the shower would have to be in the morning, so the water could be used for other things during the day. It all went well and we never ran out of water while they were visiting.
These are just 10 ways to conserve water, but there are many other strategies to save this precious resource. How do you conserve water at home?
What would you add to this list of 10 ways to conserve water?
Originally published in 2002 and regularly vetted for accuracy.