Water is precious


water drop

EBMUD tells us our household of three used 33 gallons a day last period. I understand that’s less than normal so I’m going to share how we manage it. Please comment with your own water-saving tricks.


When we run the shower, we put in the bathplug to collect every drop, then scoop it into a 5-gallon bucket from which we flush the toilet. (If we had a shower stall, we would get a tub to stand in to catch most of the water) And what used to be a daily routine has now become a luxury, as we now shower briefly only about twice or three times a week, or when we “need” it. Leonard uses about 2 gallons for his showers. I’m closer to 5. Then four times a year we might take a bath and let all the water wash through the sewer – aaahhhh!


A bowl under the faucet collects water rather than having it run down the drain, then gets emptied into our five-gallon bucket.


You’ve heard the adage, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” It takes courage to ask visitors to use a toilet with urine in it, but hey, we’re in a drought. To keep the sewer pipes clear, we put wet toilet paper into a basket rather than down the (rarely flushed) toilet.  And when it’s time to flush, there’s usually a bucketful sitting right there.

Leonard has built a Lovable (composting) Loo, and we’re debating how we would process the resulting compost.


Basins under the faucet catch water – from washing hands, rinsing vegetables, etc. – which is used for rinsing plates and pots before putting them into the dishwasher, usually run three or four times a week on the “quick” and “eco” settings. Any grot that gathers in the drain sieve goes to our green bin rather than the digester.


A front garden of natives means there’s little need to water there, but we have two 55-gallon barrels collecting rain off two small portions of our gabled roof when we do need it.

In the back I’m growing mostly perennial food, herbs, plants that attract beneficial insects and fruit trees (there are just two small patches of greens for our chickens). Perennials have time to establish a wide and deep root system that takes advantage of every bit of moisture that might be there, so they’re much more drought tolerant.

Perennials we grow include scarlet runner beans, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), mashua, tamarillo, Incaberry, globe artichokes, Tayberry, raspberry, kiwis, tree collards, perennial arugula and all kinds of herbs, as well as onions and greens like kale, collards, lettuce, corn salad, and sorrel. Fruit trees include plum, fig, pear, apple, peach, lemon, olive and kumquat – and this is a small yard! There are two potato towers in extended half barrels that look like they’ll actually produce something substantial this year. These containers are watered via a bottle that sits in the soil with a hole in the bottom so the soil can take the water it needs by osmosis.

The garage roof (an area of 600 square feet) – at the top of our property, in the back yard – drains down into a sleeved underground drainage pipe with holes, set in a bed of gravel, that snakes through the garden before exiting via sump pump. At two spots I’ve inserted a 5-gallon bucket drilled with holes, also set in gravel, to collect the water in a larger quantity and help it percolate into the surrounding soil. On both occasions when I’ve checked these spots, I’ve seen a mess of roots headed towards the buckets, so I know it’s working. We’ll see how much water is really stored in the ground as we negotiate this drought year.

On the three-foot easement to the north of our house we have a couple of 620-gallon skinny Bushman Tanks from Urban Farmer Store (the manufacturer has since discontinued them and now has a 530-gallon version). These tanks catch the majority of rain that falls on our roof, where the gutters have been channeled to a single drainpipe that channels the water through a filter before dropping it in the tank.

As of January 2014, the tanks are still about a third full (from our last storm over a six weeks ago). When the first tank fills to the top, I can either let it overflow into a polyethylene pipe with holes drilled into it that runs along the back yard fence,  or open the valve to fill the second tank (which overflows to the street in a very large rain event). Actually there is not a single piece of roof on the property from which we do not collect the rain in one way or another.

Laundry to Landscape

Our washing machine sits handily at the top of our property in the office in our garage, so we had a plumber install a three-way valve and now have the option of directing the spent water to the yard, where a mulch basin cleans it and drains to one of two locations, directed by more valves. We get a biocompatible soap from the Ecology Center and only use cold water. (There’s always the laundromat round the corner if we really have to wash something in hot).

Which all adds up to 11 gallons a day per person. It still seems like a lot when you consider that for emergencies you should store only 1 gallon a day per person, and it’ll be interesting to see if we can get it lower.

Leonard has qualified recently with Greywater Alliance as a Greywater Installer. Please contact Grateful Roots at 510-528-2261 if you are interested in finding out about greywatre use at your home.

Please comment if you use less water, and how you do it!


A Brit who came to the US in 1988 and found California and the Transition movement to be a perfect fit. Now my life is replete with a dear husband, a small but productive permaculture backyard, a loving family and a very full calendar of work I love.

Posted in Economy, Energy, Food and Agriculture, Resources on January 17, 2014