Wasting Water Laws NOT just about Drinking Water

Not a Perfect World

I’m wasting water, and I get away with it!

earth_3I wash my Jeep in the driveway, instead of parking it on the lawn so the water is providing multiple benefits. I could not care less. The hose doesn’t have a spigot on it either, and the water just flows freely down the driveway. In fact, it takes me over two hours to wash the beast because I’m such a perfectionist. I really don’t care about using less water and keeping it from running down the driveway. I never put any thought to it, actually.

Speaking of lawns, I have a beautiful one. It’s lush and green, and because I water it everyday, I have to it mow it sometimes twice a week! It’s crazy, but I don’t care, because I love taking long showers afterwards; at least 30 minutes. Showers are a highlight of my day, and sometimes I take two. I have to stay clean, because I’m a bit of a germaphoebe, but it’s all good. The long soaking bath I take makes me feel better. I brush my teeth often, too…at least 5 times a day. Because I’m such a freak about germs, I flush the toilet every time I walk by mine, which is kinda weird, but it helps keep it clean, longer.

This is my little perfect world. Plenty of water, and the freedom to do whatever I want with it. Yes, I waste water, but it’s not a concept I understand, for it’s all mine and the supply is endless. The only problem with my little perfect water world, is that I have no one to share it with. No one to enjoy a long soak, or share a cool drink, or splash in a creek with. I’m all alone. On the flip side, not having to share my water is nice. I don’t have to worry about using too much, or polluting downstream users, or ruining the top soil by allowing storm water to run off freely…kind of a double edged sword.

Unfortunately, my perfect world died in the Garden of Eden, and not that a perfect world is void of people, having enough water for everyone is. We are narcissistic by nature, and just a brief encounter with children will confirm the notion that we are born thinking the world resolves around ME. I’ll skip trying to become too philosophical and writing about the benefits of human encounter, but we must face the fact, and learn it early, that in order to get along in the world we MUST learn to play well with others.

Reallocating Resources

When is wasting, really wasting?

The act of wasting water is purely subjective, and depending on who it affects, or what the results are, when it happens, or where you do it totally determines on whether we are indeed wasting water, or simply reallocating resources.

California Governor Brown recently reestablished certain aspects of what wasting water might look like in his proclamation last month (read my article, titled Water Conservation: A California Lifestyle). This, keep in mind, is all in the name of conserving drinking water.

Consider these points, for instance, and ask yourself is it really wasting water, or merely reallocating resources.

Water Conservation requires common sense

DRIVEWAY CLEANING ~ California now considers that hosing your driveway or other hardscapes with potable (drinking) water is wasteful. Is this really wasting water when I’m the one who paid for it? Perhaps I’m paying for city water for just this very purpose, and plus, it’s mine…I bought it! For drinking purposes, I collect rainwater, and filter it using micro-screens and ultraviolet light. You’ve never tasted better drinking water! I would never consider using my collected rainwater for hosing off my driveway, but the city’s chlorinated water? Heck ya!

Okay, not everyone does that and I certainly understand the perceived intent, but what about using rainwater, or utilizing a high pressure mechanized system that is highly water efficient? How about splashing the driveway with city water and sweeping it? Is that okay? The argument will then be, “well, we don’t like pollutants from your driveway entering the storm drain system and eventually depositing the oil and chemicals into the ocean.” AH, and this is when the conversation turns to what is becoming the eventuality of land development. Even within private residential development, new or existing, storm water will not be allowed to leave your property. This is primarily for the sake of the rivers, streams, oceans, and all downstream users, and the all important aquifer. Also, the need to recharge the groundwater and protect top soil erosion is critical in sustaining our ecosystem.

Photo of a toilet where 30% of indoor water is used.

TOILET FLUSHING ~ California now considers that using more than 1.6 gallons to flush a toilet is wasting water. Oh boy! Have you ever used one of those ultra-high efficient 1.28 gpf jobs? What happens is that you end up flushing twice, or more. We are now going to end up utilizing MORE water until technology catches up with what legislators believe is a good idea. Secondly, our antiquated infrastructure, and building codes, are not designed to utilize LESS water. Minimum slope requirements have been established to consider the fact that water is needed to help move waste (particularly solids) down a certain size pipe. In this new scenario, less is more…less wasting water, more build-up.

If water is reduced due to the ever increasing use of these low flow toilets, we are going to have to do one of two things, or both. We can increase pipe sizes, which allows for more solids to build up before traveling down the pipe, or increase the minimum slope requirement, which helps move solids with less water. This equates to added costs, either way, and maintaining a sewer system that receives no water will be nearly impossible. Perhaps, with the implementation of zero storm water leaving private property (see above), we will need to connect our driveways to the sewer system and encourage driveway cleaning to offset these low flow toilets just to keep the sewers flowing.

Room additionLAWN WATERING ~ California now considers that watering your lawn within 2 days after a rain event, and allowing the runoff to leave your property wasting water. I won’t go too far with this one, for we’ve all seen it; sprinklers going off while it was raining. However, I’ve seen more PUBLIC spaces being watered during a rainstorm, like freeway embankments, medians, and parks, than I’ve seen private lawns being watered when it rains, let alone two days afterward. There actually is written verbiage into the Executive Order that deals with this very topic of over watering medians.

Keep in mind, the true intent here, as mentioned above regarding driveway cleaning, is to reduce runoff, recharge the aquifer and reduce pollution. But, if buying water for the purpose of having a green lawn, or growing roses, or maintaining your own food supply, is now considered wasting water if we use it less than two days after Mother Nature provided it for free, than our California legislators are working too hard. Again, costly changes to the way we develop property in order to retain storm water on private property is being implemented. Within some jurisdictions, this is true for even existing sites and enforced when property owners initiate something as simple as a room addition.

car-being-washedAUTOMOBILE WASHING ~ California now considers the washing of your automobile without an attached shut-off nozzle is wasting water. No more letting the hose run wild, unless you’re hooked up to that new sewer system with ultra-high efficient toilets. For real though, here’s a great way to solve two issues with one hose. A dirty car, and a thirsty lawn…park the hot rod on your turf, and wash away. Nozzle, or no nozzle. Even within two days of a rain storm, we might even get away with it! How could this be anything close to wasting water? There is, of course, the issue of runoff, as mentioned above. Oh yea, you’re in a new subdivision where water never leaves your site!

We are adapting, and finding better ways to live on this planet, and this is a good thing. Sure, there will always be bumps in the road and those changes won’t come easy, or necessarily be the right ones, but we’ll figure it out. Be willing to try new things and think about how your actions affect others, for to make this world a better place, we all need to play well with others.

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Regulating Trash to Conserve More Water

Image of a sunset on Lake Arrowhead
Lake Arrowhead

Californians are no longer allowed to throw their trash in the ocean and new regulations are to blame. According to the State’s Water Resources Control Board’s new Trash Control Policy (approved by the U.S. EPA), trash will be kept out of bodies of water, including streams, lakes, coastal and ocean waters. Although the majority of California residents do not have direct contact with the Pacific Ocean, their storm water runoff does. This will impact many municipalities that are permitted to dump water into the major tributaries that serve the coast.

Surprisingly, this kind of common sense thinking of keeping our oceans clean has never been regulated. Now that it has, we may be a step closer to stabilizing the Garbage Patch circling around the Pacific Ocean, now twice the size of Texas!

Captain Charles Moore, founder of Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, California, and author of the book, Plastic Ocean, was recently interviewed on my program, A Culture of Garbage. He spoke about the need to find new ways to keep from adding to the garbage that ends up in our waters, leaving a giant Garbage Patch, and this new trash policy is a step toward that end. Most of this ocean garbage is in the form of small bits of plastic floating just below the surface, broken down from years of sunshine and seawater, but is often consumed by the sea life, ultimately disrupting their digestive tracts, left for dead, and thus causing an imbalance within the wild kingdom. “The Away Inn is full”, Captain Moore states, which is contrary to our mentality when we think that when something is thrown away, it is simply gone. This Trash Control Policy establishes requirements for municipalities to install means to keep garbage from entering water bodies at the point of contact, such as filters, and debris screens.

Unlike the trash we do see, like plastic bottles, candy wrappers and cigarette butts, which has it’s own form of contaminants, the other stuff that we don’t easily identify as garbage, like automobile fluids, excess fertilizer runoff and other surface pollutants need to be controlled at the source. These hidden pollutants add to the degradation of the quality of storm water runoff that ultimately ends up, sometimes, in our drinking water. Now that California is regulating street trash, I see a very important hidden side benefit to all this. I don’t like to use old cliché’s, but…what we have here, is the perfect storm to be water conscientious!

Conserve Water

Government is great at imposing laws to enforce common sense, and California is a perfect example of this. We have a full-time legislative body, where their only job is to create laws. It would seem natural to save water, and conserve as much as possible, and collect rain from our roofs to water our gardens. It would only make sense not to trash our oceans and keep debris from being washed into our streams and lakes, but we’re only human, right?

Well, here’s the thing…the two go hand in hand.

Photo of rain runoff, and bringing debris across a non-pervious surface during a storm event.
Water Erosion

When we control our storm water runoff in order to reduce water body contaminants, we’re having to collect and save some of this water on-site, or at least slow it down to percolate and recharge the aquifers that most of our drinking water is sourced, thus reducing the demand of having water delivered and pumped hundreds of miles away. On the other hand, if we are required and/or Incentivized to Conserve, store and use this storm water, aka Rainwater, well…we are also reducing the amount of water that would otherwise wash down our streets, picking up contaminants on it’s way to our streams, and dumping into our oceans.

Regulating trash to conserve water sounds like a good idea, but let’s reduce garbage, save water and make this about keeping our community and family healthy, and safe, anyway, for this is just another key element in developing a Lifestyle in Sustainability.

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