When I was a small boy living in Britain, we did not use much water; it wasn’t a matter of conserving water by some deliberate act to save money or from some altruistic view of the planet, it was just that we lived in such a way that we didn’t need much water. Maybe the simple model of those days can be a road map for conservation of water here in 21st century Davis; this may be viewed in much the same way that considering a caveman’s diet could suggest ways to sound nutrition.
In Britain there was rarely a drought. Quite the opposite; it seemed to rain most days and so watering the garden was something no one did. I do recall some few hot summers when we used gray water from the kitchen and bathroom to water the rhubarb and the gooseberry bushes; that was easy to do because there was an outside drain and it was easy to put a bucket under the outfall.
But we produced a great deal less gray water then than my present household does because of our habits of living.
I hate to admit this but Friday night was bath night (whether we needed a bath or not). We also changed our clothes Fridays and that cut down considerably on the amount of clothes to be washed and the labor and energy and, of course, water to do it. Mam used to wash everything by hand using a tub and a washboard that youngsters these days would think of as a musical instrument. Except for the whites, which went into the boiler built into a corner of the kitchen.
She bailed the hot wash out of the boiler with a stump of wood that was bleached and eroded like a plank that has been grinding to and fro on the beach for many years. It was my job to crank the handle of the wringer, which was hard work especially if she fed the clothes through folded over. The clothes then went on the line the full length of the garden to flap and snap in the wind and sunshine (sometimes).
That, of course, was on fine Mondays when the billowing washing all down our street reminded me of sails on Sundays on Sydney harbor.
I remember the day we got a washing machine. It was a Hoovermatic Twin Tub (to my surprise there are videos of these on YouTube); one tub washed and the other spun. Mam called in all the neighbors to watch it work; she was especially impressed with the Suds-Saver device, which turned out to be water spun from the clothes returned to the washtub. In that way, one batch of water washed several loads of clothes, something a modern machine cannot do.
The boiler that served us so well for so many years was demolished; Mam always complained after that she couldn’t get the whites white. We also washed dishes by hand using not much more that a pan of hot water.
We had only one toilet, of course; the tank for the flush water was very small and way up near the ceiling. You released the water by pulling the chain whereupon it came down from such a height at great speed and so worked very effectively.
And so our little household used not much water.
Conservation of water (or of energy, or anything else) really begins with an examination of one’s lifestyle and behavior and ordinary practices. This is the first approach in any formal program of conservation.
In a brewery, for example, this has the objective of establishing a conserving frame of mind among the workforce; conservation is difficult to achieve otherwise. Over the years, breweries have made remarkable progress in water conservation for good economic reasons.
These days, household life is both much simpler and more complicated than it was. Simpler, in that we have a machine to wash clothes and another to wash dishes and, more complicated, because they require maintenance and replacement and consume energy and water in ways that the old manual methods never did.
But by recalling those old manual methods, perhaps we can get a handle on our excessive use of water today.
There are many websites devoted to tips for conservation of water; I’m sure I’m not the only Davis resident reading them with a view to controlling my potential water bill.
Seems to me recommendations fall into two general categories that I will call leak control and preventive action.
* Leak control includes fixing actual leaks plus, one should add, all those sloppy practices like irrigating unwisely and excessively, watering the sidewalk, leaving taps and hoses to run, using a hose instead of a broom, flushing to dispose of trash, over-long showers, and so on. Such leak-proofing is, for the most part, easy to do and free of charge, but it does involve some thought and self-observation and a new awareness.
* Preventive action includes such things as installing low-flow showerheads, a brick in the toilet tank or using low-flush toilets, using dish and clothes washers rarely and wisely, more targeted and better timed yard irrigation, xeriscapes and drought-resistant plants, more water-savvy appliances, finding ways to reuse gray water and rain water capture for landscape use and so on. These last things are much better developed in South Africa and Australia than they are here where some homes I know are designed that way.
Finally, there is no better incentive to conserve than high price and I don’t doubt, with Yes on I we shall be more water-sensitive in a few years than we are now.
— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com