Every third day, Ruth Lezcano, who lives in a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico, fills a 30-gallon cooler and several five gallon buckets (like the “Homer” buckets from Home Depot) with water. She has a bucket for each activity that uses water, like washing dishes, bathing and flushing the toilet.
She resorts to daily sponge baths. She washes clothes on the days the water is on. And yes, she still pays her water bill.
“It’s horrible to live under such conditions,” she said in Spanish.
Drought can happen almost anywhere. About 28 percent of the U.S. is in drought, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor from the National Integrated Drought Information System.
It’s difficult for people to think about preparing for drought because, frankly, drought is difficult to see. It can take a full season or more to identify a drought in progress. Also, drought is partly a human-made problem. If people use more water than is available, they can cause drought.
In California, an estimated 80,000 to 160,000 people live in rural communities that have trouble providing safe drinking water. In Tulare County, Calif., 1,252 wells for homes are dry. They’ve been pumping out groundwater, water stored for thousands of years in underground aquifers, faster than it’s replaced. Shallow wells that households can afford dry out first as the aquifers get depleted by deeper industrial wells.
Lezcano said she had to prepare herself emotionally and physically to live with water shortage from drought. Paradoxically, ready.gov said the best way to prepare for drought is to use less water beforehand.
Here are some tips from ready.gov for saving water inside the home.
Replace washers in dripping faucets and repair pipe leaks.
“One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year,” ready.gov said.
Insulate water pipes. This will help keep them from breaking in winter and reduce heat loss, which means it’ll take less time to heat water from the tap.
Install sink-based water heaters and low-flow appliances, toilets and shower heads. Some water districts will offer rebates to offset the cost. If you can’t afford low-flow appliances, you can artificially create them. Put a filled gallon jug (not a brick, which can decay) into the toilet’s tank, which will make the tank’s mechanical sensor think it’s fuller than it really is. When you shower, bring a bucket to catch excess water and don’t shower for long.
Instead of rinsing dishes and using the disposal, scrape dishes and start a compost pile. When I got an installed dishwasher and disposal this year (hallelujah!), the plumber said the dishwasher actually works better if a little food is left on the dishes. Without food to latch on to, dish soap is too harsh and can etch dishes. He also said I shouldn’t use the disposal much because ground-up food, especially vegetable and fruit peels, can block pipes.
“Potato peels are the worst,” he said.
Outside, reduce the lawn and put in plants adapted to your climate. According to a study published in 2005, lawns cover an estimated 50,000 square miles of the country. That makes lawns the biggest crop in America. And you can’t even eat them.
Make sure the sprinkler system and timer are in good repair. Don’t water the pavement. Also, don’t water too much. Lawns only need about a half inch of water per week and less in the autumn and winter. If water’s running down the gutter, you’re using too much. Consider using rainwater and gray water (water used first for showering and tooth brushing).
If you’re prepared when drought hits, you can just keep your normal routine with only a few tweaks. Gillian Flaccus, a California-based writer, wrote in a column for the Associated Press that her family chooses to “let yellow mellow,” or not flush the toilet every time they used it. They also take showers instead of baths and limit those to five minutes. They don’t water their yard and rarely wash their car.
“Our daughters’ short lives have been shaped by water — or the lack of it — from potty-training to playtime to daily routines like brushing teeth,” Flaccus wrote.
Last week, Tropical Storm Erika brought rain and some flooding to Puerto Rico. Lezcano said the storm missed the drought-stricken east side of the island. Even so, water managers are talking about turning the water on every other day, rather than one day in three.
Lezcano, despite the hardship, thinks that’s a mistake.
“People will waste water, like washing cars and [things like that],” she worried.
–Thanks to Jimmy Rivera for translating.
How’s the drought treating you? How are you faring without water?