Conservation chronicles: How you can reduce water use

Conservation chronicles: How you can reduce water use

Patti Cary

Lincoln Middle School sixth graders in a nature area behind the school. Photo by Jennifer Hartigan.

With all the news about water shortages and climate change, it’s hard not to think maybe Chicken Little was right. Bees disappearing, millions of trees lost, metallic tasting water – all pieces of a troubling and seemingly interconnected puzzle.

Hopefully, most of us understand that with four straight years of water shortages in California come brown lawns, dirty cars and shorter showers. Still, it’s unthinkable for most of us to imagine a day when we turn on the tap and nothing comes out.

Following Governor Jerry Brown’s demand that Californians conserve, the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s board voted in April to mandate water use reductions of 20 percent from 2013 (the number is district-wide; different types of users, like single family homeowners and businesses, are anticipated to conserve different amounts).

The utility’s customers cut water use by 12 percent in 2014, more than the 10 percent it asked customers to save that year; but as of April, its customers were only using 6 percent less water this year than they did in 2013. The district covers 331 square miles across Alameda and Contra Costa counties and serves 1.3 million people, including all of the Island.

Some Alamedans are already taking extra steps to capture grey water, replant gardens with more sustainable landscaping and fix any leaky faucets and plumbing. We drive electric cars and we compost – because it’s not just for hippies anymore!

Others briefly consider the role we play in water and resource conservation, but then figure the crisis will eventually pass or we hold out hope someone else somewhere will surely come up with a solution soon and so we go back to our business as usual.

A comprehensive soil moisture study released in February by NASA, Columbia and Cornell universities, concludes that on our current course, there is a 60 to 80 percent chance the American Southwest is headed for a mega-drought before the end of the century. Naturally occurring droughts last about 10 years, but a mega-drought could last for several decades, presenting “a substantial challenge to adaptation.”

So what can we do?

Unlike the story of Chicken Little, all is not lost. Here are some resources that can help you figure out how to conserve.

The state has posted this comprehensive website offering drought facts and outlining steps residents and business owns can take to reduce water use. (A second webpage that offers the state’s drought news is here.)

The East Bay Municipal Utility District has dozens of resources on its website along with a rebate incentive program to get conservation-minded customers started. The utility’s website offers advice and tools to help you calculate water use, rebates for water-saving utilities and customers who get rid of their lawns, coupons for mulch and even leads on where you can pick up recycled water for plants.

Locally, you can talk to friends and neighbors about what’s working for them and attend free local meetings with groups like Alameda Backyard Growers or Greywater Action. The growers group’s last monthly meeting featured a discussion on resilient landscapes; Greywater Action, meanwhile is hosting a free talk titled “The Water-Wise Home: How to Conserve, Capture, and Reuse Water in your Home and Landscape” from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. today at the West End Library, 788 Santa Clara Avenue.

Adults can also lead by example by helping the future stewards of our environment understand the importance of our natural resources. Some very conscientious and dedicated science teachers are giving Lincoln Middle School’s sixth graders hands-on lessons on ecosystem restoration, while students at The Academy of Alameda Middle School are exploring future energy alternatives.

Let’s keep Chicken Little at bay and keep our eyes on the prize – a safe and sustainable future.

What are you doing to save water? Leave us a comment and let us know.


Submitted by marilyn pomeroy (not verified) on Tue, May 19, 2015

Agriculture in California uses the lions share of the water by far, and is currently not regulated regarding water usage. What ever we as individuals can do will remain insignificant until that changes. Check out the book, Cadillac Desert, which is very informative about how we got to this unsustainable situation. Interesting to note that California currently has a population twice that of what we had in the 70s, during the last major drought.

Submitted by Bill2 (not verified) on Tue, May 19, 2015

Population growth, lack of government tracking of water use, lack of caring by high percentage of citizens, companies using water at will, and bottles water companies using as much water as they please all contribute to the problem. Do we know how efficient the agricultural farms and growers are? If not, lets find out.