At any given moment, it’s raining somewhere in the world. Some places get too much rain. Flooding can cause tremendous problems. Other places don’t get enough rain. Drought can cause tremendous problems.
Drought can mean different things to different people. When fields go a couple of weeks without rain, crops get distressed and farmers experience it as drought. Meteorologists start to talk of drought after longer periods of less than normal rain. Hydrologists and water managers look not only at precipitation, but stream flow.
Maybe someday, someone will invent a way to move water from flooded parts of the country to drought-stricken parts of the country. Meanwhile, we all have to get in the habit of conserving water. If you’re flooded now, there’s no reason to suppose you won’t have a drought next year.
Even under the best weather conditions, our infrastructure is in poor shape. Water mains constantly leak.
Levels of drought
The US government operates the US Drought Monitor, which assesses five different degrees of drought:
- Abnormally dry: short-term dryness that can slow crop growth and elevate risk of fire
- Moderate drought: times when crop damage begins to occur, fire risk is high, and levels of streams, reservoirs, and wells begin to decline
- Severe drought: likely crop losses, very high fire risk, and water restrictions may be needed
- Extreme drought: major crop and pasture losses, extreme fire risk, and required water restrictions
- Exceptional drought: widespread crop and pasture losses, exceptionally high fire risk, and water shortages becoming emergencies
Water saving tips
Study your water bill every month. Not only will you know how much you’re using, but if you notice a spike in usage that you can’t explain, you’ll know to find and repair leaks.
- Check faucets, pipes, toilets, etc. for leaks without waiting for the water bill to shock you and get them repaired as soon as possible.
- Replace old plumbing fixtures and shower heads with new low-flow modern ones. A low-flow shower head can reduce the flow by 25%. Modern building codes now require low-flow toilets. They use only half as much water as the older models.
- Don’t turn on water full blast when a trickle will do.
- Turn off the water while you brush your teeth or shave. You have to rinse your toothbrush under running water, but a little bit of water in the sink works just fine for a rinsing a razor.
- When you’re through running water, watch to make sure you have turned it off completely and not left it dripping.
- Run your dishwasher and washing machine only with full loads, or where possible, adjust the water level in your washing machine to match your laundry load.
- Don’t rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Just scrape them or soak them.
- A dishwasher uses water more efficiently than hand washing, but you can hand wash more efficiently by rinsing in a tub of water instead of under running water.
- Don’t rinse more than one item of produce under running water. Put some water in a bowl instead.
- Use a commercial car wash instead of washing your car yourself. They recycle water.
- Make a compost pile. Compost all of your vegetable waste instead of using the garbage disposal. You can get a crock to keep in your kitchen that will hold the waste (without stinking up the kitchen) until it’s convenient to take it outside. That’s also a good way to get rid of used paper towels and napkins, hair, dryer lint, and other organic material.
- Replace some of your grass with ground covers or shrubbery that needs less water.
- If you must use a sprinkler, use it in the early morning or late afternoon. Don’t use it on a windy day; most of the water will blow away or evaporate.
- Instead of watering the lawn a little every day, water it for longer periods every three to five days. Apply about a quarter of an inch for each day since the last watering. And if your grass looks a little brown this time if year, it’s not dead (unless you have a serious drought problem). It’s just dormant. It will be green when the rain returns.
- Don’t water extra in anticipation of dry weather. The soil can’t store it.
- Consider installing a system with a shut-off timer so you don’t forget to turn the sprinklers off.
- Used water is called gray water. Reuse whatever doesn’t automatically go down the drain for watering plants, either in the house or in the garden. That tub of water for soaking or rinsing dishes is great. So is old fish tank water, the water you soak your feet in, etc.
- Save the water you used to cook vegetables in the refrigerator for the next time you make soup.
- Untreated rainwater is also considered gray water. Capture it in a rain barrel or two.
By the way, from time to time I read about people in some western states not being allowed to collect water in a rain barrel. These comments usually take the form of rants about socialism.
In fact, there are two very different doctrines of water rights: “riparian” rights, used in most of the country, and “appropriation” rights, a doctrine established in many western states long before socialism existed. You need to know which set of laws you live under.