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Tips and Tricks to Hack Your Way Through the Mega-Drought

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A large chunk of the Bay Area is already experiencing “exceptional drought” conditions, which is the worst of the worst in the U.S. Drought Monitor’s rating system. Most of California — 74.5 percent — is in the “extreme drought” zone, and we haven’t even turned the page into summer.

While Californians have lived through numerous dry seasons, the drought we’re facing this year is forecast to be worse than anything we’ve seen in decades — some experts even claim that what lies ahead this summer hasn’t been experienced in the past 1,200 years.  

U.S. Drought Monitor illustration of current California drought conditions, as updated Thursday, June 3, 2021.

There’s no getting around the fact that this will be a tough season — we’ve already hit triple-digit temperatures, five times the number of wildfires compared to this time last year and state reservoirs are 50 percent lower than where they should be. Central Valley farmers are making financially painful decisions to reduce crops, knowing their water supply will be limited.   

Water conservation will be key to surviving a miserably dry summer and likely early fall. It’s not only the right thing to do, but not doing so could come at a high price as water restrictions and overuse fines are inevitably imposed on most of the state’s counties.

Receded water levels in extreme drought conditions. (Photo by richdubose0/Pixabay)

We can each save a lot of water by changing some basic daily habits and tweaking the landscape a bit. Here are some tips and tricks to reducing the flow with links to where you can pick up handy conservation tools:

  1. Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth and scrubbing your hands.
  2. Cut showers down to three or less times per week.
  3. Install a smart showerhead to track your shower times and gallons used. 
  4. Install a shower quick shutoff valve or a water-saving valve that reduces flow to a trickle when the water reaches the right temperature – pulling the chain again will release the warmed water at full pressure.
  5. Put a bucket inside your shower and a cup in your sink to catch runoff – captured water can be stored and used for watering plants or rinsing dishes.
  6. Use a dry razor or turn to waterless shaving cream.
  7. Get with the PTA method in between showers. My Navy vet grandfather called it the pits, tits and ass bath, which is basically a sponge bath for the most important bits. There are a number of biodegradable wet wipes, rinse-free bath sponges and waterless bath washes on the market in all sorts of price ranges and preferences. 
  8. Turn to dry shampoo and leave-conditioners when possible, for yourself and your four-legged friends.
  9. Use a food scraper to get excess crud off your plates and cookware right away – the longer you wait, the more water you’ll need to scrub.
  10. Compost what you can so there’s less to put down the disposal or add to the landfill piles.
  11. Save water from steamed vegetables and use the nutrient-rich leftovers to feed your plants.
  12. Consider switching up your dish soap to Dawn Powerwash, which is weirdly efficient at getting dishes clean without much water. Use the food scraper and then mist the soap on and let sit for a little while – you’ll be able to basically wipe off most of the yuck and save water usage with a quick rinse.  
  13. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down. While it may seem gross at first, reducing the flush will go a long way to conserving water. A normal toilet uses about 5 gallons per flush. Think about that. 
  14. Rewear clothes a couple of times unless they’re visibly dirty. Using a natural fabric refresher can give your clothes a little extra life between laundry days.
  15. Only run full loads of laundry and dishes if you use a dishwasher. 
  16. Ditch the lawn for moss or drought-tolerant veggie and herb gardens instead. Moss, which works best in shady areas, uses about 1 percent of the water traditional lawns soak up and keep the soil moist. If you’re in more of a full-sun situation, especially inland, think about using that useless lawn space for food you can eat instead. Watermelon, arugula, lentils, grapes, sunflowers and rosemary will all stand up to pretty intense heat without needing much water. Check out the Change-Making site for additional planting ideas.
  17. Avoid washing your vehicle if at all possible. A little dust isn’t worth wasting the 100 gallons a 10-minute car wash uses.     
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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.

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