Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

The marina at Brown’s Ravine sits far from the water on this aerial view of Folsom Lake on Thursday. Although the marina commonly runs dry, this season’s drought has left the lake unusually low.

Q&A: Where are we wasting water most?

Published: Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 - 5:25 pm

Every day without rain makes water users more nervous – and water providers more diligent.

Sure, California has dealt with droughts before, but this current dry spell already has reached historic status. It’s the driest winter in more than a century. And if the Sierra snowpack doesn’t start building soon, local residents and farmers are looking at a parched summer, too.

The Regional Water Authority – the umbrella agency that coordinates the efforts of local water providers in Sacramento, Placer and El Dorado counties – has tried to prepare consumers for desperately dry days ahead. It serves as a resource for information on water efficiency and how consumers can make every drop count.

Facing 20 to 30 percent cuts in water use, local consumers seem to be finally getting serious about saving water, say local agencies. What do residents want to know now? We asked Amy Talbot, the authority’s water efficiency program manager. (And she’ll be available for more questions during our online chat at 11:30 a.m. today.)

What are the biggest water wasters to target in my home?

Inefficient fixtures are the biggest water wasters in your home, with an older leaky toilet at the top of the list. Toilets account for nearly 30 percent of a household’s indoor water use, with older leaky toilets using as much as 6 gallons per flush.

If it’s been a while since you have replaced your toilet, consider upgrading to a high-efficiency WaterSense toilet, which only uses 1.28 gallons per flush. A WaterSense toilet can save a household 13,000 gallons a year. For more information about WaterSense toilets, visit www.epa.gov/watersense.

The good news is that nearly all hardware (and home improvement) stores carry WaterSense products to make it easy for you to upgrade; just look for the label on the box.

Another tip: Make sure that you are running full loads of laundry and dishes. Running loads half-full means you need twice the amount of water to get the job done. So, pack in those dishes and add those white socks in with a load of towels!

Does the lawn really use that much water?

Yes! Outdoor water use in the Sacramento region accounts for 65 percent of a household’s total water use. The average household in our region uses 380 gallons per day, with more than half of that used outdoors. It adds up, especially as the temperatures rise.

RWA is asking the region’s residents to limit outdoor watering to one day a week or not at all, following your water provider’s guidelines. (For example, the city of Sacramento currently limits its customers to weekends-only landscape irrigation on one day – either Saturday or Sunday.) Another tip is that turf grass needs more water than native plants, which are better suited for Northern California’s climate. For a list of Northern California native plants, visit bewatersmart.info.

Why do I have to wash my car with a bucket instead of a hose?

Using a hose without an automatic shutoff nozzle allows water to continuously run the whole time you are washing your car. Most of this water ends up on the pavement and not helping your car get any cleaner. The next best thing to do is get an automatic shutoff nozzle for your hose so that you are only using water when you rinse.

If you want to save even more water, just use a bucket to rinse your car, which allows for a more targeted and thorough application. Another good practice is taking your car to a commercial car wash. Most car washes now clean and recycle their water. And finally, perhaps the most water-efficient way to wash your car is to skip the wash altogether!

If I use “gray water” in my garden, will it kill my plants?

Provided that plant-friendly soaps, cleaning and beauty products (biodegradable, nontoxic, sodium and borax free) are used, most plants will be fine when irrigated with gray water. (That’s household water that’s already been used once such as the wastewater from a washing machine or bath water.) Acid-loving plants (such as azaleas and blueberries) need pH neutral water, so choose pH neutral products. If you are uncertain if the pH is being affected, choose plants that are not acid loving to irrigate with gray water. For more information, visit www.greywateraction.org.

This weather has been so warm, can I go ahead and plant my summer vegetable garden now?

No. Wait until April (or early May) to plant tomatoes, peppers, squash and other summer favorites. This is not about water but temperature, particularly soil temperature. Although daytime temperatures have been in the 60s (and 70s), nights are still dipping into the 30s and the ground retains that coldness.

Also, we could still have a late frost that would damage or kill those tender transplants; Sacramento remains on frost watch until March 23. It may feel like spring, but roots know different.

When you do plant your vegetables, remember to add mulch to your garden to help the soil retain as much moisture as possible.

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

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