Surviving A Water Shortage
Even the best water system breaks down now and then. Pumps fail. Electricity mysteriously goes off and stays off for long periods. Bulldozers diabolically seek and destroy water mains. Repairs can take days, during which conserving water may be required to assure a continuing supply.
Over the decades, the following measures got me through four major pump failures, as well as a summer living in the Arctic, where we hauled all our water in five gallon jerry cans. Collectively, these experiences made me realize how much water we humans normally waste and how quickly conservation can become second nature. Here’s a start:
• Position clean barrels at down spouts to collect rainwater. Dump the first flush, which is likely loaded with pollutants such as dust and bird droppings from the roof. Use rainwater for non drinking and non cooking purposes or to water livestock.
• Cascade by reusing water for tasks requiring progressively less sanitation: bath water to wash clothing, laundry water to flush toilets.
• Flush toilets by dumping rain, pond, creek, or cascaded water into the bowl. Since a toilet that flushes through the tank may need subsequent repair for leaky valves or a damaged flushing mechanism, restrict this use to one toilet if the house has more than one.
• Each person, on average, flushes five times a day. To reduce water loss to flushing, post this notice over the toilet: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” Confining use to a single toilet means it will be flushed more often than if multiple toilets were used, minimizing odor. (Keeping the lid down helps, too.)
• Wash dishes in a dishpan full of hot soapy water, rinse by soaking one minute in hot water with one tablespoon chlorine bleach added per gallon.
• To minimize water needed to scrub dirty pots, soak them overnight in rinse water left from dish washing.
• Serve soups, salads, and sandwiches that require few or no cooking pots, or prepare meals in easy-cleaning cast iron.
• Soak laundry overnight and wash by hand, use a scrub board, or keep a water conserving old-time wringer washer on hand for such emergencies.
• Take sponge baths, sitting in the tub to confine the mess.
• For a limited time, and with a few caveats, plants can survive on dish washing or laundry water that contains no bleach, softeners or boron (Borax). Phosphate is okay; it’s actually a fertilizer. Apply enough for deep soaking, then mulch heavily to retain the moisture. Do not recycle used water on potted plants or salt sensitive plants like azaleas and strawberries.
• To ensure sufficient clean water for toothbrushing and drinking, keep several gallons of potable water in the pantry or basement for water shortage emergencies. Refresh your stored water periodically, or sterilize the water and can it: Bring the water to a full boil, boil it for one minute, fill clean canning jars to the rim, and seal.