How low can we go?

I’m talking about water usage, not the limbo pole, though I’ll admit that California’s drought and the climate in general make for a very “in limbo” feeling.

I’m posting about our water usage because we are all accountable to each other for the water we use. I figured I’d hold myself accountable in public… after I’d already changed some of my bad behaviors. 😉

  • July bill: $61.34
  • August bill: $47.85
  • September bill: $34.84 (I confess, I washed the car for the second time all year in this bill.)

The rate decreases indicate a reduction in usage. Let’s take a deeper look at that.

Our rate reductions in detail

First, there are the rates themselves. Our water and sewage rates increased on July 1, 2014 “to pay for continuing seismic improvements and other critical upgrades to our water and wastewater system,” which San Francisco voters approved a few years back. On our July bill, these increases comprised $10.48 of our total $61.34; in August, $7.86 of our total $47.85; and in September $5.24 of $34.84.

Despite the rate increases, our usage and bills are much lower than they were one year ago. One year ago this period is where the real shame lies: our use was more than double what it is today! One year ago, we were using 124 gallons per day instead of our current 49 gallons per day. May we never return to that, for shame.

Now let’s look at this month’s bill in detail. Of the total $34.84:

  • Our sewage charge was $16.31, or 1.80 units at $9.06 each.
    • I still can’t believe we use clean, fresh, potable water to flush toilets. Every single city, at minimum, should have a city-wide gray water system (of the level that Irvine, CA does, for example) that uses gray water to flush toilets, water all gardens, and so on.
  • $18.53 was for water:
    • $8.81 is the service charge.
    • $9.72 is actual gallons consumed. One unit = 748 gallons. We consumed two units at $4.86 each.
    • We used 1,496 gallons in one month. This still strikes me as far too much, though I admit I can’t think of much else to cut (besides husband’s showers, ha!). Next year we hope to install a rainwater catchment system, though we have not had rain to catch.
    • Our use is under 50 gallons/day, which is what the average family uses per day, per person. We’re using 50 gallons/day for two people, or half the average.
    • We haven’t had any Tier 2 usage these past two bills and have kept all of it in Tier 1, which is also good.

What have we done to create these reductions?

1. I always shower with the water off (husband is not quite there yet). I hereby present Stephany’s Super Simple Shower Saving Methodology:

  • Have a bucket, gallon milk jug or similar container at the ready. Position this below your spigot before turning it on.
  • Close the door, skylights and/or windows and keep your fan off. You want the bathroom steamy so you don’t get cold.
  • Strip!
  • Turn on the faucet. The water fills your container while you wait for it to warm up.
  • When the water is warm enough, get the lower-flow shower head going. Shove-slide your container to the area of the tub where the shower water is now hitting it. Hop quickly but carefully into the shower.
  • Set the container outside of the shower, so the water stays clean and does not get soap in it. This keeps the water clean and usable for drinking, cooking, a dish of water for bees, what have you.
  • Wet? You should be. Turn the water off while you shampoo. Be the Prell girl (or guy).
  • Turn the water on to rinse your shampoo. Turn the water off when done.
  • Apply your face mask, anti-aging papaya enzyme miracle, fancy scrub. (Water’s still off.)
  • Apply conditioner. Soap up. (Yep! Water’s still off.)
    • Use little bits of water from the faucet periodically as needed (to rinse a foot so you can stand on one, non-slippery foot while soaping up your other foot; to rinse your razor if it’s leg or face shaving day).
  • Rinse. Done.
  • Applause, much rejoicing. You saved 2.3 gallons PER MINUTE for every minute you had that water off! You love Gaia so much more than any stinky hippie!
  • Open door, windows, skylights. Turn fan on.
  • Have wine or coffee, depending on whether you shower at night or in the morning, respectively. Drink every drop!

Surprisingly, showering with the water off has been the opposite of what I expected: it has made my showers longer and I do more luxurious girly crap in there, like using my face masks and scrubs and letting herbal tea rinses sit on my hair longer. The anxiety over using water is gone so I can just hang out and enjoy it. My hairdresser found the same thing.

2. We save every scrap of water.
And I do mean every scrap, not just from the shower. Leftover bits and melted ice cubes from guest glasses all go into a bucket. We use nasty dish rinse water for as many dishes as possible. Salad spinner water goes straight to the plants, which has reduced our drip irrigation use.

We drink every drop of water at home and at restaurants. I’m surprised my husband hasn’t divorced me for saying “Finish your drought water,” but I sort of hope other tables overhear me. There should be signs on all tables saying “Drink your drought water.” It’s OK to say no to habitual refills from waitstaff, too. Just put your hand right over that glass. The same goes for all drinks (coffee, beer, whatever), because they almost all contain a lot of water: If you’re not sure you can or want to finish a drink, don’t order it.

3. We’re following the old California “Be mellow when it’s yellow. If it’s brown, flush it down” mantra (unless we have  house guests, because I fear they may not come back, but I’m reconsidering this). This has led to huge savings on the sewage part of our water bill. Yes, you can flush if your bathroom starts to smell too much like a bus station.

The lower we go, the more curious I am: Just how low can we go? How minimal a water bill is it possible to have? It’s definitely a fun game.

Drought or not, these habits are keepers. I love spending less on utilities and feeling just slightly less ashamed.

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