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Archive for October, 2009

The weight of water

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It flows, colorless and clear, weightless till you try to carry it. Each gallon tips the scale at 8.35 pounds and change, a number that’s abstract to most of us—why should we know, or care about, the weight of water?

This summer, as the state’s edges curl and crisp from a 3rd year of drought, I’ve been thinking about water quite a lot. More precisely, I’ve been thinking about how much of it I waste.

There’s a fair amount of low-hanging fruit, and I’ve picked it. Most Californians know the classic water-saving mantra ‘if it’s yellow, be mellow’. Running the dishwasher and washing machine only when full and turning off the water while brushing teeth are easy too. Converting to drip irrigation, and installing rain sensors on sprinkler systems, is harder, but still in reach.

My house was built long before rainwater harvesting or greywater recycling entered the lexicon, so it’s not exactly green—and retrofitting only goes so far. Water from my shower, bathroom sinks, and washer drains into the septic tank, eventually to leach out into a corner of the yard. How much better, I thought, if some could be recaptured?

So I bought buckets, small ones for the bathrooms and the kitchen, and a large one for the shower, and proceeded to collect water. Even being hyper-conscious of my usage, the amount I was harvesting each day was horrifying. What brought it home was when I carried it outside to lavish on my garden: this is heavy!

Hefting the shower bucket, I pictured 3rd world women lining up for water, carrying filled jars on their heads as they trudge along a dusty path, miles from home. We simply turn on a tap, and out comes clear, clean, life—costing practically nothing. Maybe that’s the problem: it’s too easy, and too cheap.

I know my small efforts won’t save the planet, or even the state. But if more of us understood the weight of water, and its value, it would be a great start.

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