California Drought and Resource Conservation

Resource conversation pressures are coming right down to the American household. California, in its fifth straight year of drought, is deciding on 13 water‑saving proposals via its Water Resources Control Board. In addition to higher water bills, one proposal would limit water use to 300 gallons per household per day.

How much is 300 gallons of water? Try these guidelines: a standard toilet takes 6 gallons per flush, a standard shower head takes 6 to 8 gallons per minute, a bath takes 25 to 30 gallons, a faucet releases 5 gallons per minute, brushing your teeth with the water running uses 10 to 20 gallons, as does shaving, a garden hose discharges 8 gallons per minute, washing a car with a hose takes 100 gallons and a small faucet drip dribbles 2 gallons per day.

Rationing water in California has some strong arguments in a fast growing state that has used up so much groundwater and transported other water hundreds of miles from northern California to the Los Angeles area for years. The drought is so severe that snow in the mountains which used to measure 6 feet on the average in the winter is currently being measured in inches. January’s precipitation was only 15% of average rainfall that month during the drought period.

There is, of course, lots of ways to save water by households, not to mention notoriously wasteful uses in agriculture. There are low-flow toilets, low‑ flow shower heads, faucets and garden hoses. Simply being more frugal goes a long way, such as not standing under the shower for 15 minutes or more day dreaming.

On the East Coast, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, is taking the campus lead with a just announced “Brown is Green” campaign to reduce its costs and set a model of resource conservation for other colleges.

Launched by Brown President, Vartan Gregorian, before a large gathering of enthusiastic students in late January, the “Brown is Green” program is very specific. Planned is a campus-wide change to low-flow showerheads which will cut annual water consumption by over 11 million gallons and save a net of $60,000 a year in energy and water costs. A retrofit to compact fluorescent bulbs in every exit sign on campus could save over $40,000 a year in electricity costs, providing a 30% return on initial investment.

Also planned are energy-efficiency guidelines for any new or renovated buildings, a ban on mass-mailings to reduce paper waste and holding individual departments and offices accountable for their energy use. Up to now the departments never see their energy bills.

Brown was one of the earliest Universities to implement a recycling plan and currently recycles between 25% and 40% of its solid waste. The institution is close to buying recycled paper for the entire campus. For some years, the chemistry labs have been using a microscale version that cuts the volume of chemicals for lab experiments by over 95%.

So conversation, which started out with exhortatory articles and public hearings, is now coming home in the most personal ways. Once people change their habits and receive efficient household technologies, they will likely be much more aggressive in insisting that industry, commerce and governmental facilities do the same. When you are preaching what you are already practicing, you can be most persuasive against frail excuses that it can’t be done.

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