We drank from refillable bottles. Our cars stayed dirty one more week. We washed dishes by hand under a trickle.
When mandatory water restrictions last month required Lincoln to reduce household usage by 50%, we learned that second to bathing the greatest use of residential water was from flushing toilets. So, our family cut shower times in half and resigned ourselves to two pees in the pot before a flush.
The mini-sacrifices Lincoln residents made paled against the displacement of communities in the path of the March “bomb cyclone,” when Lincoln’s water supply was threatened by flooding.
Having lived in countries where water restrictions were imposed in numerous impractical ways, our week of limited reserves resembled the typical summer of my youth.
Over the hot, dry months, residential water supplies were routinely cut every other day, allowing minimal use even on “water days.” With no other alternative, we stored water in clean buckets around the house, washed dishes in a pan, rinsed in another, poured that into a pail to mop floors, and used the mop water to flush toilets.
Though Lincoln’s circumstances were temporary, there is growing global concern that climate change impacts and the ever-increasing demand for clean water are imposing considerable stress on entire populations.
The threat to water supply and demand is not confined to natural disasters, Third World countries or desert climes. Water restrictions enforced over portions of the West Coast of the United States affected our entire nation through systemic price increases to our fresh produce.
Mindfully sustaining what Lincoln practiced during our short week of water preservation can extend numerous positive consequences to our state and to our shared planet.
For one, decreasing consumption means less energy has to be used to process and deliver it to our homes, which reduces pollution. And though perhaps not relevant this year, cutting back on the volume we use now preserves water for our future when drought makes it more scarce.
The earth’s reserves are limited and our fresh water supply is increasingly at risk. Globally, water scarcity already affects four out of every 10 people, the World Health Organization notes. While 70 percent of the globe is covered by oceans, seas, lakes and icecaps, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. Of that, National Geographic reports only 0.007 percent is available for use by humans — all 7.7 billion of us.
In light of this, consider how much water everyday activities average:
* Shower (eight minutes): 40 gallons
* Bath: 30-36 gallons
* Dishwasher: 16 gallons per load
* Washing machine: 40-plus gallons per load
* Toilet: three gallons per flush
* Car wash: 116 gallons at home by hand; 20-30 in automatic bays.
However, more efficient appliances can decrease these numbers. As can we, given that the small, mindful changes we practiced in March are not difficult to carry on.
Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Run the kitchen tap with a little less force. Do laundry and run the dishwasher only with full loads. Repair or report known issues promptly — a leaky commode (which wastes on average 200 gallons per day), a public toilet that auto-flushes more than once before you exit the stall, a sink faucet sensor that won’t shut off.
Last month, Lincoln adapted quickly to stabilize our water supply. A few towns over, entire communities drowned — homes, livestock, livelihoods and lives were lost.
At first glance, it may seem incongruous to care for the very thing that destroyed our communities. But we know why. And now, we know how.