WATER HOURS


“Damn it!  The snipes turned the water off just as I got soaped up!!”  The First Lieutenant on my ship (head of the Deck Department) had been in the shower when the engineers (we called them “snipes”) had suddenly instituted “water hours”; fresh water was no longer available for the crew.  

In the Navy, fresh water was required for our two steam boilers that turned the screw and provided power.  Toilets used salt water.  When the boilers had enough fresh water, then it was made available for the crew.  If we were short on fresh water, we had “water hours,” restricting water for a few hours a day.  I took “Navy showers,” where I turned the water on, got wet, then turned it off.  Then I soaped up, quickly turned on the shower, and rinsed.  End.  My wife tells me I take infinitesimally short showers.  I do.  I was a Navy shipboard doc for 2 years: Forty years later, I still say “Sir,” wear my hair short, line up my shirt and zipper, and take Navy showers.

My showers last 1 minute, 90 seconds tops.  Counting waiting for hot water, I use 2-3 gallons per shower.  I can’t imagine a 10 minute shower. Using low flow shower heads to cut use from 30 to 15 gallons to me is ludicrous.  We ought to be using 5. Brushing teeth with the tap running (10 gallons) is unbelievably wasteful.  I use 1 gallon per week.  My breath is fine, and I see a dentist twice a year.  I use an electric shaver; when I use blades, my water use is a pint, not a gallon.

Over time, in the desert, we learned “when it’s yellow, be mellow; when it’s brown, flush it down.”  I flushed the toilet once daily.  As the drought intensified and became semi-permanent in the southwest, we did more: we collected the cold water when we turned on the shower, waiting for it to warm, using it to water trees outside that shaded the house.  We collected gray water from the washing machine, realizing how much we used, watering the trees.  Our sewer bill decreased, too.  In addition to garbage barrels collecting water from the roof, I installed gutters and bought a 200 and three 65 gallon containers.  We were rainwater harvesting before the term was coined.

I found a leak under the main road to our house where water came up through the pavement. Nobody else called it in, although hundreds drove over it daily.  I saved well over a million gallons.  That is 3 acre-feet, a number that everybody ought to know: 1 acre flooded to 1 foot is 325,000 gallons.  That’s easy high school math.  Here is more: There are 7.5 gallons in a cubic foot; 100 cubic feet= 1 CCF=750 gallons= 43.5 CCF per acre foot.  It is our water use for a year, and we conserve.  You can’t understand water problems without understanding numbers and math.  Water hours.

Last summer, I noted a little water running down the street.  I traced it to a house where the family was away.  Stuck sprinklers watered an unnecessary lawn (all lawns in the desert should be banned), wasting 9000 gallons a day, 3 months of our use, until I called that in, too, and their water was turned off.  Water hours.  Yet, the more we did, the more was wasted.  A golf course used regular water, not reclaimed; golf in the desert should be severely restricted, use reclaimed water, and cost much more to play, especially on private courses.  Water hours.

Half of the water used in Phoenix, where water bills are less than Boston (look it up), is for landscaping and swimming pools.  I’d ban new pools and severely limit the landscaping to drip irrigation and shade trees that cool houses.  Water hours.

The Central Arizona Project loses 4.4% of its water annually, nearly 100,000 acre-feet, due to evaporation and leaks.  Covering it would have quadrupled the cost, then $4.4 billion.  Maybe we should begin covering it with solar panels. India and the Netherlands do it.  Given that an acre-foot of water for many fruit trees is worth about $2000, farmers can buy it for $500 and sell it to developers for nearly $6000, Arizona could be losing $50-200 million a year. Covering the Canal starts looking reasonable.

Driving through California’s Central Valley, one sees many signs protesting water use laws and blasting politicians.  California is in an historic drought, yet people act as if the supply is unlimited.  Why is the per capita water use in Fresno five times that of Boston?  Why do restaurants automatically serve water?  California needs water hours, not voluntary cutbacks.  Fresh water is 21st century oil, and if we treated oil this way, one low monthly payment for fuel would entitle one to as much gas as he wanted.  This is crazy; however, half the homes in Sacramento have no water meters. California is a huge producer of food, leading the nation in irrigated acres, using about 33 million acre feet a year, 40 million state-wide.

Some forms of agriculture produce high cash value crops, like almonds; others don’t require as much, like some vegetables.  Alfalfa is water intensive, transpiring a great deal; 70% is fed to cattle to make milk products. When a place has too many people, too few regulations, and tries to grow plants that don’t belong in a place that gets 10-11 inches in a good year (3-5 in a bad), there is a recipe for trouble.  There is a lot of waste.  Water hours.

Water harvesting should be mandatory for new houses.  An inch of rain on 1000 sq ft of roof produces 600 gallons of soft water. My homeowners association was upset about “unsightly” water collection devices.  This is absolutely inane.  A square mile of roofs, about 16,000 normal size houses, in a place with 12 inches of rain a year, produces 1000 acre feet.  Not enough.  But triple that, using more houses and large  buildings, and increase it 69 fold, to deal with all cities of more than 100,000 in California, and you have 207,000 acre feet.  Add in other cities, and the number could be a third of a million.  The average family uses 80 gallons a day for “bathing”.  That should be fewer than 40.  Fifteen million families?  Six hundred million gallons, nearly 2000 acre feet, just by restricting water use a little. Mandatory rationing cut St. Helena’s use by a third….in 2 weeks.  Water hours. 

Given that people kayak in Phoenix, and misters are used to cool people at restaurants, misuse of water is not likely to disappear. I saw them running at a Tucson restaurant 6 hours before opening.  If that is self-regulation, then they should be banned.  Water hours.

Drip irrigation saves water and increases tomato yield.  While labor intensive, I am looking at long term, not short term.  Many in California are hoping March storms will save them, not at all likely, rather than having instituted mandatory cuts 9 months ago. I saw irrigation in Kern County last October that was watering barren field and a nearby roadway near Wasco.  Time, date and place upon request.  Water hours.

Fix leaks.  On board ship, leaks cost us 80 gallons a day.  A faucet losing a drop a second loses 2000 gallons a year.  Think we have a few of those around?  A hundred and sixty waste an acre foot annually.  Think there might be a million of them in LA?  That’s 6000 acre feet.  Ten million in California?  60,000 acre feet.  Stuck flapper valves in a toilet waste water.  Hire people to check toilets in all municipalities.  Fresno had unlimited water use with flat rate billing until 2010; drop per capita consumption to national levels, and one city alone would save 90,000 acre feet.  Water hours.

In a state where another million acre feet of water is desperately needed, I have outlined a way to get perhaps half.  I bet my estimations are lowball.  Utilities should price water appropriately, not raise rates when demand drops, as some do.  Keep rates high for excessive and truly unnecessary water use:  golf courses, misters, families with lawns in arid climates, those with pools, those who won’t fix leaks.  Agriculture needs to be realistic about what can and cannot be reasonably grown in arid climates.  Water use needs to be regulated.  That’s politics, but people will not regulate themselves, unless  one is having a wet dream, pun intended.  

We need 21st century thinking on water, rather than those born in the 20th century thinking in terms of the 19th. We are all on a ship, and fresh water is limited.

Time for water hours.

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2 Responses to “WATER HOURS”

  1. Dennis Says:

    “I will believe we have a water shortage when we stop growing pecans in a desert. What people are complaining about is a shortage of cheap water.”

    Jim Peach
    Regents Professor of Economics
    New Mexico State University

    “Top, I can’t fix stupid.”
    Anonymous Army Captain

    “You’re learning, Captain.”
    Said Captain’s Battalion commander.

  2. Mike Says:

    Delighted to know Jim is still around. Please give him my best regards, if he remembers me. As for Anonymous Army Captain, “Zappa’s Law: There are two things that are universal, hydrogen and stupidity.” Substitute Chief for Top, Navy for Army, and Lieutenant for Captain, and I’m pretty sure I had that conversation 38 years ago.

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