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Ask EcoGirl

A syndicated eco-advice column
Written by Patricia Dines

"Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone!"

"Making it easy to be green!"

This Month's Column:
Water, Water, Everywhere!

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Water, Water, Everywhere!

By Patricia Dines
Published in the Sonoma County Gazette
March 2014
(c) Patricia Dines, 2014. All rights reserved.

One of the unexpected positive aspects of our current drought for me has been seeing so many people invite and welcome the rain. I love watching us remember how essential water is -- not only for our drinking needs, but also to support our farmers, fisherfolk, food supply, recreation, lush vistas, healthy ecosystems, and wild creatures. Water literally brings our planet to life.

In times of plenty, we can forget how precious water really is. We can forget that nearly all the world's water is too saline or inaccessible for us to drink. Or that a third of the world's people lack access to safe drinking water, and suffer greatly as a result. Or that our bodies are about 60% water and can last only a few days without it. Experiences such as the 1930s Dust Bowl can seem to be just distant history instead of warnings for us to protect our shared ecosystems.

But now we're being shaken by seeing near-empty reservoirs, farmers losing millions and trucking in water, stranded salmon with a generation at risk, emergency declarations of disaster areas, calls to cut water use, and worries about our long dry summer. Last year was our driest year since records started in the 19th century. Recent rains have helped but levels are still very low.

However, this moment also offers us a wonderful opportunity to joyfully align our lives more with water's ways, and protect it for ourselves, our ecosystems, and generations to come.

What You Can Do

1) Revere water as a vital cornerstone in all of our lives. Send gratitudes to the streams, lakes, and rainfall that provide the nurturing fluid that flows from our faucets. Doing this helps us center our actions in love and appreciation, rather than denial or complaint.

2) Respect our limited supply by reducing your water use. For instance, you can: Turn the water off as you brush your teeth or shave; run the washing machine and dishwasher only when full; use a broom (not a hose) to clean decks and driveways; repair water leaks immediately; and cover pools and hot tubs to reduce evaporation.

Also, consider installing water-efficient showerheads, toilets, dishwashers, and washing machines. (Rebates are often available.) Plus, wash your car at a carwash, to be water-efficient and keep soap and oil out of our environment.

3) Manage your land, garden, and farm in water-wise ways. For instance:

• Reduce your irrigation, and consider installing a drip irrigation system.

• Plant drought-tolerant plants, and design to minimize water needs.

• Create walkways and driveways out of porous materials such as gravel, not nonporous materials such as standard asphalt. This helps rain recharge our groundwater while reducing flooding and erosion. You can also find porous asphalt, concrete, and paver options.

• Explore permaculture's wonderful methods for shaping your land to fit with nature's ways. A great place to start is Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway.

4) Capture and share your wastewater. We can use much of the water going down our drains to nurture our drought-impacted ecosystems and creatures while reducing our outdoor water use.

So, for example, you can put a bowl or bucket under your faucet while rinsing plates, brushing teeth, or warming up water. (Any cleaners captured need to be non-toxic and phosphate-free.) Then share your bounty with your plants and trees (though not food plants). You can also catch water from downspouts in watertight barrels, for later use.

To learn about creating a more formal greywater system for your (non-toilet) water discards, see http://bit.ly/1fzpwo9. [which is www.sierraclub.typepad.com/greenlife/2014/02/beginners-guide-to-greywater-reuse.html]

5) Protect the limited water we have from toxics and pollutants. For instance: avoid using toxics at your home and work; wash paintbrushes in your sink (not outside); fix leaks in your car; and dispose of toxics properly. Also buy nontoxic products, including organic food, to support the folks who avoid using toxics. For more ideas, see www.healthyworld.org/STEPIndex.html.

6) Act to help reverse climate change and restore nature's cycles. Our current increasing weather extremes are the result of insufficient action in the past. But we can act now to help steer ourselves back towards weather system stability.

For more about what you can do to create happier water tomorrows, see www.patriciadines.info/EcoGirl7e.html. [That's this page!] And please feel free to share your resources and ideas with me.

 • • •

Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, a freelance writer who's been specializing in empowering constructive action for the earth for over 20 years. She's the author of a wide range of articles and periodicals, including seven editions of The Organic Guide (innovative San Francisco Bay Area organic guidebooks). She's also the editor and lead writer for The Next STEP newsletter ("your handy guide to less-toxic living"). Find out more about her work at www.patriciadines.info.

 • • •

Hi all - Please let me know if the ideas in this column are helpful to you. It's always great to hear what works for folks! You can also email your questions about going green to <EcoGirl [at] AskEcoGirl.info> for possible inclusion in future columns.

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"EcoGirl: Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone."

© Copyright Patricia Dines, 2007-2014. All rights reserved.


"Congratulations on a fine article in the March issue of Sonoma County Gazette, "Water, Water, Everywhere!" I especially appreciate your section, "What You Can Do: Revere water as a vital cornerstone in all of our lives." I have noticed in much of our American society that people tend to take water totally for granted. Water is our most valuable, essential, and limited natural resource, because without water, life on Earth would not have been possible as we know it today. I also appreciated how you mentioned the healthy ecosystems and wild creatures that are also dependent on a healthy source of fresh water, which our current drought is making less available. Thank you, EcoGirl, for your thorough research and details that make this article so appropriate as a learning tool to help people act responsibly when it comes to conserving and protecting our fragile water supply."
~ Paula Pearce, Author & Illustrator of the book "Saving Walter"


March 22 is World Water Day, observed since 1993 when it was declared by the United Nations General Assembly.


The earth's surface is 70% water, but 97.5% is saline and largely undrinkable by us. Less than 1% of the world's fresh water is accessible for human use, and a third of the world's people lacks access to safe drinking water. Our bodies are about 60% water, and we can only last few days without it.

"Water in California," Wikipedia
Around 75% of California's water supply comes from north of Sacramento, while 80% of the water demand occurs in the southern two-thirds of the state. The majority of California water is used by the agricultural industry. About 80-85% of all developed water in California is used for agricultural purposes. This water irrigates almost 29 million acres (120,000 km2), which grows 350 different crops. Urban users consume 10% of the water, or around 8,700,000 acre feet (10.7 km3). Industry receives the remnant of the water supply.

Events like the U.S. 1930s Dust Bowl show how drought harms our society at all levels. It impacted 100 million acres and forced tens of thousands of families off their farms.


Many experts, websites, books, classes, and rebates are available to help you.

A good place to start is www.savingwaterpartnership.org.

Also see Sonoma County Water Districts -- Partner Programs for reducing water use

For eco-gentle home care products, I personally like BioKleen products -- and they're an excellent example of strong eco-criteria/statements. See www.biokleenhome.com/about/promise

If you're buying a new toilet, consider getting one with a small sink on the lid. After you flush, the clean water runs through the sink as it fills the bowl, making it easy to rinse your hands without using added water. There are various options available, as well as conversion kits. Note that this is a specific use, not meant to replace your regular sink.
Learn more at
See options here

BOOK: Natural remodeling for the not-so-green house, by Carol Venolia & Kelly Lerner. Bringing your home into harmony with nature, including explorations of how to integrate water. See my review at www.healthyworld.org/a_BkReviewNatRem.html

Learning about permactulture. In addition to Hemenway's book mentioned in the article, there are many other people and resources that can help you implement permaculture in your home and life. This page gives a good overview of the principles and arenas.


About Greywater

FAQs -- Frequently Asked Questions (what products to use, etc.)


"Drought declared. Gov. Jerry Brown last week declared a drought emergency in California, following the driest year in recorded state history. "We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation," said Brown, who spoke as wildfires near Los Angeles drove thousands from their homes. The governor called for a voluntary 20 percent cut in water consumption and said mandatory rationing was possible if the drought, now in its third year, didn't abate. He called on state officials to help California's struggling farmers, who this year are expected to leave hundreds of thousands of acres fallow. "We can't make it rain," said Brown, "but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California's drought now threatens." "
The Week, Jan 31 2014 p5

"Countywide water limits likely in April," By Sean Scully, Press Democrat, February 25, 2014

"Sonoma Valley water supplies at risk," By Jay Gamel, Kenwood Press, Feb. 2, 2014

Sonoma County Water Agency, Drought Condition Update

Press Democrat, Drought stories page

"California's Drought Could Be the Worst in 500 Years. And why it's too late for the rain," By Alex Park and Julia Lurie, Mother Jones magazine, Feb. 10, 2014
"The Golden State is in the midst of a three-year drought -- and scientists believe that this year may end up being the driest in the last half millennium, according to University of California-Berkeley professor B. Lynn Ingram. Californians are scared, with good reason: Fire danger in the state is high, and drinking-water supplies are low.
"But the drought will have repercussions outside the state's borders, as well. California produces a good chunk of the nation's food: half of all our fruits and vegetables, along with a significant amount of dairy and wine."

"Water shortages in the West: 'You ain't seen nothing yet'," By Allen Best, June 14, 2011, Colorado Independent

"Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?", By Jay Famiglietti of University of California, Irvine in Water Currents on February 4, 2014
Note: It's not just a drought on the surface. Our groundwater levels are very low.


In the 1990s, New York City was faced with having to build a water filtration plant at an estimated cost of $6 billion plus $250 million in annual maintenance. Instead, it developed an innovative project to protect its upstate watershed (of 2000 square miles, roughly the size of Delaware), which has cost notably less at $1.5 billion since 1993 -- an average of $167million per year. This has saved its ratepayers billions, as it provides 1.2 billion gallons of drinking water daily to 9 million New Yorkers. This innovative program has shown what's possible even with scale, and become a national and international model.

Learn more at these links:

"New York City to Receive Source Water Protection Award from American Water Works Association," City of New York

"Ecosystem Services in the New York City Watershed," By Alice Kenny, The Ecosystem Marketplace

"Watershed Progress: New York City Watershed Agreement," Environmental Protection Agency

"Watershed Protection and Local Food," Wikipedia


The OAEC's Water Institute. "Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC) established the WATER Institute (Watershed Advocacy, Training, Education, & Research) to promote understanding of the importance of healthy watersheds to healthy communities. Building upon OAEC's many years of work to protect Coastal California's watersheds, the WATER Institute promotes a vision of restoring and protecting all watersheds, or "Basins of Relations," utilizing a framework of regenerative water-use practices known as Conservation Hydrology."

Brock Dolman is the Director of OAEC's WATER Institute and the OAEC's Permaculture Program, as well as various other projects.

You can enjoy Brock's riff on water in this video. Watch as describes how water as both a finite noun and an infinite verb -- with the water cycles equaling the life cycles -- and humans and other life forms as water bodies and beings -- who live not on planet earth but planet water. I like the larger space that he holds for our relationship with water.


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Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter, which gently educates readers about toxics and alternatives. For more information about my work for the planet, see www.patriciadines.info

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This entire website is (c) Patricia Dines, 1998-2014. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 3/22/2014