We’re Wasting an Alligator a Day in Water

THERE I was, washing up before a dinner of boiled beets and baked tofu, minding my own business.

I was visiting some friends in Bolinas, a `60s-throwback town off Highway One north of San Francisco – a town that prides itself on having the most compost piles and pots of kale steaming for dinner per capita.

After a 1971 oil spill, many hippies came to help with the cleanup and never left.

Though their hair has long since gone silver, you still can feel that psychedelic, free-loving vibe in the air – though it could just be the smell of … oregano … wafting out of funky houses.

The 1,200-or-so-person town is unincorporated, meaning no mayor, no parking tickets, no nothing! (It’s rumored one neighbor keeps a wolf as a pet.)

Gaining a majority on the public utility board, these progressive folk decided to control their own water, setting the number of water meters allowed in town at a whopping 580 in total.

In order to move there, you have to secure one of the meters, which can cost upward of $300,000.

My friends, who somehow finagled a lease, fit right in – their bathroom had all the right MDH (modern-day hippie) accoutrements – Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, organic shampoo and a big ring of dirt around the bathtub. My eyes wandered to a sign pinned nicely above the toilet: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.”

“Mellow?” I thought, “If what’s mellow?”

Finally I figured it out — don’t flush unless it’s dire!Me, not flush? I am from L.A., land of excess, land of Speidi – our toilets flush on their own half of the time.

I flushed anyway, though terrified I would be scolded.

“What’s up with the no-flush rule?” I asked my friends, who were now talking about how they wanted to start keeping bees in the backyard.

“We’re only allowed to use 150 gallons of water per day in Bolinas,” one dude said. “The average household wastes 400 gallons of water a day. We’re not one of those average households.”

“Oh,” I said, wanting to tell him how average his boiled beets were compared to a big fat juicy burger.

When I got back home, I trolled the Internet for facts about water wastage, still in disbelief. My friends were right: according to the U.S. Geological Survey, each American uses 80-100 gallons per day, with 5-7 gallons gone with each toilet flush and 1-2 gallons wasted by brushing teeth with the water running.

Using my 5th-grade level math skills, I deduced that if 1 gallon weighs 8.35 pounds, then the amount of water we each waste per day weighs about 835 pounds – roughly the size of an adult alligator.

I waste an alligator a day! Some days, I may even waste a whole polar bear at 1,100 pounds! I waste zoos full of water!

There, I said it. I feel better already.

I’ve let the faucet run while I brush my teeth, waited to jump in the shower until it’s piping hot, hosed off the patio when I couldn’t find the broom – with water that’s traveled hundreds of miles to get to me. You’d think living on one of the most hydrologically altered land masses would have taught me a thing or two about water conservation.

I’ve seen “Chinatown.” I know the California water supply has a controversial history of its own. I get that.

But never did I think I’d be playing out a real-life Water War of my own.

I decided enough was enough – it was time to become a reformed water waster. I admit it’s been a daily struggle. Sometimes, I still watch the sprinklers going off around town and secretly enjoy it. Thankfully, I’ve compiled a list of tenets I now obey to the utmost. I recommend starting with one or two of the following for you beginners out there:

1. Boycott all water sports, including frozen water sports, like ice skating.

2. Don’t grow anything, no matter how small the plant is. Grass? Forget about it. Style your yard instead with the Sahara in mind. Buy a porcelain camel to warm up the place if you must.

3. Stop bathing. Or, use other people’s showers so as not to feel guilty about using your own.

4. Drink more soda. Next time you’re thinking about an ice cold glass of water, choose Dr. Pepper instead. Help commerce.

5. Don’t go anywhere hot, which might produce thirst.

6. Don’t go any place with the word “water” in it. Raging Waters? No!

7. Don’t even think about luxuriating in water. Starting now!

Though not approved by the MWD or the FDA, these tips are guaranteed to save water.*


Originally published in the Pasadena Star News on July 2, 2010

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