water bill sz

How many gallons of water per person per day does your household use?

When Nancy came to Coffee Social with Petaluma’s new Drought FAQ handout, we jumped all over the opportunity to discuss this timely subject.  In fact, we spent most of the hour on this one topic, which says a lot, considering our standard mo is to hop around all over the place.  Should we use shame to force people to abandon their green lawns, or create drought-tolerant alternatives that are too beautiful to resist? (I like the idea of “art yards”!) How many people catch the water as their showers are warming up and distribute it over their garden? (More than you might think.)  Have you taken advantage of the city’s free Water Wise House Call program? (I have, for both WORK and home, and it’s worth the call.)

But back to the first question.  Do you know how much water you use?  The only person who’s been able to answer that question for me is Trathen Heckman of Daily Acts.  Last night, at his Summer Soiree, an enthusiastic crowd of local greenies gathered in his garden filled with storm swales, rainwater barrels, grey water systems, layers upon layers of mulch, among a forest of food and native plants.  All that abundance and he used only 21 gal/person/day in April and 39 gal/person/day in May of city water.

When I went home I dug up our last water bill, determined to do the calculation for myself.  Here it is: Last month our family of three used 4 hcf (hundred cubic feet) of water.  That’s 4 x 748 gallons/hcf = 2,992 gallons/month.  2,992 ÷ 30 days = 99.7 gallons/day ÷ 3 people = 33.2 gal/person/day.  That’s pretty good now, but I barely water my existing plants and I chose not to put in veggies this year, more than halving my consumption.  My next challenge will be to follow Trathen’s lead and keep the numbers low while boosting the garden’s productivity to a spectacular level.

So what is the city and state’s goal for us?  Google wasn’t much help when it came to finding a specific target number; however, I did find this fun interactive map of California that says Santa Cruz has water rations with a limit of 44 gal/person/day, which is well below the state average of 77 gal/person/day.

So here are my suggestions for the City of Petaluma:

  1. Simply convert obscure hcf quantities to recognizable gallons so that we can understand how much water we’re using. And not as a fine-print footnote conversion factor, but as a bold line item of its own. Bonus points for telling us how we’re doing compared to target goals. Extra bonus points for comparing us to our neighbors (a proven technique for encouraging better behavior).
  2. Find a way to send us alerts when our water use changes dramatically. A few months ago we had a toilet handle jam at WORK. I fixed it first thing in the morning when I found it. That month our water bill doubled! I called the water department and they were able to see the time of use consumption. From 4 PM to 9 AM the next day, we were using 290 gallons per hour! That’s 4,930 gallons in one night! Imagine if it had happened over the weekend or if I hadn’t been alerted to the problem. How many of these types of leaks are occurring right now unnoticed, and how much water could we save if an alert could be sent out when unusual spikes occur? Several of our techie members were all over this idea.

And here are my suggestions for you, the reader:

  1. Pull out that water bill and do the math…and try to best Santa Cruz’s 44 gal/person/day. (A little friendly competition, perhaps?)
  2. Check out Daily Acts’ Action Ideas for Saving Water.

And remember…

”…the only failure is not to try.” –Jimmy Carter


Published July 2nd, 2015

Written and photographed by Natasha Juliana. Edited by Linda Jay. Curious about Coffee Social?  Join us Tuesdays at 10 AM.