Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Do You Know Your Water Source, Use, Cost?

How much do you know about your own water supply and usage? Where does it come from? Where does it go? How much does it cost? Which inventors, engineers, and companies can you thank for these resources?

Many people are surprised to realize how little they know about resources they rely on so completely. I certainly took water for granted when I lived in a city with a municipal water supply. How will you do on the following quiz? 

Of the people I asked before writing this, many knew the source of their water, but NONE knew offhand, water consumption, unit costs, personal usage or post-use processing.  And yet, we all know how important water is. 

Once you take your quiz, you may be interested in my comparative source and usage rates at our little log cabin, off grid in Alaska, where I have become hyper- aware of how much we produce, how much it costs, and how much we can use before having to go without!

a) What is the source of your water (for example, a lake, aquifer, river, glacier, rain, or well)?
b) Is that source stable or declining?
c) Where do the grey water (sink and tub) and sewage go?
d) How much power does it take to deliver your water to you (for example a truck delivery of bottled water, a pump for a well or the infrastructure of the municipal water system)? What is the source of that power?
e) If you use municipal water, how old is that complex? How does its water quality compare to other cities? (Call to see if they offer tours to individuals or groups. A city water plant is a fascinating and important place. Because of them, many cities conquered the water borne diseases that still bedevil many parts of the world. Find out how much your city's plant costs to build and maintain)
f) How much do you pay for your water supply?
g) How much water do you use?
h) For what? (some water monitors segregate statistics for outdoor and indoor use, or for potable or non-potable water. Some high-rises have water cooled air conditioning systems).
I) Do you know how much water is used in your average bath, shower, dishwasher, clothes wash cycle, toilet flush, lawn, swimming pool etc? (This is easy to look up on line) How much do you use for cooking and drinking, or for your pets?


If you are troubled by the paucity of your answers, fear not. The facts are often easy to find in your utility bills and the websites of your utility providers, or just search “your city or county” + water + some other key word that interests you, such as source or safety or cost.  Many local real estate and Chamber of Commerce websites summarize rates for municipalities and give sample usage for a single family home.

For some people, the answers to this quiz will be informational. But for others, who are dependent on declining resources, knowing your source of water will enable you to start planning for your future before your utility provider tells you what that future will be.

Millions of Americans rely on declining water sources, such as the Ogallala Aquifer that serves 8 Midwestern states (!) from the Dakotas to Texas, Lake Mead in Nevada which serves Las Vegas, Lake Powell, on the AZ/Utah border, and the Edwards Aquifer in Central Texas.  Many coastal areas are finding increased salinization of their water supply. One friend, in a rural area 20 miles north of the Gulf Coast has a 600 foot deep well that provides sweet, tasty water. Her neighbors' 300 foot wells, have dried up, and there is no municipal water system as a Plan B. As sources drop, user costs rise.

According to the Post Carbon Institute (www.postcarbon.org) , the US is planted with more turf grass (lawns) than agriculture, both of which are water guzzlers, but at least the latter feeds animals and people. In Southern CA, 40-60% of many home water bills is for that green patch of yard. Las Vegas pays (paid) homeowners $2/sq ft to rip out their lawn (and saved 800,000 gallons the first year).  If you were surprised by your water usage numbers, is there anything you would change if the price of water rose 20%?  50%?  Ask a nursery about xeriscaping (using plants native to your area).  If you install a 55 gallon drum (with a screen over a a hole) under your gutters (ours was $10 from a beer supply store), you may be amazed how fast it fills up. Attach a faucet.  We use several to water pets and plants.

I realize that most people are not going to live with as few resources as we have, but our statistics may interest you, especially after you calculate your own.

I have more detailed information about our water production in a blog entry posted in January, 2014. The gist here is that in winter, we have no plumbing system. Rather, we fill a 55 gallon drum in the corner of the kitchen with water from the well across the yard about every 5 days. Thus, we can accurately measure our daily usage as an average of 10 gallons. I need 2 gl/day for the animals (mostly the ducks) 2 gl/day for our drinking and cooking, and 6 gl/day for washing dishes, and the occasional spit bath, cabin mop, and clothes wash(in a bucket). (Since we have no toilet/sewage system, we need no water for that.    

Since we are far from any municipal infrastructure (or road), we needed to build our own water system.  For the modest water allocation described above, our well cost us $12,000, plus more for summer plumbing infrastructure, like a shower house and a hose to the cabin. So after our 12,000th gallon, our price will drop below $1/gallon.

Surprisingly to me, our highest power draw, by far, is for the water pumps, both the prior lake pump and now the well. The pumping is short term, thank goodness, because when on, it requires every watt we produce with our small wind and solar system (or back up generator) which maxes out at 250 watts per hour (not kilowatts). Thus, I can only do volume pumping (for the 100 gallon tank for summer showers and washing machine) on very sunny or windy days or with the generator on, otherwise, the circuit breaker conks out.

I hope this information will help readers think about the cost of providing fresh (running or not) water in locations that lack it – in the U.S. or farther afield. As you can see, doing the very basics is NOT CHEAP or easy. And our situation, living alone, is much simpler than the complicated task of moving water and sewage for a larger community.

So please, savor your next glass of water or shower. Flush that toilet. And for goodness sake, find out where it comes from and where it goes. This is a great opportunity to be thankful to the companies and the large number of utility users in your community who spread out the cost to deliver life giving, health sustaining water to you.  

If you enjoyed this article, please be so kind as to post it to or link it at your favorite social media sites.   -- Thanks,  Laura  

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