Monday, October 4, 2010

Thinking Outside the Hose

[This was published in the San Diego Union-Tribune just before mandatory water rationing went into effect in the spring of 2009.]

With an 11,000 sq. ft. lawn-afflicted lot and only a 1600 sq. ft. home, my husband and I are plagued by nightmares of San Diego’s newly-created Water Police showing up in the dead of night. Our only question is: will they be coming for us or the azaleas?

For those of us who have already been conserving water for years, who have only turned on sprinklers as needed, and who dutifully empty even the ice from drinks into our brick planter, mandatory water use reduction along with staggering rate increases are scary thoughts indeed. We’re definitely going to have to think outside the hose.

For the record, succulents prefer Johnny Walker ice to Diet Pepsi ice. One of many solutions that have occurred to us is that to keep our border plants alive, we may have to drink more.

But no, this is serious. Barring a forty-day rain (we’d actually need several), San Diego is entering an era where water usage is going to be an issue as never before. Could the mortgage crisis pass only to be replaced by an epidemic of water bill foreclosures?

With the looming threat of rationing, my husband and I have spent many an hour surveying our property to make decisions about what we’d save and what, worst case, we might have to let die. The Sophie’s Choice of horticulture, as it were. Already we think we can hear our plants pleading with us: “Save me!” “No, save ME!” “Screw her – I bloom more!” “But I’m more drought resistant!” “Don’t believe him – he’s an annual!”

Of course, we’ve thought of all the usual solutions but with toddler grandchildren and a granddog, we’d really prefer not to have a total desert landscape. Not to mention that the estimate to convert our large corner lot to cactus and pebbles was a whopping ten grand; Astroturf would be even more. That could pay for a lot of water. Or, considering the specter of $1,000 monthly water bills, maybe not. I’ll confess that I’ve cruised the fake fern department at Michael’s. They’re looking more realistic than I remember.

We’ve also considered converting our front yard to one huge vegetable garden, or preferably, since we’re old, turning it over to sharecroppers for a cut of the produce. Of course, there’d have to be a Zucchini Clause. But it still wouldn’t reduce our water usage to the degree we’d require in the long term.

Letting the lawn be taken over by drought-friendly ivy would leave us with a becoming sea of green. Also a rat sanctuary.

Our younger son suggested the obvious solution was to reduce our waterable land with a modest remodel, cleverly subsidized by the prospective water bill reduction. He proposes a nice wide (very wide) covered veranda around the house. We could sit out on it in our rockers, he said. Watching our grass die.

Ironically, we have lots of perfectly good (if chlorinated) water in our now-rarely-used backyard pool. Empty the pool and it cracks. Stop filling the pool and you have created an 18,000 gallon spawning ground for West Nile Virus. I don’t want to ruin a potential patent, but my engineer husband is working on some ingenious laundry solutions that involve the pool, our small outdoor rinse-cycle fountain, and the nice warm concrete pool deck. Oops, I think I’ve already said too much.

But what we’ve really concluded is that Southern Californians, including ourselves, are simply going to have to embrace what we have dubbed Creative Moisture Multi-Tasking ©. Basically, all water use must perform at least four simultaneous functions. For example, we see ourselves showering au naturel in our front yard under the lawn sprinklers, while sudsing up with an organic fertilizer-based shampoo. Whoever finishes first rinses the breakfast dishes while the other scrubs vegetables for dinner. Et voilĂ ! In one miserly ten minute watering slot, four water-requisite tasks were achieved (five if you count fertilizing.) The toilet app, we have to confess, is problematical. But frankly, if they’re really serious about conserving water, it’s only a matter of time before flush toilets are banned. Those low-flow things never worked anyway.

So that’s our plan. No question about it: water rationing is going to change life as we know it. But we’re also hoping that the prospect of naked seniors cavorting under the sprinklers in their front yards will be all the impetus the local Water Board needs to ramp up the Carlsbad desalinization project. ASAP.

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