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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Water Woes

Do you scrutinize your utility bills? You really should. It's lots of fun and educational.

I've been doing this for so long that it's hard for me to believe when people comment about not knowing how much their utility bills are per month. A coworker recently told me that she reimburses her roomate for half the water & electric bill, yet never has a chance to actually look at the bill herself. That doesn't seem fair!

Back when I was an ESL instructor, I used to bring in a copy of my family's water/electric bill for "Real Life Reading" practice while studying the topic of Homes. We practiced skimming and scanning through the columns to analyze how much for water, power, etc. was used, and how much it cost. I get a little thrill each month that I can see visible improvement in reducing our energy or water usage from the prior month or prior year. This is partly because I am very frugal, but also because I am environmentally oriented.

No matter how hard I try, I have never been able to decrease the water use of my family of 4 below 4 kilogallons per month. This is in the fall, winter, and early spring, when we use less. Some of the things that I have done to bring us down to this 4 KG level include:
  • not flushing the toilet each time someone pees
  • instituting a two-towel per week policy per person to cut down on crazy laundy levels
  • having the kids wash their own laundry (oddly, they don't wash as much this way)
  • rewearing clothes if not smelly or dirty
  • of course, not running water while brushing teeth or washing faces
  • trying to wash/rinse dishes with two tubs rather than running rinse water (we don't have a dishwasher)
  • limiting baths (only 2 of us enjoy them anyway)
  • turning off water while soaping, shampooing during showers
Four kilogallons may not sound like a lot. Our utility company told us that it is below the average water use of 11 kilogallons for a family of 4. So we're doing pretty well (except in the summer, when we water the garden and use can jump to almost 20 KG). But that means four thousand gallons of water. FOUR THOUSAND gallons per month! Can you imagine four thousand milk jugs laid side to side? That's a lot of water! Most of it spent for cleaning and washing and flushing, not for drinking or cooking.

Where we live, water is cheap (and for the moment, relatively plentiful). The frugal side of me is not eager to see prices rise, but the environmental side of me knows that this may be the only way to get the average local citizen to pay more attention to usage. We know this process from rising gas prices. Our utility company has a tiered system. Those who use less are rewarded with a lower rate. Here is the breakdown of our bill:

  • Cost for basic water service: $10.70 (no matter how much is used)
  • Cost for H2O per KG: $1.41 (dirt cheap, I tell you!)
  • Cost for wastewater basic service: $10.48 (irrespective of amount)
  • Cost for wastewater per KG of water use: $3.94
  • Cost for city stormwater service: $9.82
  • Total water bill: $52.38
  • Basically, for each extra KG we use, our bill rises $5.35, but we can never get below around $30 for the basic charges even if we were on vacation and using no water.
Our neighbors K. & S. have a rainwater collection system that purifies their water using UV light. Their drinking water is delicious. They have the first completely "off the grid" home in our area. This photo below is not really their house, just an example of a collection system.

Anyway, tonight we ran the new drip irrigation system Minou set up in the raised beds for a half an hour tonight, and checked the water meter before and after. In 30 minutes, we used 280 gallons of water. In just 30 minutes! In the heat of summer, this will need to be on nightly for the veggie garden and blueberries.

I'm discouraged.

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