ashley english by 20

small measures with ashley: water conservation

images, clockwise from top left: going well, woodley wonderworks, inhabitat, u of k, ludgate farms, trendir, national geographic

I like to think that my relationship with water has been a pretty conscientious one ever since I became an adult. I’m mindful of running the dishwasher only when full, try my best to take quick showers, and water my garden judiciously. The relationship took a serious turn this past December, however. Following the first heavy snow, on December 19th, that dumped 17″ in one day, we lost power. As the forecast had only been for anywhere between 3-10″, we were left completely unprepared for the five days without electricity that would ensue.

I live a mile down a dirt road, tucked into a forested cove that abuts a large parcel of undeveloped land. Rurally-situated folks like myself aren’t usually first on the list to have their power restored, as the general assumption, I suppose, is that we have the supplies, robust constitution, and wood stoves necessary to make do until power can be restored. While that is true (at least, it is in our home), what I hadn’t really considered, living remotely for the first time, was that without power, we wouldn’t have water. We have a well, and the well needs electricity to pump water up from the ground and into the house. And so it was that I came to learn the art of melting and gently warming snow. I used the melted snow to wash dishes, for bathing, and to provide my animals with water. The water’s scarcity augmented its importance. It is a resource that we absolutely cannot live without and one which we so often overlook. When you turn on the tap and no water comes out, everything changes.

CLICK HERE for the rest of Ashley’s article, along with resources for water conservation education and tips for conserving water at home and in the garden!

Over 70% of our planet is covered in water. It’s a wet, blue planet. Everything we allow to travel down the plumbing pipes of our homes, offices, and places of recreation eventually makes its way into our oceans. So much more than mere locales of unspeakable beauty and vehicles for golden tans, these oceans and their coastlines provide food for massive amounts of organisms, including humans. A large number of Earth’s human populations live in coastal areas and rely heavily on foods from the ocean to sustain themselves, as well as for their livelihoods. Oceans also provide buffers from storms, which have increased in intensity as the Earth has warmed.

In the remarkable documentary film “Acid Test”, narrated by ocean activist and actress Sigourney Weaver, we learn about the “other CO2 problem,” the rise in carbon dioxide levels in the oceans. This increase in CO2 is adversely affecting the ability of marine organisms to grow their exoskeletons. Traveling up the food chain, as successive organisms loose their food sources, the problem eventually becomes a human one. Similarly, the multi award-winning documentary film “Flow” assesses the world’s growing lack of access to fresh water. According to the film, of the 6 billion humans on Earth, over 1.1 billion don’t have regular sources of fresh drinking water. Furthermore, the fresh water that is available is running out.

Annie Leonard, a sustainability proponent perhaps best known for her animated film “The Story of Stuff” about the life cycle of processed goods put out a new film this week on bottled water. “The Story of Bottled Water” examines the multi-million dollar industry, from what motivated its creation in the first place to its claims of purity as well as the waste that it generates. As this past Monday marked the 2010 World Water Day (an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro), and this year’s theme is “water quality”, it seemed only fitting that this week’s small measure should address water conservation, preservation, and stewardship.

The following lists offer ideas for water conservation in the home and in the yard:House water saving tips:-Install a water filter on your tap and use a stainless-steel water bottle instead of plastic water bottles. -Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth.-Consider taking a shower instead of a bath (showers use 1/3rd the energy of baths).-Install low-flow shower heads (which regulate the amount of water dispensed). -Consider taking a foot bath or having a mug of herbal tea for evening relaxation instead of taking a shower.-Be certain your home has no leaky faucets.-Insulate hot water heater pipes, permitting taps to run for shorter periods of time before the water becomes hot.-Shower or bathe with someone! -Consider taking shorter showers.-Use an electric razor outside of the shower. -Flush the toilet only when necessary (uses a great deal of energy to operate, as well as carry waste away).-Run the dishwasher or washing machine only when full. -If you are a homeowner, consider installing grey water systems (“grey” water is that left after showering, or using the washing machine or dishwasher; “black” water is that generated by use of the toilet); grey water can be used in watering non-edible outdoor plants.

Garden water saving tips: -Situate plants in beds according to  their water needs; water only those requiring lots of moisture.-Use a good amount of organic matter to aid in water retention.-Mulch heavily. -Water only as needed, based on physical moisture level.-Consider giving up your lawn for an edible landscape (“Gaia’s Garden” and “Landscaping with Fruit”; are both wonderful resource books). -Water 1-inch at a time to soak roots.-Utilize drip irrigation or soaker hoses to control water flow. -Consider rain barrels to collect rainwater runoff from roofs.

In addition to conserving water, it’s important to preserve the fresh water supplies we do have available. There are a number of ways this is achievable: Water preservation:-Minimize or eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides.-Use only plant-based, additive-free dish and laundry detergents, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and any other personal product which ends up going down the drain. -Campaign and educate yourself on ending ocean pollution (via mercury from land-based industrial manufacturing plant runoff, oil spills, unsustainable aquaculture practices, shipping emissions, and cruise ships-some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, should be lauded for installing advanced wastewater treatment technology onboard). You can learn more about advocacy being done on behalf of the oceans via the non-profit organization Oceana (actor Ted Danson is a big supporter). -Read up on the work being done by 5 gyres. Gyres are large, massive, slow-moving ocean whirlpools. Inside these currents, plastic debris has begun to accumulate. There are 5 gyres, with the North Pacific Gyre (also known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”) being the most heavily researched to date. -Know that many, many talented and creative people are working tirelessly on solving the world’s water problems. These suggestions, submitted for consideration at the annual Buckminster Fuller Institute Challenge, are remarkable in their vision and scope.

I welcome your own water conservation and preservation suggestions. -ashley

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ashley english / small measures



OK, so each week I feel bad after reading this column. We haven’t used our swimming pool in years because we share a well in common with our neighbors. Well for now there are no neighbors, hence there’s no electricity to activate that pump to fill the pool!!!

How feasible is it to use a solar cell for well use? I have a friend who wants to go off the grid completely and she was wondering the same thing.

ashley english

kristina-first of all, the absolute LAST thing i want you to feel after reading my column each week is bad. i want you to feel inspired!

as regards your question, while i’m not terribly well acquainted with solar cell use, a quick bit of research turned up this website, indicating that yes, it’s entirely possible to run a water pump via solar energy:

there are a number of sustainable, eco-communities in the area around where i live, many of which are off-grid. the houses in these communities are lovely, newly built, and undoubtedly equipped with alternative forms of energy with which to pump their wells. so, in short, yes, it can be done! i’d check with a green builder or solar energy supplier in your area to learn more.

mrs c

i too have always been very aware of water usage and I applaud your post, I only hope it brings water to eveyone’s attention!

Ruth Bone

For those interested in providing a solution to the lack of access to safe drinking water that many people on the developing world face ‘One’ Water use all the profits from their products to provide ‘playpumps’ in Africa. Kids play on a roundabout which pumps clean water in a storage tank whick is available free to the local commumity. They are building 1 play pump every 3 days!!Their website is worth a look.

Steven Hoober

We live in a city with no water shortage at all, but I still have to pay for it, so we do our best to conserve. All the usual suspects, like a “rain barrel” (actually an 8ft wide livestock tank under the deck) and high-efficiency showerheads (which I prefer anyway and are super sturdy).

But my favorite is my lawn watering scheme. Detailed here but I’ll summarize:
Sprinkers annoyed me. Almost every year I had to buy new ones as they broke, and I hated repositioning them. Sprinker systems are clearly a waste, as they are constantly broken, etc. Settled eventually on sprayer heads on drip irrigation systems. Some semi-permanently installed, some as portable sprinkers. Hilariously low flow; forget the water bill not changing, you can take a shower with most of them running and not notice. And the droplet size seems to be ideal, so the lawn is happier, despite much less water.

And, you can make and maintain the system yourself, with no particular skills.

little orchard

When we built our house, we decided to go with a composting toilet ~ BEST decision we’ve made! It uses no water, and we get lots of great compost for fruit trees and ornamentals!


ashely, i absolutely adore this series. here’s one little water conservation tip i use at home: i water my (admittedly small city) garden with “grey water” from the shower. basically, as the shower’s heating up i stick a huge watering can in there to catch as much as possible… and later in the morning i’ll sprinkle it on my veggie and herb garden. that way i’m turning my waste into food!


As important as ocean ecosystems are (and they ARE), I would posit that, from a human-use perspective, FRESHwater ecosystems may be even more vital.
While the oceans are the ultimate destination of the water used in every toilet flush, in most parts of the world, that water goes through the freshwater system first.
Of all the water on our plant, only 3% is fresh (and fit for human consumption and most irrigation needs). Of that 3%, 69% is locked in glaciers and ice caps (also vital). It boils down to this: only 1% of the water on earth is considered “usable”. (

In addition to the great preservation strategies listed, I would also add: do NOT, EVER, flush un-used medicines down the toilet. Our waste treatment systems are not equipt to remove these chemicals, and they’re now found in our precious water supplies. Contact your pharmacy, local watewater treatment authority, or hazardous waste athority about medicine collections, or throw them in your dry trash.

La Rêveuse

Easy way to make a toilet you have into one that uses less water, cheaply: buy a couple of bricks at the home/garden center, and put them in the tank. They take up space but don’t bounce around like a bottle of water (others have suggested on other sites) and mess with your flusher mechanism. I have 2 in each toilet, and have never had to double flush. Plus, I didn’t have to replace the toilets!

Alison Rebecca Davis

The first gift my boyfriend gave me was a bouquet of pink roses in a matching, pink Klean Kanteen bottle. Now I can’t live without the bottle (plastic is out!) or him! Together we make small strides for the planet. I take a while to shave my legs, so while I’m washing my hair I close the drain and then sit on the edge of the tub and shave my legs with the water off.

Thank you for all of the tips! It’s remarkable to think about what a stride we’ve made in public awareness just in the last 10 – 15 years. It’s a good feeling to know that so many people are doing their part to help.

alison richards

living in Australia, we are very much aware of water and water-saving. i think most of your suggestions are ones that my family and i do all the time.
one thing we do to save water is take a bucket into the shower. our house is quite large and it takes ages for the warm water to get to showers and sinks, so we catch all the cold water and store it for use on the garden, to flush the toilet with and to add to the washing machine.

another suggestion is to always wash your clothes in cold water. warm water isn’t all that great for some fabrics so it will both save you water and electricity and make clothes last longer. i also always hand wash in a bowl with the grey water caught from the shower and throw the soapy water onto the garden when i am done.

Elle Jay

Great article! I am kinda, sorta slightly obsessed with water conservation in our house, even though we don’t pay the bill. And I’ve secretly been searching for a cute, vintage “If it’s yellow let it mellow…” sign for my bathroom just like the one we had in Mexico as a kid.

Another tip is to simply place a bucket in the shower. I have about a three gallon bucket I use for paper making in there and everytime someone takes a shower it’s full of water that would’ve otherwise gone down the drain. I use it to water my (drought resistant) plants and I rarely have to use a hose.

Penelope Bridge

Such a beautiful article addressing a thorny subject! I wish to share the top 3 tips that I passed on to the community in my former position as Water Conservation Officer for the City of Merritt:

*Get the kids involved in finding flaws in your own water thinking. They are more than happy to learn all there is to know about the subject and they love telling you that you’ve just used 74 litres to brush your teeth. They are also experts in sniffing out leaks that you’ve never considered.

* Take advantage of the the work that the City of Albuquerque has already done for you on their Water Conservation site. From 1st rate research to award-winning free plans for xeriscaping your garden and resources for kids.

* Most importantly, get to know the other water users in your area – its difficult to see at first that we literally use tons water in EVERY process as a society. Every single product that we buy, all of our food. But if we can learn about, for example, the local fish and how they are integral in keeping our drinking water clean, we see how we really are all connected. Then we all have a vested interest in protecting water, our most shared resource.

A Rockridge Life

Thanks so much for this educative post. I try to do as many little things I can to live in a way that lessens my impact on the Earth–but at the same time I’m careful not to get guilty about it. I really love baths and indulge from time to time–but my new technique is being mindful of how high I fill the bath, and how hot (not too high, not too hot is better for the Earth).

One thing I heard recently that I’m going to try to do is putting a bucket by my shower to collect cold water before it warms and then use that water for dishes, watering plants, or the like.

I love Oceana and first learned about them by inadvertently donating to them by buying PACT underwear Oceana is a great organization and you can adopt a sea creature! It’s a great gift!


It’s really great that you posted this article. People are really painfully unaware of the water crisis.

Two of my favorite things I like to do to save water at home:
1. Shower with a bucket in the tub; use that water for plants. Be sure to wash the bucket once in a while though, it can get moldy.
2. Keep a small vase/container by your kitchen sink and pour old water from your cups or relatively clean water that you used to boil eggs/etc into it…you can also use that for houseplants.

jennifer g

Thanks for the great article. Here in the desert we should be much more aware than we are–but things are changing slowly. Someday I hope to make a cut in my curb and direct the water flow during monsoons so as to help replenish our aquifer.

For now, I use greywater from the washer for my trees and will start putting a bucket in the shower and sink. I have 4 water catchment barrels on two sides of the house–but nothing like my neighbor’s two huge culverts (another someday). And I promise to mulch more this year than last!

Susie Wilburn

I take a shower with a bucket and catch most of the water before I get in as it is warming up to use on my houseplants or planters on my porch.

Given our upcoming elections and the candidates that are running that don’t think global warming really exists it is really important for folks to look closely at their environmental views because it could have a detrimental effect on our future of the planet.

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