Water, water everywhere – not
by Michael Dryden
During the mid to late 1970s, Californians saw a situation that mirrored our current dilemma, for the state suffered a catastrophic drought. In the 1970s drought, Californians were asked, and in some cases ordered, to save water, and we did. We joined as soldiers in a war, a crusade to save California's precious water. We didn't water gardens; we placed bricks in our toilet tanks to displace water when flushing, and we flushed according to the principle: "If it's yellow, it's mellow; if it's brown, flush it down." Waiters served water in restaurants only when requested, and we didn't leave water running to brush teeth or shave. Washing machines and dishwashers operated only when full. A dirty car was a sign of a patriot. And importantly, our showers became "military showers," whereby we rinsed briefly, turned off water, soaped up, briefly rinsed and turned off the water.
We heeded the call, "Save water, shower with a friend." For our efforts, we earned As, even though water districts lost great sums of money due to lowered water bills of conserving rate-payers. Flash forward and what a contrast today, where conservation efforts are spotty. On May 6 news stations grimly announced that Californians so far received an F in water conservation. NBC, CNN, Huffington Post, et al, criticized us. How embarrassing for us proud Californians. State residents apparently got the message though, because by early June, it was reported that they had cut water usage by 29 percent, which was encouraging news.
Surely Californians know that we are in what newscasts have rightly called a "catastrophic drought." We know this because we are living it. The drought has cost farmers their federal water allotments; citizens across the state now are allowed to water only two nights per week with no daytime watering. Citizen and special community patrols watch for water usage infractions and in some jurisdictions, fines will begin for water abusers. Again water is supposed to be served only by request in restaurants. Moreover, boaters have moved their crafts to garages, and San Diegans have built a de-salinization plant that will supply, when fully operational, 17 percent of their water needs.
So how can we individually improve our conservation efforts?
I herewith offer one simple suggestion: recall the military, or navy, showers of the 1970s when we limited showers to two minutes or less. We really did shower together, and it was fun ... brief fun. In sad contrast to those habits, I observe daily at my gym, SF Fitness, men of all ages stroll into the showers, nonchalantly turn on the water and stand under a flood as though water were endlessly abundant. They soap, and rinse, lather and douse, stretch and preen as gallons of water pour off their backs and down the drain. Next they begin their shampoo, lathering and rinsing, turning front and back and front again. Rinsing and splashing as the drain claims gallons of our precious water; they seem to have no awareness of what they are doing. I have countless times admonished these wasters to think about conservation. Some do, but others point to a sign applied to the shower door. Unbelievably, in this catastrophic drought, SF Fitness requests members to "limit" their showers to 10 minutes.
When l first saw that sign, I furiously decided to estimate the water used in this "limited" shower. I gauged that the shower heads at my gym expel three times more than my water-saving shower head at home, which uses only 1.3 gallons per minute. The gym showers', larger than average heads, pour about four gallons of water per minute. The showerheads at SF Fitness are at least a third larger than a "regular" (for lack of a more precise word) home shower. Ergo: a 10-minute shower at the gym pours about 40 gallons of water down the gutter. Now I multiplied that 40 gallons times the number of men and women showering at the gym daily. Conservatively, I estimated that 200 patrons visit each day. If only 100 take 10-minute showers, 40 x 100 = 4,000 gallons of water per day, 28,000 per week, 96,000 gallons of water every month! To imagine that amount of water, think of stacking six average-sized swimming pools (16x32x5ft average depth) and pouring that water into the ocean – that is the amount of water SF Fitness is encouraging be spilled to shower its patrons. And SF Fitness has five gyms.
My point here is a plea to both the gym managers and their patrons. Start to think like the folks in the 1970s: save water at every opportunity, when washing clothes and dishes and cars, flushing toilets, when shaving and brushing teeth and when gardening. Finally, whether at home or the gym take navy showers and remember, when possible at home, make it fun and shower with a friend or loved one, but briefly.
Michael Dryden is a San Francisco resident.