10 Ways to Save Water this Summer (aka Keep Your Knife Sharp and Don’t Upset the Neighbors)

Water conservation lists don’t usually address knife etiquette. Instead, they’ll state that the only way to be a Good Water Citizen is to turn your lawn into a cactus garden and haul shower water to a carefully planned bioswale (look it up) that will slowly release into your majestic, expertly-maintained fruit trees and thriving vegetable garden. If this is your existing reality, accept our hearty congratulations. The rest of us will review some common sense ways you can reduce your indoor and outdoor water use this summer, and the ways you absolutely should not. Good citizenry, all around.


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  1. DO aerate your lawn before the heat of summer hits. Holes every 6–9 inches will allow water to reach deep into the root system rather than evaporate from the surface. DON’T get on your hands and knees and use a dagger to aerate. That’s bad optics with the neighbors, and you’ll dull the blade.
  2. DO check your outdoor irrigation system to be sure all the emitters are watering plants they should be, and that there aren’t any blocks in the lines. DON’T rework your neighbor’s outdoor irrigation system in the dead of night so their water flows to your plants. That’s not neighborly, and you aren’t actually saving water.
  3. DO keep an eye on your bill. If there’s an unexplained spike in use, there’s likely a leak — or your neighbor has “adjusted” your outdoor irrigation. DON’T turn off your household water without warning when your water bill is higher than expected. That family member in the shower will get revenge, and it won’t be pretty.
  4. DO check for leaks. Everywhere. Best case scenario, it’s a leak in your garden hose and you’re watering those blueberry bushes more than necessary. Worst case, that leak is inside your wall and growing mold. You can check for leaks by recording the number on your water meter, not using water for 30 minutes, and recording the number again. If the number has changed, you have a leak. DON’T continue binge-watching Game of Thrones during those 30 minutes because there’s a real risk of not coming up for air until it’s dark outside and you don’t want to go check the number on meter, so you plan to try again tomorrow night, and somehow it’s 3am again and you still haven’t found out if you have a leak but you’re certain GoT can’t maintain this pace.
  5. DO run a full dishwasher rather than hand wash dishes throughout the day. Dishwashers use far less water than hand washing, and newer dishwashers clean more thoroughly so you usually don’t have to pre-rinse. DON’T take the “no pre-rinse” advice too far and leave an entire burrito on your plate when you put it in the dishwasher. That’s not what I mean and you know it. And why would you waste a delicious burrito? Was it a carnitas burrito? Shame on you.
  6. DO put food coloring in your toilet tank. If it seeps into the bowl, you have a leak, and even small toilet leaks you can’t hear can waste a huge amount of water. DON’T put a goldfish in your toilet tank. That won’t keep.
  7. DO use a pool cover to help keep your pool clean and warm, and to reduce evaporation DON’T use the pool cover as a slip and slide, no matter how much your older brother swears it’s OK.
  8. DO wash your pets outdoors, in a place where the lawn or yard could use the water. DON’T wash your pet fish, indoors or outdoors. Just change the water in the tank (and dump it on non-edible plants in the garden). You seem to need a lot of guidance on fish care. Maybe you aren’t ready for fish?
  9. DO choose plants that are either native to or compatible with the climate in your region. They’ll use less water, require less care and be healthier. DON’T try to grow bananas in your backyard in the Pacific Northwest, or rice on your corner lot in Wyoming.
  10. DO let your kids use a wading pool sometimes when it’s hot outside, as long as it’s on the lawn and you cover the pool when it isn’t in use to reduce evaporation. Wading pools and other small, contained water play is better than running the sprinkler all afternoon. DON’T let the kiddie pool water sit in there for more than a few days. Kids are gross, and that water will take on a life of its own. Dump the used water onto the lawn, or on thirsty plants.

You’ll notice I’m not saying you can’t use water outside. You can. There’s a big difference between maintaining a pristine backyard lawn the size of the San Francisco Giants outfield and letting your kid splash in a tiny pool every now and then. Use water, enjoy it and the outdoor spaces you’ve built, just be deliberate about turning on the tap. And don’t frighten the neighbors.

Let’s hear it for summer!