Please Don’t Stop Showering

Water Technology and Data During Emergencies

No one wants to talk about the drought right now. In California, where many parts of the state have seen 300% of typical rainfall and counting, we’re loving the snowpack, but have our fingers crossed for an end to flooding, washed-out roads, and mudslides. It’s hard to focus on saving water while you’re filling sandbags. So, let’s not talk about the drought. Instead, let’s talk about emergencies.

Municipal infrastructures are aging and natural disasters are a fact of life; short-term water emergencies happen across the country, even when reservoirs are full. In February 2017, amid storms and flooding, a water main in Santa Cruz, CA broke, leaving the city with only 20% of its resources and four days’ worth of water in storage. The situation was dire: residents were told to cut usage by 30% immediately. Water Director Rosemary Menard noted that this would be difficult, given the drastic cutbacks during the drought, because, “this community knows how to save water and they already do it on a daily basis. There simply aren’t many ‘non-essential’ uses of water to cut back on during wintertime.” Residents left dishes piled up in their sinks, restaurants operated minimally and under the threat of shutdown if the water main wasn’t fixed. The 15,000 students at UC Santa Cruz felt the impact: “The smaller dining halls were closed over the weekend, but the big three [dining halls] went to paper. No plates, silverware or cups, but we still had pots and pans,” said Joseph Baker, shift manager for the Cowell Dining Hall kitchen.

But how much does not washing dishes or laundry actually help? How much water do those things use compared to a shower? To be most effective with cutbacks in an emergency, you need to know both how much water you use and where you use it, and most consumers don’t have data to guide them. This lack of information is where good intentions fall short, and how bad decisions like “I’ll just stop showering” are made.

To start, how much water are you using? In California, where water rationing has been an ongoing reality, that’s about 365 gallons per day for a household. How you use those gallons is highly dependent on where you live, the season and weather, the age of your plumbing, how you landscape, your household habits, and other individual variables. Unless you have a breakdown of your household’s water use and patterns, it’s difficult to know what cutbacks are most effective, and how you can hit that 30% target. This becomes even harder if you’ve already taken steps to reduce your water consumption; simply turning off the water when you brush your teeth won’t cut it.

If it’s winter, chances are you aren’t watering outdoors, which reduces your use to about 175 gallons per day indoors. You have low-flow faucets and toilets. Maybe your showers could be shorter but, let’s face it, at less than 2.5 gallons per minute, reducing those won’t get you anywhere close to the 52 gallons your household will need to find to make the 30% dent today. Do you know how much water your washing machine uses for a load of laundry? Would postponing that for a few days make a difference? What about not flushing your toilets as often? Knowing average household water use in each category — showers (32%), sinks (19%), toilets (17%), laundry (12%) and leaks (10%) — can help you make decisions. But these are averages; your use is likely different, and knowing exactly where and when to cut back is the key to surviving an emergency without abandoning all hope for good hygiene and clean clothes.

The data you need is out there, and, thanks to technology, accessing it is easier than ever. Buoy is a smart home company driven by the idea that facts and data are the starting point for better water budgeting and conservation. Buoy has developed a simple device that gives you a real-time look at how you’re using water, and sends that information to an app on your phone.

Buoy’s small, fully-contained unit attaches to the water main outside your house and feeds data to an app that tracks your total usage, breaks it down by category — including identifying the small leaks that add up to big water loss. From your mobile phone, you see how much water your household uses per day and where you’re using it, so you can make decisions that work best for you. Maybe, to hit that 30% reduction, you skip laundry for a few days, and on the day you do laundry, you don’t shower or run the dishwasher. You can track your use throughout the day to stay within your water budget.

But perhaps most important from an emergency standpoint is the device’s remote shut-off feature: If you see a spike in water use and nobody is home, you can turn off the water via your phone until you can address the leak. From everyday use to rare emergencies, Buoy gives you data to make decisions, drought or no drought.