The Drought: Ways to be Water Wise for California Families

10/8/14 - By Jacqueline Stansbury

Because we write for and about thoughtful parents, the Metropolitan Water District recently invited Mommy Poppins to an all-day seminar about the drought in California. As a native Californian, I was anxious to attend, because I vividly remember the drought in 1976-1977. Back then, restaurants were not allowed to serve water unless requested, and we barely flushed our toilets. Our mantra was “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.” Much has changed since the 70s. For one thing, all toilets these days are low flow and consume far less water than they used to. More importantly, the MWD and other water agencies across the state have learned many lessons and as a result have greatly increased our capacity to store water from wet seasons to have it available during dry times. But what else should families be doing, and how can we help our kids to preserve their most important resource? 


While progress has been made as far as water storage goes, our population has doubled; and while the drought in the 70s lasted two years, we are already in our third year of drought with no end in sight. And that is the problem. No one can predict if or when the drought will end. It is therefore imperative that we all do our part to conserve and preserve as much water as we can.

As parents, we all try to raise children who are careful about our planet and look at conservation as a way of life. Yet sometimes there has to be a crisis before action is taken. California is in a state of emergency as far as water is concerned. The drought could theoretically be over tomorrow; it could just as easily last another hundred years and become a mega drought. We simply cannot predict when and how much it will rain in the next several years.

What I remember from my childhood in the 70s is that we were all in it together. Awareness of the situation was high, and everybody did his or her part to prevent waste of our most precious resource. The current drought situation can be a great learning opportunity for our children. Let’s enlist their support in caring for the environment in which we all live. Encourage them to be mindful of the water they use and allow them to remind you to do the same.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has two informative websites: and where you can learn more about the drought and what to do about it. Meanwhile here a few easy ways to get started:

1. Sprinklers – Check your system for leaks, overspray, and breakage. Better yet, install a smart sprinkler controller that adjusts watering based on weather and other conditions. Save 15-20 gallons per minute and up to 250 gallons per weekly watering cycle.

2. Watering – When you do water, make sure it is early in the morning or evening. Reduce wasteful evaporation that occurs during the heat of the day. Save 20-25 gallons per day.

3. Sidewalks – Once the sprinklers start to drench the sidewalk, it is time to turn them off. Never use water when a broom could take care of the job. Save up to 20 gallons per minute.

4. In the Bathroom – Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. Save 2 gallons of water per minute.

5. In the kitchen – Turn off the tap when scrubbing dishes. Save 2.5 gallons per minute.

6. Shorter showers save water – Cut two minutes and save 5 gallons.

7. Laundry and Dishes – Always do full loads and save at least 2.5 gallons.

8. Hot Water – If you are running the tap until the water is hot, be sure to collect the water you are not using. Put it in the tea pot or water some plants. Save 2.5 gallons per minute.

9. Take advantage of Rebates – Currently there is a variety of rebates being offered. Replace old toilets and washing machines with newer more efficient models; get rid of the turf; upgrade your landscaping equipment, or invest in a rain barrel. Get paid to do the right thing.

And finally, one big thing that can make a huge difference:

10. Lawns – Consider replacing grass with sustainable plants. A traditional grass lawn, beloved by so many, is one of the biggest consumers of water. Thirsty and unquenchable, a nice green yard with conventional landscaping can require up to 57,000 gallons of water a year. Meanwhile, a sustainably landscaped garden may only require 5,000 gallons in a year and can be just as attractive, if not more beautiful than grass. The difference is huge. If you have kids and dogs that use a backyard lawn, consider redoing the front. You will halve your water usage. In any case, be sure not to water more than is absolutely necessary. Check out the online calculator to see how much water you really need.