Conservancy Times: Making a difference in Santa Catalina Island’s water future
As conservation managers at the Catalina Island Conservancy, we are always seeking ways to conserve our resources and create a more sustainable operation.
As such, we have researched ways for us to conserve water while ensuring we are meeting our mission of protecting and restoring the 88 percent of the Island under our stewardship while providing nature-based recreational and educational opportunities.
With the Island facing more severe water restrictions, we thought it might be helpful to share some of the information we have gathered about water conservation in our fifth and final column on the Island’s water supplies.
As we prepared for the 25 percent water reduction required by Southern California Edison’s conservation mandates, we took a look at how staff housing could meet this reduction. In a typical household, there are really only three uses where significant water reductions can be found: irrigation (watering lawns, gardens and landscaping), showers and toilets.
Contrary to what you might expect, newer Energy Star washing machines and dishwashers are quite water efficient. For example, the new large capacity washing machine my family recently purchased only uses 16 gallons per load and our dishwasher only uses 4 gallons per load.
In contrast, a 15-minute shower with an older 3-gallon per minute (gpm) shower head uses 45 gallons. Simply screwing on a new 1-gpm shower head (available for free from Southern California Edison) can reduce usage by 30 gallons per shower. Reducing our shower time to five minutes could save another 10 gallons per shower. In a four-person household, these two simple changes could save 160 gallons per household per day. That is 1,120 gallons per week or 58,240 gallons per year (or nearly 0.2 acre feet).
At my house, we also saved water by converting our faucet aerators to low-flow aerators. While most out-of-the-box faucet aerators are 3 gpm, the low-flow aerators are 0.5 gpm. These are available for free from the city or Edison and can be installed with a pair of pliers.
Other methods help us actually create new water supplies. As we have discussed before, there are well-developed technologies for collecting rain from roofs and gutters in rain barrels or cisterns. Storm water runoff also can be stored in surface or underground reservoirs. There are emerging technologies for collecting fog or dew for potable use at the single or multi-household level and for distilling clean water from any type of water (saltwater, wastewater, etc.).
Recycling previously used water can also provide new supplies. For example, Los Angeles County Code has provisions for how “gray water” from showers or washing machines can be used to irrigate plants and gardens.
Eliminating leaks in our water systems can also increase our fresh water supplies. We are constantly monitoring our water systems to ensure we’re not losing this valuable resource. Finally, it has to be counted one of the great ironies that in California we have replaced a native plant community so well-adapted to frequent drought that it literally never needs to be watered with a water-intensive palette of lawns and ornamental plants that require constant irrigation.
For example, SoCal WaterSmart estimates that 60 percent of the average customer’s water bill is for exterior irrigation.
On Catalina, we have a special resource to restore native plants. The Conservancy’s Ackerman Native Plant Nursery has regular retail plant sales. It also can design and install commercial-scale projects of native Catalina Island plant species to help with low-water use landscaping.
By using water wisely, changing some personal habits, installing water-saving appliances and shifting to native plants, we can all do our part to ensure Catalina has the water it needs to serve all our residents and visitors.
John J. Mack is the Catalina Island Conservancy’s chief conservation and education officer. For more information about the Conservancy, please visit catalinaconservancy.org. The Catalina Island Conservancy has been an active participant in the Catalina Island Consortium, a group of Island stakeholders that has sought to maintain an affordable and sustainable fresh water supply for the Catalina Island community. The Consortium, working with Edison and the Public Utilities Commission, was recently successful in averting significant water rate increases on the Island.