I grew up in a house that relied solely on a 1,000 gallon tank of rainwater for our water supply. Once we ran out, that was it, and running out was a serious concern some summers, especially in drought years. (We ended up having to buy water to refill the tank on three occasions.) As you can imagine, growing up in that environment, I learned a number of tactics for conserving water and being efficient...just like every other Californian.
While California may have a reputation for being lush and green, the state can actually endure extremely serious drought conditions (like those behind the terrible wildfires the state is also famous for). When drought threatens, as it is this year, with alarmingly low snow pack and almost no rain, our conservation modes start activating and we start saving water like it's our job, which it sort of is.
Since water conservation has benefits even if you're not in a drought area, I thought I'd share some of our hard-earned conservation lessons with you.
In the Bathroom
The bathroom is a key area for water wastage, because, well, most of the functions that happen there involve water, starting with the toilet. Every time you flush, you're wasting potable water. Fortunately, there are a couple of options you can use to mitigate water loss. One is simply adding one or more bricks to the tank, which displaces water, forcing the tank to store less and thus use less with each flush. You can also install a dual flush mechanism, which uses less water when pulled one way and more water when pulled the other way -- and you might want to consider adopting the California aphorism "when it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down."
Low-water toilets are also available, including pressure-assisted toilets, which help things along with a blast of water. All of these options are great, but there's even more you can do. You can have your plumber set up a greywater recycling system that routes greywater to the toilet for flushing (hey, might as well use it twice), or you could consider a composting or incinerating toilet. These models use no water at all!
Your bathroom sink is another area where you can probably cut down on water use. We recently covered the news that it's a good idea to wash your hands in cool water, so you can encourage members of the house to stop running water while waiting for it to heat. Turn water off while brushing your teeth, too. In addition, consider installing a faucet aerator, a very small part that helps save water, and doesn't require a master plumber's license to put in!
In the shower, greywater recycling is an excellent idea (you can recapture that sink water, too). If you can't afford such a system or it's not legal in your area, you're not out of luck when it comes to water conservation in the shower. You can capture cold water in a bucket while you're waiting for it to warm up (it feels dorky, but that water can be used to flush the toilet and water the garden!), and you can also consider installing a toggle showerhead. Use the toggle to turn the water off after rinsing, while you're lathering up and getting clean. Flip it back on to enjoy nice warm water to rinse off. You'll save gallons this way.