Recapping – Water Bills, Irrigation and Design

This is a relatively ancient piece (all the way back from mid-2009, 😉 )  I also feel this is one of my best articles on water usage, design and general conservation issues. Please note the quantities I list from our everyday activities so that we can have some quantitative material with which to address our own roles in understanding this complex but needful subject.

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Many thanks to Annette, the proprietor and blogger also known as Israel Mom for taking these pictures. Thay fit like a glove: (A big one).


How many of us actually read our water bills? I remember once, long ago, checking ours and I discovered we used nearly 20,000 gallons of water one July. I went………..”Whoa, Nelly!!!”

It was a wake up call at the time, especially inasmuch as the bill included the recent increase in the rates. This is usually where it hits first.

What we now face is and will be a consistent rise in the price of water as the years go by, owing to its increasing preciousness. I submit that Global Warming is a real event and very obvious. I have no idea whatsoever of Man’s role in it and I don’t wish to even argue that.But it has always been precious – from our very origins.

The picture below was once again taken by my great good friend Annette (Thanks, Annette!!) who actually does not live far from this picture, in Caesarium, in Israel. This construction gives us an idea of the extent to which Man has gone to supply water in the ancient past. This is the remains of an aqueduct. That small trough at the top that conducted water was the reason for this entire edifice. (Man, I love the Internet!)

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I know that there was an Ice Age about 25,000 years ago and there is not an Ice Age today. There are caves 200 feet above Reno, Nevada where can be found fishing implements from thousands of years ago. It has become obvious that these caves were on the virtual edge of a giant “super lake” called Lake Lahontan, some 6,000 miles in square dimension. Glaciers nearby where I live are no longer glaciers. Believe me, it’s warming up and we will face it in our water bills.

And besides, were that not the case, the population explosion would have deemed it precious anyway. The planet’s population had increased by a factor of 6 over 120 years. Here in Portland, we are already facing watering restrictions almost yearly.

So I’m here to help. I think there will eventually be changes and there already are, of course, out West in the US as well as in Australia, South Africa, the Middle East and in many, many regions.

Here we have the luxury of being able to consider such things as landscaping and edible or even flower gardening. Home owners and just plain garden lovers can devote lavish attention to something objective and stress-relieving in the pursuits and in the wonderful ambiance of our sitting gardens. As well, we can enjoy the labor of love towards them and our flower and food gardens. They are abundantly healthy for us and for others, in the end. And we can take so many different directions

I realize how odd it seems to put something like a swimming pool into a water conservation post, but the gallons of water used after filling are actually rather small. In fact, far less than watering a lawn, for example.

Maybe this next one resounds more with a way to get an interesting design while saving water. The scarcity of plantings can be an asset, as well as the fact that all the plants are fed via underground drip irrigation technology. The amount of water this landscape uses is less than, say, taking two baths a day. And it is not small.

Another view of the same property:

It turns out there are many ways to use water more efficiently. In fact, almost anywhere where we are compelled to take a watering can or to use a water wasting hose, we could get that same work done automatically and more efficiently by irrigating. Drip irrigation has the capacity to climb – I have installed many and various drip units to feed hanging baskets suspended 6-8 feet off the ground and for irrigating pots on the ground. I have had lines climb sculptures and have even bored holes in both cement and granite boulders to be able to irrigate a small plant ot basket/pot.

In drip irrigation, any emitter can put out a pre-designated amount of water. On hanging baskets, I typically install an emitter which has a device that can control the amount by a small turning up or down. The maximum is rarely reached but the amounts can be tweaked daily and easily if desired. In warm weather, we can put more water in by tweaking the mechanism, in cooler weather, by turning it down.

Here, once again, is a list of how much water we use during a typical day doing those things we do:

Bath: 50 gallons
Shower: 2 gallons per minute (15 minutes shower = 30 gallons)
Teeth brushing: 1 gallon
Hands/face washing: 1 gallon
Face/leg shaving: 1 gallon
Dishwasher: 20 gallons/load
Dishwashing by hand: 5 gallons/load
Clothes washing (machine): : 10 gallons/load
Toilet flush: 3 gallons
Glasses of water drunk: 8 oz. per glass (1/16th of a gallon)

Obviously, this is the baseline I use in my own considerations of how much water I want to see used.  What I am saying more than anything is that there are methods of ascertaining how much water we use up, and where. My other contention is that it is possible to use water at the same rate as almost anything else, like toilet flushing and bathing. Our bills do not have to spike at all during warm seasons, in order to have full, lush gardens and landscapes. It is by use of better irrigation practices and of utilizing all the design tools at our disposal that we can create even nicer gardens at a tenth of the water use.

Adding a room!

If we opt for doing things “the interesting way” by solving old landscaping problems once reserved for water-wasting lawns, we find we can still even have some lawn available for use, just less. And by “interesting” I mean by regarding the entire garden differently. Any more, there are more and more ways to expand out living area to the out of doors. Up-lighting now means we can build virtual “walls” of light at night, forming a limit on our field of vision and virtually visually enclosing an area of interest. Inside that area, we can feature interesting “hot zones”, where we make a waterfall “phosphorescent” by placing a low wattage Haloid lamp under a falls. (Thanks to “Outdoor Lighting Perspectives” for the picture):

All these things make things – well – different now. We are finding ourselves considering landscapes and gardens closer at hand, much more immediate than the models many of us were raised with – the expansive “Estate Garden”. Even now I actually do put some of those in. But they are typically done where someone has their own water source, fed from wells, so that his own water actually gets reused. Here’s one of those taken from one of the tiers. I actually feature this project in an earlier post under “Large Landscaping Project – 2”.  (You can see I have a way with words!)  😉

But there’s no way this is anything but eye candy, maintenance intensive (‘fuhgitaboudit’) and an impossible dream to most of us. More than likely, a picture such as this captures most of our hopes in terms of lawn size:

Presenting a gorgeous front and then actually living in the back yard is what so many of my clients have gravitated to. Finding a place to relax and enjoy, away from the madding crowds. And this is where it always gets most interesting to me, personally. Sticking in thematic but novel things such as sculptures, water features, larger patios for entertaining make a yard far more interesting. Here’s the thing –  we can do all these things on a fraction of the watering than we have become accustomed to. Even small spaces, squeezed in on hillsides in a desert climate can yield a terrifically reduced field of interest right off the back deck. The trees here are also lit up at night on the outer perimeter. Watering this place takes a bath a day.

There are lots of options in the water-saving realm of landscaping and design. You can choose any number of remarkably diverse styles and budgets.

I have studied all this pretty assiduously

And my best advice is to make sure you have some fun, work within a budget, and think for yourself – your ideas are still what makes it all go.

4 thoughts on “Recapping – Water Bills, Irrigation and Design

  1. Thank you very much. Coming from a professional like you, it means something! Nice site you have.

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  3. Thank you for this nice morning surprise, Martha. I’ve slacked off substantially recently, updating this busy blog. I have a writing project which is sucking energy like some Black Hole and which I actually love doing – regardless of the implications. Thanks again, so very much.

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