12 Bay Area drought survival tips for a long, dry season

The hills around the Bay Area have been brown and dry for weeks, a daily reminder that we’re in a serious drought that’s expected to last at least through the end of the summer.

Already, the drought has plunged much of California into a state of emergency, pushed up the start of fire season and prompted Santa Clara County, the most populous county in Northern California, to impose mandatory water restrictions that are mainly aimed at reducing landscaping and lawn watering, which totals up to 50 percent of urban water use during the summer.

Whether or not mandatory restrictions will be imposed in other Bay Area communities, water officials say residents can do their part to help alleviate the emergency by reducing their daily water use.

Some tips for households are pretty well known, especially to veterans of previous California droughts, who learned long ago to install high-efficiency toilets and not let the tap run unnecessarily.

But here are some steps people may not have thought of, as well as information about free services, apps, devices and rebates available from local water districts. These services can help residents track water usage, install simple water-saving devices in the bathroom and kitchen, and even get serious about buying new water-efficient appliances and redoing their yards with sustainable landscaping.

Quick and easy indoor tips

— Run full loads of laundry and dishes.
— Turn on the tap only when you need to rinse — while brushing your teeth or shaving, or washing vegetables and dishes. Fill a sink or tub for quick rinsing instead of having a constant stream of flowing water. Scrape food off plates, instead of rinsing, before loading the dishwasher.
— Take showers, instead of baths, and make them short, 5-minute showers. Showering uses almost a fifth of all water in the home, and each minute you cut saves 2.5 to 5 gallons.
— Use buckets to capture water while your kitchen, shower or bath water is heating up. Use that water for washing up or watering plants.

Quick and easy outdoor tips

— In the summer, water your garden early in the morning or at night, preferably between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.
— Check and adjust sprinklers to make sure they’re watering your plants, not your walls or sidewalk.
— Add mulch to planting areas to reduce reduce water loss, as well as improve soil quality, and keep soil temperatures cooler.
— Don’t use your hose to wash your patio or driveway.
— Take your car to a commercial car wash that recycles their wash water. If you must wash your car at home, use a bucket and sponge, not a hose.
— If you have a pool, keep it covered and reduce the temperature in warmer months to prevent evaporation.
— Only run garden fountains or waterfalls when entertaining.

If you want to get more serious: Free services, devices and rebates 

Check your local water district for water-conservation services, rebates and devices, such as apps or kits that can help you calculate your water usage or detect potential leaks in indoor or outdoor plumbing or irrigation systems.

Valley Water in Santa Clara County and some other districts offer free low-flow showerheads and aerators for faucets. By replacing old showerheads with high-efficiency showerheads, you can save hundreds of gallons each month.

Each district also offers tips on choosing water-efficient toilets and clothes and dishwashing machines in order to save water, energy and money. Toilets are often the main source of water use in the home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of an average home’s indoor water use.

The districts also offer different rebates, mostly for replacing lawns with water-efficient landscaping. Valley Water, for example, offers rebates of up to $2,000 for qualifying residences.

The Mercury News