Home & Garden

Saving water in a drought; every drop counts

Fix a leaky faucet. Photo:

Due to below-av-erage rainfall and a dismal snowpack multiple years in a row now, the Bay Area is officially once again in drought status. Our water shortage has caused Gov. Jerry Brown to impose a 25 percent mandatory reduction in water usage throughout the state. Making your home water-efficient can help you reduce usage and wastewater runoff.


Gray water is the water that would normally go down the drain, literally, into our sewers from the bathroom sink, shower or tub, and washing machines. This water is safe enough for use in outdoor landscaping to upkeep lush foliage. Installing a gray water system from your washing machine does not require a permit from the city and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission offers a free design manual on their website, Starter kits can also be purchased for around $100.

Systems installed using water from a shower, sink, or bath do require a permit. The Department of Building Inspection can answer any questions on permitting for a gray water system. (415-558-6088,


Rainwater harvesting is a centuries-old practice of collecting and using rainwater that falls from roofs into cisterns or rain barrels. Because Northern California is in constant threat of below-average rainfall, using a rain barrel in your garden or yard is an ideal way to capture the rain (when we’re lucky enough to have it) and provide a fresh water source for your garden. By collecting rain, you are also helping in many ways to maintain the health and beauty of San Francisco’s urban watershed.

Benefits of harvesting rainwater include:

  • reducing your use of potable water (water safe to drink) used for nonpotable usage applications like gardening or car washing;
  • reducing the energy and chemicals needed to treat storm water in San Francisco’s combined sewer system;
  • minimizing flooding and combined sewer discharges by decreasing the volume of storm water entering the sewer system;
  • reducing your utility bill; and
  • the water is free!

Though we are entering our dry season, and always with the hope of seeing one or two spring showers, keep in mind a rain barrel for collecting next season’s rain. Consider where you could install one to collect runoff from downspouts, and be prepared when our first rains hit.


If you are planning to landscape, consider native and drought-tolerant plants that require less water. Succulents are all the rage these days, so by planting these, you can be water efficient and in fashion at the same time.

For watering, use a hose that has a shut-off nozzle to prevent wasting water when watering landscaped areas. These devices are inexpensive and allow for a variety of sprays. If you have an irrigation system, make sure that there is no excessive runoff onto hardscapes. This is a great time to consider a drip irrigation system if you don’t have one.

If you’re fortunate to have a lawn in the city, you can still water as long as there is no runoff onto the sidewalk. Watering once or twice a week should be sufficient to keep your lawn and plants green and still reduce your water usage. Though “brown is the new green.”


The most water-efficient method to clean a sidewalk, driveway, or hardscape is using a broom. Using water to clean these areas should be done only when required for health and safety purposes.


Did you know that a leaking toilet can cost you thousands of dollars in water and sewer charges each year? Fixing leaking toilets and dripping sinks is often a simple fix that you can undertake yourself. Your local hardware store can probably talk you through the process.

Installing water-saving devices is an easy way to conserve and to lower your water bill. Toilets can be easily fitted with a dual flush handle. This allows two water levels to be used for flushing as needed. San Francisco residents can also qualify for these water-saving devices free from the San Francisco PUC:

  • high-efficiency showerheads;
  • faucet aerators for kitchens and bathrooms;
  • garden hose shut-off nozzles; and
  • standard toilet leak repair parts.

You can even schedule a free water-saving inspection from the San Francisco PUC. Information on the free devices and inspections can be found at

Take these steps to preserve this precious resource while lowering your energy bill at the same time.

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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator at Cole Hard-ware and can be reached at [email protected].