Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another Reason to Garden in Los Angeles: Saving Water

When I first started gardening last year, I worried about whether it was right to expend all this water trying to grow things, especially considering Los Angeles' complicated history (and present) with water. I didn't want to be wasteful, or ultimately do more harm than good.

In an effort to assuage my conscience, I started to save water run off from my showers, washing rice, rinsing out my coffee mug and french press, from as many non-toxic water uses as possible and using that to water my garden instead. Admittedly, things have gotten a little grimy in my household, for which I will be eternally grateful to my roommate for tolerating. I guess the conservation is also an exercise in figuring out how to do things neatly as well. I have a tendency to allow my habitat to start looking like a zoo.

I store the salvaged kitchen water in these plastic orange juice bottles. I drilled holes in the caps, creating a makeshift watering can to avoid crushing delicate sproutlings. After about 8-10 months of use, the plastic eventually cracks, unfortunately, but at least their use got stretched a little bit. Eventually, I remembered how my family always had white five-gallon buckets around that once held various doughnut batters and fillings, and I asked politely for one from a beloved neighborhood donut shop. I use this bucket to capture water from my shower that otherwise just drains off into our municipal system-- perfectly good water that I waste by running the shower until it gets warm. Seeing how quickly the bucket filled up during this pretty typical routine has me considering taking bucket-baths as I did when I was growing up. (I distinctly remember the feeling of switching to showers and getting a thrill from the feeling of assimilation. Now, I want to turn back.)

So, instead of letting perfectly good water go down the drain and venture to water treatment plants, I direct the water toward food. This year it's mostly wildly prolific chard because I've been a bit neglectful. The chard hangs on, however.

Seeing my own water consumption, along with learning more about Los Angeles' complicated (and exploitative) relationship with water and land and people, has lead me to consider how water is used as though it is a limitless resource-- much the way we use electricity, we hardly think about it. Turning the faucet on full-force when washing dishes or brushing teeth. Using high-powered water sprayers to clean sidewalks. All the manufacturing processes that use water. I haven't done research into how much water or what kind of water gets used by the manufacturing process, but I imagine it's a lot.

And in the face of all that, it feels like my saving 50-100 gallons of water per month won't make a drop (har) of difference, and might be more work than it's worth. Then I think, sure it will. It'll make a difference because maybe I'll get another person to care a little bit more. And then another person might care a little bit more. And the more people hold something as valuable, the more the value can be known.

But even if it never does any of that, and even if we are all on the path to drought and doom anyway, it's still worth it to me. It just doesn't seem right to use water, which is so precious to life, as something so expendable. And there's really nothing like a good home-grown tomato.