Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - January 21, 2011

Positively Green

Water and its ripple effects ...

by Iris Harrell

I always start worrying about our water supply and usage every time I head to the desert for a short winter vacation. We all know golf courses in the desert are "unnatural," and yet I cannot wait to get on one. I acknowledge my own expectations for fun and rest are part of this problem we all have our hands in.

While "camping out" in high style with the 17th hole of a tournament golf course as part of our backyard deck view, I grew more alarmed when I read about our governor declaring a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, where the water supply for the city of Barstow was found to be contaminated with a toxic chemical used to make rocket fuel and explosives. The contaminant was perchlorate, a salt derived from perchloric acid. (This chemical has been found in drinking water in as many as 35 states.) Forty thousand customers were without normal supplies of drinking water and several hotels, restaurants and other businesses had to close because of the contamination. The water company delivered more than 100,000 bottles of water to their customers in Barstow while they flushed out and tested their systems.

After a few games of golf and steaks and fish on the grill, I had placed this water worry further back in my mind. It came racing back to the forefront as I was traveling home on Interstate Highway 5 with multiple signs in the pastures that said "NO WATER EQUALS NO FOOD." This made me realize yet again that if we don't protect the water sources we have and use them wisely, we could be in deep trouble in a heartbeat.

So what are the "ripple effects" of our not guarding and nurturing our water supplies?

Larry's Auto reported in its last newsletter that debris from braking of vehicles contributes to 80 percent of copper going into the Bay everyday. Copper build-up in fish is toxic to humans as well as making it impossible for salmon to navigate.

Could this be one of the reasons our salmon supply is so low in Monterey that fishing restrictions are required at this time? Reducing copper going into the Bay by using vehicle-braking systems that don't do this is the most direct way to solve this problem. There is state legislation that will force brake manufacturers to start reducing copper in brakes, but the law doesn't go into effect until 2021!

Can we really afford to wait that long? Copper-free brakes do not cost any more and they outlast the brakes that have copper. Have our legislators made some "business friendly" compromise that compromises the health and welfare of its citizens?

Another ripple effect of our water supply becoming contaminated happens during flooding. Our sewage systems, septic tanks and leaching systems can be serious health hazards after a flood. Ironically with the onslaught of global warming, we will have more floods and water contamination issues to deal with.

So with New Year's resolutions not yet forgotten, what can we do personally to better conserve and protect our precious natural water supply?

1. If your home is on a creek or stream, read the Guidelines and Standards for Land Use Near Streams manual from Santa Clara Valley Water District.

2. Keep debris and trash out of creeks and streams so the water can flow freely. This includes yard waste.

3. Do not dump anything into a creek or storm drain. Report incidents of illegal dumping. Drains in our street flow directly to local creeks and often to the Bay.

On the conservation issue of water, make some New Year's resolutions you can spring into action with.

1. Install a "smart" irrigation controller. It won't let watering happen while it is raining outside.

2. Landscape with low-water-use plants.

3. Reduce irrigation cycles by one to three minutes.

4. Repair leaks around pools and spa pumps and outside hose bibs or faucets that drip perpetually.

5. Keep showers under five minutes.

6. Use your washing machine and dishwasher only when you have a full load (and if you don't have a front-loading EnergyStar washer, ask Santa!).

7. Use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks.

8. Use a commercial car wash that recycles water.

9. Install covers on pools and spas to reduce evaporation.

10. Water before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. in the warm seasons.

Let's keep in mind the ripple effects of our own actions on one of our community's most precious resources.

Iris Harrell is CEO and president of Harrell Remodeling, Inc. in Mountain View (www.harrell-remodeling.com). She can be reached at 650-230-2900 or irish@harrell-remodeling.com.

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