Never a drop to waste | April 17, 2015 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 17, 2015

Never a drop to waste

From siphoning puddles to saving bath water, residents seek creative ways to cut water use

by Sue Dremann

Palo Alto resident Sue Kemp has long since turned off her automatic watering systems and tends by hand to the plants and shrubs she wants to save. She has not watered her back lawn in more than a year. She doesn't shower every day, doesn't flush the toilet every time, and saves water in her kitchen and bathroom that comes out of the tap as it heats up.

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Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


Posted by thirsty
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 17, 2015 at 11:06 am

Have been conserving water for last year. Two baths per week with little water, washing clothes in same water by hand, using rain water, washing dishes by hand without soap and using that water for plants. Flushing twice a week (yuk). Will get nailed when they ask for a 25 % reduction which I don't think I can do.

Posted by over a barrel
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 11:19 am

Would like to install barrels on 4 or 5 rainspouts but cannot find satisfactory parts and/or equipment. Any suggestions?

Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2015 at 11:22 am

Perspectives is a registered user.

There has to be a better way.... statistically, if only 10-20% of the water usage in CA comes from residential use, how is it worth it for residents (such as @thirsty, and the rest of us if we're asked to) to live in conditions where we are flushing the toilet only twice a week? Or having to collect toothpaste and shave water in buckets to then haul over to the toilet to flush? Or bathing less than we should?? (@thristy, I appreciate your sacrifices, I'm just saying you shouldn't have to do that).

There comes a point at which these water saving methods no longer make sense. The quality of life becomes grossly disproportionate to how much of California's water supply we are saving.

De-salination efforts (efforts and funds to get that a reality) are what is needed. And a proportionate serious effort on the part of CA commercial water usage is a big ticket. Like the article points out, even eating less meat is probably more effective than going around with stinky armpits and a toilet that smells like a port-a-john.

Sure, we need to conserve water in our homes- but through reasonable measures. Reasonable. This CA drought is way bigger than the amount of water we can save by personal hygiene compromises.

Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Most of the apartment and condo dwellers in Palo Alto don't have a water meter attached to their units. They will not be included in the mandatory water reduction rules. That isn't fair.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 17, 2015 at 12:51 pm

It makes sense to do what one can to conserve water, we all agree waste is wrong and irresponsible and thoughtful FAIR efforts should be statewide BUT...
- I watched a pro golf tournament on tv this spring and it showed Pacific Palisades in L.A. and aerial shots showed fabulous, incredible lush landscaping, massive pools, beautiful golf course/club, This matched what a friend in L.A. has repeatedly told me, namely that many people down there haven't conserved and that landscaping is being overwatered there. I believe they have the low flush toilet requirement, but I am unconvinced cutbacks on landscaping watering have occurred - another heavy water use community is in N San Diego (forget the name).
- We understand from news reports that there are still many water customers in the Central Valley who don't even have water meters!
- We know that SOME crops in California, like high cost almonds, are very water-intensive, and some crops are also for overseas customers - why can't some of these be reduced in a transition period to less water-intensive crops and favor/water given to crops for domestic purchase?
- The governor appears to be giving hundreds of millions in taxpayer money to welfare payments to hard-hit farm/Valley communities; while I am sorry there are economic issues there, this is a costly stop-gap measure that does not solve anything related to the drought. How about pro-active measures in the state?
- Why should I have to ruin my garden, which is medium sized and medium water-intensive, but which would be costly to alter to Xeriscaping (for several reasons) if we are ordered to have draconian restrictions such as watering only two days per week? It WILL be dead under such rules -- I already went through having a similar yard ruined in the late 80's in another city (under San Jose Water, when restrictions were put in place greatly limiting watering). It was difficult then to sell that property. It is TRAGIC to lose landscaping, which adds value to our city. It will cost many thousands to replace and my personal effort is irreplaceable. I feel there should be a BETTER WAY to meet our conservation goals.
- I also support maintaining our sensible City of Palo Alto park and median landscaping - plants help our air, they raise our propriety values and add to our quality of life, they had an original cost to purchase and install; to suddenly throw them away seems like a misplaced effort to deal with the drought.
-INSTEAD, why don't we make a serious effort to deal with all leaks and runoff; to require new landscaping to fit within sensible parameters; to forbid re-filling of swimming pools.
Thank you for this article, hopefully many ideas will be shared.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 17, 2015 at 12:53 pm

I stopped flushing regularly a long time ago but recently cut back even further on the flushes.

Now one toilet seems to be stained for good. What's the best way to get rid of all these new stains? It's gross.

The toilet cleaner section of Walgreens has expanded drastically because to meet the new market need. I seem to be trying a new cleaner each week and let it work on the stains for hours for each application, not the 10 minutes recommended.

I shudder to think of what the ingredients -- bleach peroxide, ammonia, etc. -- are doing to the Bay.

Posted by Solution
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 17, 2015 at 1:12 pm

Get a brownish yellow colored toilet.

Posted by San Jose rainwater collector
a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Hello "Over a barrel"- please check out

Web Link
They have great products for rainwater harvesting, and also for gray water systems.

These sites are also great sources of information not mentioned in article:
Web Link
Web Link

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 17, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Some water conservation thinking is like a non sequitur (to me) - earlier, on another thread someone posted that they are saving water by showering each day at their health clubs. Therefore, their water bill won't be as costly nor will they use as much water - except that they ARE, just it is displaced, not at home. Now, in my case, I don't belong to a health club and have to shower at home. I try to take fast showers. But as a result of showering at home I may be reprimanded for using "too much water" and have higher rates. But, in the end, the same water was used by the poster and me, just in different places!
We all have to drink water - some will take it from the tap, some will buy bottled water at the stores. Perhaps those with the money to buy it at stores will benefit from "less water usage" by our government.
This is why we have to use reasonable measures. I pity those who flush their toilet once per day while Pacific Palisades luxuriates in their foliage (see my post above).

Posted by cur mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 17, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Last winter I had reason to travel to the rural area south of Sacramento, east of SR 99. It's gentle rolling hills with mini-ranchettes, all GREEN and well irrigated. Horse country and some fruit trees, but not groves of them. Where do they get all that water? Is it ag water, but for rural residences?

Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

Chris Zaharias here, longtime PA native/resident. This week I started Raindance, a subscription-based twice-monthly reclaimed water service.

The premise is pretty simple: we fill our 2000-gallon water truck at Palo Alto's Embarcadero Rd treatment plant, drive to your house and use double-wide hoses and sprayers to deep-soak your yard once every two weeks, thereby keeping it lush & green. For most yards, two soaks per month will keep your grass green and healthy.

Look us up on Facebook if interested. The PA treatment plant puts out 5-6M gallons/day of recycled water, yet most of it is simply discharged into the bay. If a few thousand Palo Altans use Raindance, we'll save agriculture-scale potable water.

Posted by watersaver
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Thirsty must be exaggerating -- two flushes a week? That's sure to clog the toilet and what a smell! But it's good to have some humor injected here.

Many of us are good water savers but there's not much more that can be done. Meanwhile the Governor and state gov't promote growth. Hard for me to believe that draconian water measures and growth go together unless the plan is for me to flush twice a week so that more housing can be added here!

What about the train to nowhere wasted money -- that money should be used on a desalination plant.

Posted by Damsel in dis Dress
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 17, 2015 at 3:45 pm

I was at the Menlo VA onWenesday and was annoyed to find that they are doing a lot of landscaping and lawn planting there-- all of which require a LOT of water. Also a lot of demoluitipn and new construction, which require watering to keep the dust down.

The VA is a federal facility, but they are wasting CA water. Is ther anything we can do to make them postpone all this water wasting work until the drought ends?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 17, 2015 at 3:52 pm

And what about the water companies like Nestle that are still selling our water for a profit?

Let PA's new Sustainability Officer and the other highly paid pr people start lobbying for the sale of a huge amount of water to end. Let them do something useful for a change instead of preaching to us -- like getting other groups to lobby against the water sales and beefing up the PA Utilities repair staff.

They have a month-long backlog in fixing storm drains; how much is being wasted during that time?

Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 17, 2015 at 4:02 pm

David Coale's water saving efforts are terrific and admirable. But the statement that hand-washing dishes is more wasteful than a dishwasher sounds like it was put out by appliance companies. Nine gallons? I hand wash my dishes for a lot less than that. I run the water warm and save it in 2 milk jugs--one gallon goes to water the garden. I use a gallon of hot water in the pan, and use the second jug to rinse into another dishpan. The dirty rinse water flushes the toilet.

As for the coming cutback--I read that Palo Alto will be expected to cut 20% of its water use, since we're already doing fairly well. I've lived through two previous droughts in PA. The first time the city asked for voluntary cutbacks, which I did. Then they cut everyone's allotment the same percentage. Unfair! The second drought, they established the baseline system for all residences with fines for overuse and laddered charges. Of course in both cases they raised water rates anyway to cover their fixed costs in the face of reduced use.

Let's hope they follow system 2 this time!

Posted by It's all about the lawn
a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Look up to the hills. They are beautiful, they change color with the seasons, and the only water they get is what falls from the sky. All outdoor watering should be stopped immediately. Showering and toilet flushing can continue as normal. In Palo Alto and everywhere in the state.

Posted by Been There, Done That
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2015 at 6:05 pm

We tried hand washing dishes, but unless you change the rinse water frequently, you are rinsing in dirty water. We learned the hard way that it is easy to get gastro-enteritis this way. Probably why dishwashers were invented.

Try using the light wash cycle for all dishes but the really crusty ones. Those can be soaked and then hand-scrubbed and rinsed by themselves.

Turn shower water OFF when soaping down or shampooing. Flush the toilet only when you"deposit" something. Only use one rinse instead of two when washing clothes.

Posted by This is a numbers problem
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 17, 2015 at 11:41 pm

Trying to solve a water shortage by making lives of residents miserable is ridiculous. There is only so much water and so many ways to allocate it. What is needed is a common sense plan. The first part of the plan is to decide how many people can live in this state and have a decent quality of life. This number will go up or down depending on how much water is allocated to residents and how much to industry and agriculture. When the population was half what it is now in the 70s water was not a problematic resource. At the same time the population was exploding, business interests figured out how to pump deeper ground water and turned marginal lands in the central valley into orchards and farm land. The real discussion should be around how much alfalfa do you want to grow in a desert, how many cattle do you want to feed with that alfalfa, how many crops do you want to export, how much business development do you want to encourage to settle in the state, how many people should live here, how much of the state should be cemented over and lastly with Earth day approaching - do you want to save any of the environment in this state for any other species except people? It comes down to choices - eat a hamburger or shower for a month. Have wild animals, open spaces and clean water and air or add another 20 million people to live in cramped, brown, smelly conditions due to government rationing of water. Why don't our political leaders ever think more than an election cycle ahead and why don't they deal with the real issues? Don't make your lives miserable with minuscule fixes - write to your representatives and tell them to figure out a plan to allocate the water in this state vs. just leaving it to developers/businesses to take and residents to be made miserable. This is a real "tragedy of the commons" on a state wide level and we need leadership and have difficult and potentially life changing choices to make.

Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2015 at 9:28 am

Two comments, one minor, one more global.

Been There, Done That, people washed dishes by hand without suffering gastroenteritis for more than just a few years. The trick is, instead of running fresh rinse water, use the water you've run warm into a milk jug. Also, use the dirty rinse water in the second dishpan to soak crusted dishes, then use it to flush the toilet. Dishwashers were invented for convenience, not for health reasons. Although the very high-temperature ones are way better in restaurants and group living situations. Still, that's a minor matter, a few gallons a day.

The big issue worldwide, not just in California, is water allotment. And big agriculture and the corporations who are looking for ways to profit from controlling water are adept at keeping the problem out of the press so that they can continue on their profit at any price ways. We've had populist revolutions in California and the US before. Maybe we should stop agonizing about brown toilets and start building a great coalition to take on the big money-big profit people and corporations.

Posted by Pat Ferraro
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 18, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Why is the City of Palo Alto not using the $3 million offered to them by Santa Clara Valley Water District to expand their use if recycled water for non potable uses and leaving more Hetch Hetchy water available for drinking for all SFPUC's customers?

Posted by Cleaning
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2015 at 8:03 am

"Coale is able to use nearly all of his home's greywater with the exception of the dishwasher, he said. It's the only appliance for which he hasn't found biodegradable soap. Washing dishes by hand is not water efficient, he said."

Biodegradable dishwasher soap: Ecover available at Amazon and Whole Foods. I have used for close to 2 years.

@ Online Name: I likewise have a similar issue as we follow the "if it's yellow let it mellow" rule. Here are a couple of options if not already tried:
- I have found thick formula Lysol Toilet Bowl cleaner the best.
- Another option is baking soda: you migh need a lot, but used as a paste on your toilet bowl brush it may remove the stains.

For safety reasons: never combine cleaning products.

Posted by Grey Water Issues
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2015 at 2:47 pm

I found out the hard way during the Seven-Year Drought that grey water can kill your plants. It may be okay for lawns, which are hard to kill and quick to revive, but for flowering plants, most trees and ground cover other than lawn, and any indoor plants, it is lethal.

Use grey water for cleaning, not watering.

Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 19, 2015 at 10:54 pm

@Grey Water Issues - would you mind sharing details of your experience with grey water? Specifically, for how long did you use grey water, where did it come from, and what plant damage occurred? Thanks.

Posted by Grey is the new green
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 20, 2015 at 6:00 am

I've never had an issue using our kitchen and bathroom grey water on my yard.
The wrong soaps or a water softening system were the likely cause of the issue.
There are far far too many people using grey water on their yards without issue to suggest it is bad for the yard. If you have a home water softener, I would avoid using grey water, but otherwise, use mild natural soaps and there should be no problem.

Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2015 at 6:40 am

There must be research on the use of gray water for irrigation. Stanford uses it some, and they are really in the forefront of all kinds of good conservation practices. Anyone have more detailed knowledge? Has anyone run comparisons, say by watering part of the garden with gray water and part with clean water? And what about recycled water like Chris Zaharias is talking about?

According to a couple of newspapers, the California just reset the mandated water conservation figures for water districts. Instead of having to cut by 20%, Palo Alto is set at 16%.

It's discouraging that there's no strong citizen voice for attacking the water allocation problems head-on and statewide. You know the the guv is not going to take it on until he has to!

Posted by rainbow38
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 20, 2015 at 11:28 am

For toilet bowl stains, just pour white vinegar into the bowl and leave it. It also deodorizes, is non-toxic and inexpensive.

Although not mentioned in any article I've read, quite a bit of water could be saved by not using a kitchen disposal.

Posted by Laundry to Landscape
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 20, 2015 at 5:43 pm

Greywater on landscape is OK as long as the soap doesn't have SALT!
Most biodegradeable laundry soaps are NOT OK for landscape.

GREYWATERACTION.ORG recommended products: (they are salt and boron free, and pH neutral)

Laundry: Oasis, Ecos, Biopac liquid detergent, Vaska. There are also soap alternatives that are greywater friendly, like soap nuts, and “wonder balls”.

Showers: Aubrey Organics makes shampoos and conditioners that don’t have salt or unhealthy chemicals, and are fairly easy to find. In a shower, shampoo is fairly diluted so it is not as important as in the washing machine to have the best products, but it is important to have products that are not harmful to our health, surprisingly many shampoos and conditioners contain carcinogenic chemicals. You can find out what’s in your products at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetic’s on-line database.

Source: Web Link

Posted by now i can save
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2015 at 5:22 am

I will (anonymously) admit that with all of the discussion of a possible drought over the last year or two, we actually increased our water use. I had lived through the last major drought and was penalized for saving water by being required to save even more when mandatory cuts were implemented. This time around I wanted to have a buffer so that when cuts were implemented I actually had room to make cuts. No it's not ideal, and in a perfect world folks like @thirsty would be rewarded instead of punished for their prior conservation efforts. The water board needs to come up with a more fair way to set base levels than basing it off what you consumed the prior year.

Posted by 2013 levels
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:15 am

@ now I can save and Thirsty - The % decrease will be based off of 2013 levels of water use. You should absolutely continue saving water.

Posted by Susan
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 21, 2015 at 7:53 pm

All this is very well - but the city of Palo Alto should lead the way. Why is the city planting grass everywhere? And anyone walking through Mitchell Park in the morning will find the paths inundated with water from overwatering. Automatic sprinklers that soak the grass, lots of run off everywhere..

This is unacceptable - no more grass and no more watering for the city! Practice what you preach first!

Posted by PalyGrad
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 21, 2015 at 8:57 pm

As of Novermber 30, 2014 the city of Sacramento had about 62,000 unmetered homes and businesses that pay a flat monthly rate for their water! The city hopes to have all homes and businesses metered by 2020!

Web Link

Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 23, 2015 at 10:13 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

Here's the list of reduction levels currently proposed by the State Board for Peninsula customers:

36%: California Water Bear Gulch - Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley & Hillsborough

24%: Palo Alto

My understanding is that these will be in effect sometime in the next few weeks, and that hefty fines will be due for those who don't meet reduction targets.

Look at your water bill (CCF = 100 cubic feet of water = 748 gallons), and calculate how many gallons you'll have to reduce usage by to meet the 36% target. For larger properties in the CA H20 Bear Gulch district, that'll be 10000-50000 gallons per month in May/June/July/Aug/Sept.

I've recently launched RainDance, a startup that proposes to truck recycled water from Palo Alto's H20 Treatment Plant to residents and businesses on a monthly subscription basis so they can immediately meet these mandated reductions. 650-935-LAWN or We're hoping that capitalism and residents' desires to maintain landscape beauty and home value will be the engine for H20 use reduction!

Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 23, 2015 at 10:21 am

"I've recently launched RainDance..."


Now there's a euphemism that may or may not disguise the source. But you don't fool me. You will receive a monthly bill of 10 cents per flush from my household for your supply.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2015 at 1:32 pm

@curmudgeon -- I've been thinking along the same lines. We need meters on both inflow and outflow, so we can be charged or rationed on some function of the difference. We are not buying water, just renting it and paying the City to clean it up for re-use. Of course what goes on the lawn is not recovered, and that would be legitimately billed.

Posted by Jane citizen
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 28, 2015 at 11:31 am

How does the city determine what is normal for 3 people vs 4 people? Or 1 vs 2?

How do we register the number of people living together in one house?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 28, 2015 at 11:40 am

The county and the city can't even accurately count bedrooms yet they continue to waste resources (money and trees) sending us those erroneous mailings comparing our usage with neighbors.

When I did my trust last year I noticed the mistake and asked my lawyer if it mattered that they'd counted wrong and he laughed and said something like "You wouldn't believe tall the mistakes they make. Don't worry about it."

So tired of their preaching. Let them start lobbying against the commercial water companies that are still selling CA water for a profit while driving us nuts about small savings.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

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