Halfway around the word, a friend complains in her Facebook page that she is tired of winter. Here in the Philippines, we bake in the unusual heat this time of the year. It has not rained in more than three months and the water levels in our aquifers, dams, and wells are running very low. Summer has only just started and already the heat can be oppressively hot during mid-day.
Worse, with the heat comes sporadic power black outs and a severe water crisis. Truth to tell, it’s not as if we’re unused to these third world discomforts. Our house sits on top of a hill and is considered the highest point in our little barangay, which in turn, also sits on high ground. This feature protected us during the wrath of Ondoy, when the rains threatened to flood the entire city. These days, however, it makes us perfect first-line victims of water scarcity, rationing or cuts. It’s a hardship we have to learn to live with.
So what to do? In my household, I have already prepared buckets and barrels for water collection. All of our bathrooms have extra-large covered pails, dippers and basins. We have also set up Alphonse’s small pool, filled it halfway, and covered it tightly so the water lasts us about two weeks. We use this water not only as his play water (we really can’t help it that Alphonse loves water) but also as water for the toilets, for cleaning the car and garage, for washing rags, and for watering what’s left of the plants.
Still, there’s more to be done to make sure that we don’t waste a single drop of water. Below are some of the things we already do in our home. Can you think of some more?
We wash fruits and vegetables in basins of water instead of running water from the tap. We then collect and reuse dirty wash water for toilets and houseplants.
When washing dishes, we fill a large basin with water and rinse only when all of the dishes have been soaped and scrubbed. We soak pots and pans in basins, too; we don’t scrub them under running water. Again, we re-use this dirty water for flushing toilets.
Frozen food is defrosted in the refrigerator overnight instead of being thawed in water.
Cleaning and Laundry
We use native brooms (walis tingting), not a hose, to clean the driveway, the garage, and sidewalks. When we must wet the driveway (to wash dog poo, for example), we use a pail and a dipper and only on the spot that needs washing.
We match the water level of our washing machine to the size of the laundry load and use just the right amount of soap for the water level. Too much soap uses more water in rinsing. We also collect the run-offs (soapy water, rinse water) for reuse.
I got this idea online and I think this is great — assigning one glass for drinking each day (label them) or using a personalized water bottle. At home, we already use water bottles instead of glasses for drinking to keep spills to a minimum. But it’s also a great idea to save on washing a lot of drinking glasses throughout the day.
When we have lots of ice left in our water bottles, we simply pop them back in the freezer for later use. But sometimes, we dump them in plants, especially the ones that are left over from drinking colored sodas or juices.
I don’t have small kids anymore but when my nephew Enzo and niece Isabelle lived next door, one of the ways their mom would save on water and time and effort would be to bathe them at the same time. Anj, their mom, would put them in a large baby tub and wash them there. The dirty water was also reused for toilets.
The easiest way to save water is to shift from separate shampoo and conditioner to a two-in-one hair cleansing product. Even just doing this already saves water from the double rinse.
This is perhaps the most basic: don’t let the water run. When you wash your hands, brush your teeth, shave, or even bathe, don’t let the water run. Turn off the water and make sure to turn off faucets tightly after each use. If you collect water in containers, watch them so they don’t overflow.
I started doing this as a medical student while on hospital duty. Because time was a valuable commodity, bathing had to be systematic. As soon as I was wet with water, I shampooed and lathered at the same tame. With water dripping from my head, I also washed my face and often brushed my teeth while I bathed. The habit has stuck, and though a trifle weird, it does save water.
Most Filipinos already use a bucket and a tabo (water dipper) to bathe. We added a large basin (pink, if you must know) to catch run-offs from baths and use this to flush our toilet or clean the bathroom floor. The technique is simple: either stand inside the basin or bend over the side to catch water.
Before we started using pails of dirty water to flush our toilets, we used to put a small plastic bottle filled with sand inside the toilet tank to increase water level artificially for flushing.
And still some other stuff that help us use water well:
Watering plants in the morning is generally recommended but since mornings in the Philippines are already quite hot, water at dusk instead to reduce evaporation.
Always check for leaks. If you see that your water consumption is high despite efforts to improve water use, check your water lines and connections for leaks.
I pray it rains soon. I’d hate to think what a long drought and an extended dry season would do to us. For a country surrounded by water, it would be the height of irony to die of thirst.