10 Things I Learned While Living Without Running Water

My wife and I recently endured fifteen days of living without running water while a new well was being drilled on our property. If I was a more conscientious blogger, I suppose I would have chronicled the experience daily, as it unfolded. [via dailygreen]

But the truth is, I couldn't spend much time at the keyboard during that period. Every time I stopped moving, I felt like Pig-Pen in the Peanuts cartoon, with a visible cloud of filth and stench ready to descend all around me if I stopped long enough for it to catch up.

Now that the water is mercifully flowing once again at the House of Yeager, I want to take a minute to share what I learned from our waterless ordeal. As my father-in-law always said, "If you don't have a good time, you usually have a good experience." That about sums it up:

* 10. Toilets are an engineering marvel: By keeping a bucket of water handy, we almost got use to manually filling the toilet tank whenever it needed flushing. I appreciate the fact that you can still flush a toilet this old-fashioned way in a pinch, and I can hardly believe that in this technological age someone hasn't invented a "new and improved" toilet that would make it impossible to do so. Still, most older toilets use more water than is really necessary, so keep a water-filled plastic soda bottle in the tank to limit the excess.

* 9. Never take water for granted: Access to water -- particularly safe drinking water -- is truly a matter of life or death. Yet more than one billion people, nearly one out of every seven individuals on Earth, have an insufficient supply of potable water. Nonprofit organizations like Drop in the Bucket are working to solve that problem, and they deserve our donations and other support.

* 8. Clothes don't really need to be washed so often: We went the entire two-plus weeks without doing any laundry, when normally we'd probably have done at least a couple of loads. And you know what? Our clothes and other linens still smelled and looked fine. Laundering clothes less often not only saves water and energy, but it also makes clothing last longer -- and that all adds up to a closet full of financial savings.

* 7. I have the best wife on the planet: Of course, after 27 years of marriage (or, as Denise says, "almost three and half good years"), I already knew this. But my mate showed her true grit (not to be confused with her "true grittiness") as she helped me clear a patch of land where the well could be drilled and kept her sense of humor throughout the entire waterless siege. Boy do I love that woman.

* 6. Remodeling an outdated bathroom doesn't look like a financial priority post-drought: We've been meaning to remodel our bathroom, since it's looking rather dated. But once you've lived without running water, you realize that functionality -- and not fashion -- is the important thing. Besides, I'm pretty sure avocado-colored bathroom fixtures will eventually come back into vogue, and then we'll be ahead of trend.

* 5. You don't need as much water in the kitchen as you might think: Without a flowing tap at the ready, we found that we could easily cut down on the amount of water we normally use -- and waste -- in the kitchen. Potatoes and pasta cooked just fine in about half the amount of water we typically use, and the still scalding water used to soft boil eggs in the morning was poured directly into a dishpan to scrub up the dishes from dinner the night before (later rinsed, of course). Even washing the kitchen floor with a small bucket of water and a handheld sponge rather than a mop saved us at least a couple of gallons.

* 4. Individual bottles of water are a sinful waste of resources: We never buy bottled water (heck, I'm so cheap I don't even buy bottled wine); even during our recent dry-spell, we just filled pots and buckets at the neighbor's house. But one day some friends -- attempting to be kind -- dropped off four cases of individual 500 ml bottles of water. We graciously accepted, and for the first time in our lives relied pretty much on those as our daily drinking water. We were horrified to see the plastic carnage that was created, literally overflowing our recycling bin within a few days. The amount of oil used to manufacture disposable water bottles for the U.S. market would fuel more than 100,000 cars for a year. If you drink only bottled water, on average you'll spend more than $1,000 per year to get your recommended daily amount of H2O, as opposed to just 49 cents for a year's supply of just as healthy tap water.

* 3. Cold water is so much better than no water, and HOT water is very, very special: It's amazing how many things you normally use hot water for that can be done just as well using cold (e.g. shaving, washing clothes, dishes, etc.). When you have to heat up every drop of hot water you use on the stovetop, you learn to cherish it. About 15% of total home heating costs is attributable to heating water for domestic use, and that expense can easily be cut in half through better conservation and a few simple energy-saving devices.

* 2. The Earth is an amazing place -- but it needs our help: Call me naïve, but I was awestruck by the fact they you can drill a hole in your backyard (at least where we live) and be guaranteed by Mother Nature that you'll eventually hit a plentiful, pure supply of water. Silly me, I expected a celebratory scene like out of There Will Be Blood when the drillers struck water at around 400 feet. Instead, the moment passed without so much as comment. But on an ominous note, Bob, the sixtyish foreman, told me that when he started out in the business, the water table where we live was at around 200 feet, only about half the depth of today, depleted by rampant development going on in the area. I vow to never water my lawn again.

* 1. Never look at yourself in a mirror when taking a sponge bath: Sponge bathes get the job done, sort of, but if you ever catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror while taking one, you might just realize that the lack of running water is the least of your problems.

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