One of the topics we studied during that semester was water issues. Growing up on the shores of Lake Erie, this was such an alien concept for me. I basically thought, 'If you don't have water someplace then don't live there!'. Simple. But I was stunned by how many people lived in the desert and even more so by the amount of water that was wasted - huge fountains and lush, green lawns to name a few ways. Today, I feel that even as a nomadic full-timer, I have to be conscientious of my water consumption. I may think that since I have limited water storage that alone makes me a good water steward, and to some extent that is true, but I can still be wasteful if I'm not careful.
So, in the spirit of my first desert experience 30 years ago, I bring you my simple, cheap, and "MacGyvered" approach to water conservation.
Water Storage: I don't have tanks on my trailer and have limited storage space in general. I use & refill five, 1 gallon jugs for my drinking water. I also have a big blue 5 gallon jug & two 1 gallon jugs for "other use" water, like dish-washing or hand-washing. I have those two jugs marked so I don't mix them up with my drinking water jugs. I also refill these two jugs with the ice water from my cooler. That alone keeps these jugs full most of the time, so score one for the annoying cooler!
|My 2 "Other-use" Water Jugs|
Hand-washing: I have gone through a couple of trial tests with this one while living on my friends' farm. First I bought wet-wipes, but they are too wasteful, too expensive and the chemicals are really bad for your skin (though I do use baby wipes for my hands if I use the pee jug at night). Then I had an idea - use an empty soap pump dispenser filled with water as a "faucet". It worked, but took a long time to rinse all the soap off my hands with the little squirts of water that came out. The concept was good, but I needed something that would squirt out a little more water. I found it at an antique shop. This little drink dispenser works great. It is glass, but that weights it down and helps warm up the water in the sun. It puts out enough water to rinse easily and fits perfectly on my wheel fender with a foaming dispenser of very diluted Dr. Bronner's soap. Those plus a towel hung to my trailer MacGyver-style and I have a great little hand-washing station.
|My Hand-washing Station|
Hair Washing: This one took me a little longer to come up with a simple set-up that didn't waste so much water. I had made a garden sprayer shower to use, but it was too big for my hair washing needs and took too much time setting up, drying out, and storage space, so I returned everything. I only wash my hair 2x a week (weather permitting!) and didn't want to be bothered with the contraption. Since my budget it so tight, I felt that the money could be better utilized right now. I may change my mind down the road and make another one, but for now, what I have works great and only cost me $1.00 - my kind of set-up! It consists of a reused a 2 liter plastic bottle, colored black with a permanent marker, set out in the sun to warm up the water; along with another reused plastic water bottle with a squirt top to wet and rinse my hair that I refill with warm water from the bigger bottle. I basically hang upside-down over the blue dish pan and wash away. Since I don't use shampoo or conditioner, it doesn't take much water to rinse my hair (I use a baking soda / soap solution and apple cider vinegar - which is an amazing long hair detangler by the way!). I use about 1 liter of water to wash and condition my long hair. Of course, sun & wind dry when done! The hardest part is the bending over the dishpan - OUCH on the lower back!
|Hair Washing Station|
Dish Washing: Since I haven't been able to do much cooking, I haven't had many dishes to wash. Typically I try to use only about 2 cups of water or less to wash, unless I have a lot of dishes. I use a small amount of environmentally safe dish soap for washing and a spray bottle of water with a little vinegar to rinse with. I also strain out any food particles from cooking or the dirty dishwater with a coffee filter in a funnel before the water goes into my gray water jug.
Bathroom: My family and friends are quite familiar with my "morning constitutional" routine and beautiful sunrise pictures when I lived on the farm; but for the rest of you, I will share. (Com'on, you were dying to know! Fidgeting on the edge of your seats aren't you?). I have re-purposed wide mouth jugs for my "pee jug" which I keep inside the trailer. I wanted to build a urine diverting composting toilet, but the urine diverters were too expensive and came with a bunch of stuff I didn't want; plus adding one to my bucket made it too big to move in and out of the trailer daily. So, after 2 years of designs and redesigns, I finally came up with a "composting" toilet that works for me and cost less than $20.00. Using my pee jug, I keep at least 95% of my urine out of the bucket, and it has been working well so far with no smell from the bucket. As for the bucket, I double line it with tall kitchen garbage bags and at the moment, use peat moss for the covering medium - I know, GASP!! So horrible for the environment!, but all I could get at the time. I want to try coconut coir since it is environmentally sustainable and comes in small, light weight, dried bricks. When the inner bag is mostly full, I take it out, tie it up tight so nothing can fall out and put it in a plastic shopping bag which I tie up tightly and toss into the garbage. I hate using the plastic bags, but I don't have anywhere to compost it. Digging catholes in the desert is NOT easy with the hard, rocky ground and dumping that much waste in a couple of catholes is too much and not a good idea for established dispersed camping sites. Packing it out has the least impact.
|My "Composting" Bucket Toilet |
(Kitty litter bucket holds the medium to put on top of the waste)
Gray Water: I collect all the gray water that I can't reuse in an old kitty litter jug (1 1/2 - 2 gallons), then find a place where I can dump it safely. Everything I use (with the exception of toothpaste) is not harmful to the environment, especially with how diluted it gets, so I don't feel too bad about the waste water I produce. I have only just filled my gray water bottle once in a month. I could have used some of what I put in there for another purpose, but wasn't able to utilize it at the time. I may re-purpose another bottle to hold that water for a time when I can reuse it.
|My Gray Water Jug|
"Wait, you forgot bathing! Don't you bathe?" Hey, I have to live with me, so heck yea I bathe! Though I wish I could say it consisted of soaking in a hot spring this time of year, but sadly it doesn't.
Bathing: I use 2 cups of water for bathing which lasts me about a month! Yes, you read that correctly, and yes, I do bathe daily. I make homemade "bath wipes". I prefer to make my own so I know what is going into them. The store bought wipes have so many chemicals in them and I don't want to use them all over my body, plus they are much more expensive than mine. I make mine with paper towels and only use 1/2 - 3/4 of a paper towel to bathe with. They work great and are good for my skin as well. The only downside is the storage area in my trailer gets really cold, so I try to warm them in the sun a little first before using them - otherwise they are better than a whole pot of espresso for getting one WIDE awake!
So there you have it, my water usage and conservation methods. I still have areas where I can make some improvements, but for the most part, I am pleased with what I have in place. It may seem rather primitive to most of you (maybe even horrific), but that's what I like about it. Conservation doesn't stop at water but is about all resources. I have so much fun trying to come up with "MacGyvered" solutions to the challenges that leap out at me. Simple, inexpensive and re-purposed are my parameters and that combination is what makes it fun for me. Living deliberately does take extra time and creates more "chores", but living that way also makes a difference. For me, that is important. Less impact on the earth lets me enjoy its beauty more.
|Shores of Lake Erie|