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Going Green on Whidbey Island

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Water, the Elixir of Life

September 25th, 2012 at Tue, 25th, 2012 at 10:03 am by maribeth crandell







Water, the Elixir of Life

I try to be grateful for what I have, a nice home, a job, a healthy body, friends and family, three meals a day.  But if I take anything for granted, it is water.  I go to the sink, turn a knob and out comes a stream of clean, drinkable water. 

There’s nothing like backpacking to bring the value of this crucial resource into perspective.  Over Labor Day Weekend I hiked through the Olympic Mountains from the Quinault River Valley over the high mountains and out the other side through the Duckabush River Valley.  One river flows to the Pacific, the other to Hood Canal. 

On my hike I was never far from the sound of water.  In the heat of the day, I dipped my bandana into streams and tied it around my neck to keep cool.  When I was climbing I stopped often to drink from my water bottle.  Each evening I dipped my bottle into a stream or lake and boiled water for my dinner.  I filtered more for the next day’s breakfast and the hike ahead.  I had to study my map to make sure I had enough to reach the next body of water before starting out.   I wouldn’t last long without it.  Backpacking gives me a greater appreciation for this elixir of life.

This has been a dry summer.  In a State known for rain, we’ve had a near record dry spell.  Fortunately, the water level in the Skagit River is still high enough to meet the needs of the cities along its course and the salmon and other wildlife living in and around it.  That’s due to the snow level in the mountains.   The City of Oak Harbor gets its water from the Skagit River through a pipe from Anacortes.   Water supplies have been adequate all summer.

However, this Friday, Sept. 28, the Water Treatment Plant in Anacortes will shut down for a day of maintenance.  This will temporarily cut off water for the City of Oak Harbor.  The City has filled its reservoirs in preparation.  They’re calling for Level 1 water conservation asking everyone to cut water use for that day. 

It makes me think about how much water I use in a day.  On my backpacking trips I found I’d need just 3 cups for a breakfast of oatmeal and tea.  I’d usually take 2 quarts for hiking all day.  At dinner I’d need 3-4 more cups of filtered water, and another cup or so for cleaning.  That adds up to about a gallon a day.

At home, it’s a different story.  I read that the average American uses roughly 100 gallons a day!  A dishwasher uses 9-12 gallons a load.  Running water at the sink uses 2-5 gallons a minute.  The washing machine takes 40 gallons a load.  The toilet uses up to 7 gallons a flush.  And my morning shower takes 2-5 gallons a minute.  Watering the yard can take hundreds of gallons in an hour.  But there are ways to cut our water use without much effort or sacrifice. 

The City of Oak Harbor has free toilet tank banks that displace some of the water in your toilet tank making it a low flow toilet (or use a 2 liter bottle full of water).  They also have free faucet aerators for your kitchen or bathroom sinks, and a low flow showerhead while supplies last.  Ask for them at City Hall. 

Wash only full loads in your washing machine or dishwasher.  Take shorter showers.  Turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth.  Keep a bucket in your shower so while you’re waiting for the water to get hot, you’re catching water for your garden.   Water outdoors no more than an inch a week at dawn or dusk. Rain barrels are a good source of free water for outdoor use, if it rains.  I use rainwater for my garden, to wash my car and clean my kayak.  Saving water saves energy and money, too.

Maribeth Crandell has a green thumb. Most of the rest of her is "green", as well. She's worked in city, state and national parks as a naturalist, educator and guide, on ships and on shore from the Columbia River to Southeast Alaska. She offers presentations for 6 year olds to seniors. She publishes articles, sings songs, plays the banjo and hikes trails. In fact, in 2006 she hiked the 2,000 mile long Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. She's been an educator for many organizations on Whidbey Island and for 5 years worked as the Environmental Educator for the City of Oak Harbor. She's been a consistent voice on Whidbey Island leading the way toward sustainability. Because Maribeth has a green thumb, along with the rest of her.

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