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Conservation Calls for Good Personal Habits, Planning and Special Devices

<i> Corley is a free-lance writer in Reseda. </i>

Southern Californians are once again looking at a dry summer. As in the drought of 1977, we’re being asked to conserve water.

In the city of Los Angeles, for example, owners of commercial, industrial and multiresidential buildings are required, by Oct. 13, to install low-flow shower heads and toilet tanks with lower water levels; there is also a prohibition against hosing down paved driveways, gutters and patios. The Department of Water and Power will distribute water-saving shower heads and toilet-tank devices to all households at no cost. Also, people selling single-family homes or applying for remodeling permits must show that these water-saving devices have been installed.

Water-conservation experts recommend that all Southern California residents reduce their water usage by 10%. “Generally our interest is for people to use common-sense approaches to save water,” says Tim Skrove, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

By adopting the following common-sense methods, residents will not only save water this summer but could make conservation a part of their daily routine all year long.

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You can start by assessing how you use water outside your home, for gardens, lawns and pools. At least “half of all water used in and around the home is used outside,” Skrove says. Be aware, though, that any method that saves water in an open container, be it a mop bucket or a 55-gallon drum, can pose a drowning hazard to children or pets.

Here are 10 water-saving hints to help you save your 10%:

Landscaping: Plant drought-tolerant gardens. Too often we plant tropical-type gardens in our semi-arid climate. There are dozens of green native and imported plants, shrubs and trees that need little water. Many have attractive summer blooms in colors from lavender to orange, dispelling the notion that your garden will look like a scene from Death Valley. The Municipal Water District of Orange County, (714) 973-1023, has been promoting this idea, called Xeriscape. The district offers a free brochure and a Xeriscape information packet to help get you started. For a source of drought-tolerant plants, contact the Theodore Payne Foundation, 10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley, Calif. 91352, (818) 768-1802, or the Tree of Life Nursery, P.O. Box 736, San Juan Capistrano, Calif. 92693. (Tree of Life is essentially a wholesaler; they sell retail to the public only on Fridays. If you wish to visit, first call (714) 728-0685; the address is 33201 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano.

Lawn Maintenance: Seed your lawn with drought-resistant grass, such as Bermuda or St. Augustine. Don’t water during the peak heat hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adjust sprinklers so they water only grass and shrubbery, not concrete. Soak the ground for 10 to 12 minutes two to three a times a week instead of daily light watering. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, (213) 481-5800, offers a free guide to help you gauge how much water your lawn needs.

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Drip Irrigation: Slow, deep-root watering of plants and trees saves water and makes for healthier roots. Drip irrigation kits for home gardens retail for under $20 at garden- and building-supply stores. A simple homemade method is to perforate the bottom of a coffee can or plastic bottle, place in the garden bed and fill with water. Before watering, check the soil moisture with a soil probe or moisture sensor, available at most garden-supply stores for under $10.

Laundry: Use only full loads in your washing machine. Newer machines are more efficient and often have water-level adjusters to match the amount of clothes you intend to wash. This saves water but still uses the same amount of electricity or gas. A new front-loading machine costs about $100 more than a top-loading model but uses only half as much water.

Toilets: Commodes use 6 to 8 gallons a flush. To decrease that amount, put pebbles in a plastic bottle and fill it with water. Then lower the water level in the tank and place in the bottle. A brick put in the tank can crumble and damage plumbing. When replacing the toilet, consider a low-flow toilet that’s built to use only three gallons a flush.

Showers: A bath in a partially filled tub uses less water than the shortest shower. But if you do shower, install a low-flow shower head, preferably with a temporary shut-off valve so you can turn the water off when you soap up. These cost under $7 at building- and plumbing-supply stores. Some water utilities offer them for free. Another option is to keep your present shower head but install a flow restrictor inside. It’s simply a washer with a smaller flow hole and is nominal in cost.

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Kitchen: Use only full loads in automatic dishwashers to save water and energy. Instead of using the garbage disposal, save vegetable peelings for compost, a natural and rich fertilizer. Don’t run the faucet any more than necessary. When running water to get it hot, put a watering can underneath the faucet and use the water on your household plants. To get cold water for drinks, keep a bottle in the refrigerator.

Leaky Drains: To detect toilet leaks, put a few drops of food coloring in the fill-tank. Without flushing, see if dye shows up in the bowl. If it does, you’ve got a leak that can waste up to 100 gallons a day. A plumber should repair it. On the other hand, you can easily repair leaky faucets, which can waste up to 50 gallons a day. Simply turn off the water-supply valve and remove the faucet handle screw. Using a crescent wrench, loosen the packing nut and lift out the spindle. If the inside washers are rusted or worn, replace them.

Pools and Water Play: Pool covers lessen water evaporation and save heating costs. Although not a replacement for pool fences, they also serve as a safety guard for children and pets. Manually operated covers run $1,500 to $2,500; motorized covers cost $4,000 to $5,000. While kids love to play with a garden hose on a hot summer day, don’t let them do it unsupervised. They often leave garden faucets turned on, wasting hundreds of gallons of water. Try to limit this type of play.

Meter Reading: An easy way to learn how much water you use--or have saved--is to hang on to your water bills and compare them. Water consumption is measured in cubic feet; each cubic foot equals 7.48 gallons of water or about one standard toilet flush. Give yourself an additional incentive to save water by learning how to read your water meter. The DWP offers a free, easy-to-read brochure that explains this.

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