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The Weight of Water
Another rainy season without rain has Peggy Hansen weighing the value of what we have too little of.

By Peggy Hansen

It flows, colorless and clear, weightless till you try to carry it. Each gallon tips the scale at eight pounds and change, a number that's abstract to most of us. Why should we know or care about the weight of water? This winter, our state's paltry rainfall has me thinking about water quite a lot. More precisely, I've been thinking about how much of it I waste.

There's some low-hanging fruit, and I've picked it. Most Californians know the water-saving mantra 'if it's yellow, be mellow.'  Running the dishwasher and washing machine only when full, installing low-flow showerheads and toilets, and turning off the water while brushing teeth are easy too. Converting to drip irrigation and installing rain sensors on sprinkler systems is a little harder, but still in reach.

My house was built long before rainwater harvesting or grey-water entered the lexicon and retrofitting only goes so far. All the water I use drains into a septic tank, eventually leaching out into the yard. How much better, I thought, if some could be recaptured?

I bought buckets, small ones for the bathrooms and the kitchen, and a large one for the shower, and proceeded to collect water. Even being conscious of my usage, the amount I harvested each day was horrifying. When I carried it outside to lavish on my garden, its weight was a blow - and an epiphany.

I pictured Third World women lining up for water, jars and buckets on their heads as they trudge along a dusty path, miles from home. We just turn on a tap, and out comes clear, clean, life-costing almost nothing. Maybe that's the problem: it's too easy and too cheap.

My small steps won't save the planet or even our state. But if more people understood the weight of water, and its value, it would be a great start.

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer based in Santa Cruz.

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