water usage rates

I was born in L.A. in the 80s, during a bad drought. My parents drilled it into my brothers and me to conserve, conserve, conserve our water. I took baths with my brothers, my mom let her lawns go yellow and dry, and I got yelled at by my dad whenever I washed my hands for longer than a few seconds. And we never got to play in the water during hot summer months.

I also remember there was a public service announcement ad which ran on tv during my childhood that flabbergasted me. In it was a simple animation of a kid in a bathroom brushing his teeth and letting the sink faucet run water all the while. Right outside the bathroom was a small pond with a fish in it, and the running sink drained the pond nearly dry. Even now I don’t understand. What in the world do people need to run their sinks for when they’re standing around, brushing their teeth?

Currently L.A.’s water resources are running low, impacted both by low rainfall the past few years and an expanding population.

With all this history, I like to be aware of how much water I’m using.

So when one issue of National Geographic came, it didn’t have the usual Nat Geo map insert but an advertisement by Dow for something called Blue Planet Run 2007. Dow also included some numbers about water usage.

(2007? Wow, it took me a long time to get around to writing this entry!)

Some facts (or claims?) they list about water usage:

  • A shower can use 25 to 50 gallons of water.
  • Leaving the water running while brushing your teeth can waste up to 5 gallons. [GRRRR ARRRRGH]
  • The average full-tub bath takes 36 gallons.
  • One flush of toilet uses as much water as the average person in the developing world uses in a whole day.

That last factoid was something I already knew. It makes me feel guilty sometimes when I flush the toilet. With just one simple flick of the toilet handle, I essentially toss out clean water, about the same amount of water that some other people have to walk miles for, carrying buckets of water back home over a number of trips, in one day. And I flush multiple times a day! But then I remember back to when I was a kid and learned the rhyme, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down.” (Shudder.)

The other numbers made me curious, what were the flow rates of my family’s faucets? Over the years we’ve bought different faucets and installed water limiters on a couple of them. So exactly how much water came out of these fixtures?

My procedure was to turn on the faucet full blast and see how long it took to fill a four-pint container. (Equal to half a gallon.) This isn’t entirely scientific because I didn’t repeat my procedure enough times to get a good range of data. But I’m not doing this for science, it’s just out of curiosity. (I’d say my numbers are accurate within two more or less seconds.)

The results:

  • kitchen sink, which is the newest faucet in the house, 20 seconds
  • my bathroom sink, the oldest faucet, also has a water limiter, 23 seconds
  • my brother’s bathroom sink, the second-oldest faucet, had a water limiter but my brother switched it out, 20 seconds
  • my parents’ bathroom sink, newer than the previous two faucets, it’s upstairs so my mom thought the pressure difference would influence the time, 21 seconds.
  • the shower in my parents’ bathroom, 32 seconds
  • the bathtub in my parents’ bathroom, 4 seconds
  • the hose outside, 2 seconds

Basically, the faucets all run about the same rate except for my faucet being a tiny bit slower. (My mom was kind of upset with the new kitchen faucet, because the lower flow takes her more time to fill the sinks to wash dishes. I never timed the old faucets to compare.)

According to Dow, 5 gallons would be wasted from our faucets if we brushed our teeth for 3 minutes and 20 seconds. That’s a healthy duration; dentists recommend about 3 minutes. But that’s if the water is running full blast, both hot and cold. Nevermind why someone runs the water while brushing their teeth, why would someone run the water full blast?

Moving on, our shower runs a lot more slowly than anything else in the house. It’s a water-conserving shower head, most likely. But this just further proves my point about why I don’t use the shower: it takes forever to rinse the shampoo out of my full head of thick hair. Double that time now, too, since I started using conditioner.

(Ideally I would like a shower head with variable rates of water flow, from high enough to rinse out my hair within seconds, to turning off the water without having to touch the handles which I’ve adjusted to exactly the temperature I want. :P But my brother likes the shower head we have, and he uses it most often.)

The rate of water flow from the bathtub faucet by itself doesn’t mean much. Regardless of how high or low the water flow rate is, the tub is going to be filled to the bather’s liking. But what I did do with the information was time how long it took to fill my bath, then multiply by the rate of flow to find out how much water I use in my bath.

What I found out was that I obviously don’t turn on the water full blast when drawing my bath. It’s somewhere more like 50% to 75%, which takes 5.7 seconds and 4.6 seconds, respectively. Not too drastic a difference, but for the sake of simplification I’ll go with 5 seconds to fill half a gallon. At that rate, and about 3 minutes and 10 seconds to draw my bath, I use 20 or so gallons.

(Yes, I draw very shallow baths. I don’t like showers and love baths, but not at the expense of “36 gallons,” according to Dow’s average. Don’t worry, I’m an environmentalist. I suffer for Mother Earth.)

A 20-gallon bath would be less than Dow’s numbers for a shower, but my shower head is water conserving. A 15-minute shower in my house would use up only 15 gallons. We could take a luxurious 20-minute shower and still only use about 20 gallons!

Of course, if I have to spend those 5 extra minutes rinsing out my hair, and cursing the shower head all the while, I don’t see the point. (Yes, I suppose I did go through all this data gathering to justify why, in L.A., I choose water-hogging baths over water-saving showers. *grin*)

I gathered the last datum just on a whim. I’d measured every other water fixture in our house, why not the one outside, located at the very source? (That being the water main.) I expected it to be about the same as the bathtub, I mean the hose isn’t all that big. But surprisingly, the tub faucet’s flow rate is twice as long for the same amount of water!

What could I extrapolate from this information that would have some significance? We don’t use the hose to water the gardens, but we do use it to wash our cars. Aha! So at 2 seconds to fill half a gallon, or 4 seconds for one gallon, letting the hose run while washing the car for say 10 minutes would use up 150 gallons. 150 gallons! That would provide enough water for 100 people in third-world countries!

Don’t you appreciate having running water in your home so much more now? Doesn’t it make you want to use it wisely, so we don’t run out of clean water in the future? I sure hope it does.

save the gray wolves?

I’m a member of Care2 and The Petition Site, which enable people who care that much about the environment, animals, and other political issues to bring politicians to note what we care about. I’ve got it set up so I don’t regularly visit Care2’s site (another community site? I don’t need that. And the layout isn’t particularly pleasing to my eye.) but I do get e-mails from them about petitions they think I’d care about. (Mostly saving animals, the environment, women’s reproductive rights, some food issues.)

Today I checked my e-mail and I got a message about gray wolves and how they are no longer protected as an endangered species. The message went on to say pretty much that the U.S. is shifting responsibility for managing wolf populations to the states and not the feds, which means that wolves are gonna be hunted down and killed mercilessly!!

(Well okay, Idaho and Wyoming have voiced their plan “to remove wolves by whatever means necessary.” [From my e-mail.] And I guess Montana doesn’t have a “wolf management [plan] that will allow wolf populations to grow.” Just reporting to keep my entry informative, and not inflammatory. *grin*)

I don’t know what made me question the message, but I checked Wikipedia (purveyor of general knowledge) for information about wolf populations. It said that while wolves as a whole are not in danger of becoming extinct, local populations are.

So I wondered, would it be so bad if there were no more wolves in the U.S.? It would make America that much less of the “frontierland” that it used to be. Move over American Indians and wildlife, the rest of the world is here to take over!

The Wikipedia article stated that mostly wolves do not like to interact with humans and will run away from humans, except for the few times where they attack—mostly women and children. Of course, one has to wonder what women and children are doing in areas where wolves are living or hunting, maybe those people should just go back to the cities.

Or is it that the cities have expanded to the wolves’ grounds, and the wolves have nowhere else to go? If that’s so, and not just a case of mommies taking their kids for a day hike through the forest, I guess it’s a case of human rights versus wolf rights. Who deserves to live there more?

I don’t want to answer that in this entry, just wanted to write out my thoughts and perhaps make others think.

I also wanted to mention, in a case where little Timmy is going for a nature hike with his Boy Scout troop (are they called troops? Darn, my Girl Scout history is clouding my memory) and gets mauled by a protective mother wolf, can you really blame people for protesting to whomever they think is in control? They want their children safe; it’s the 21st century, smallpox doesn’t exist in the general population of the U.S., polio is gone, and we’ve even brought cases of mumps down to small numbers.

Shouldn’t people be free from the worry of protecting their children from wildlife, instead worrying about that creepy man down the street who’s always watching the kids? Or even the people online who talk to their children?

I could never bring myself to face Timmy’s family and say, “I choose wolves over you and your little Timmy.” Nor could I tell them to leave the area, pick up their whole lives and relocate, find new jobs, new schools, new homes, new friends, so that wolves can live in peace.

But then, then I read more of the Wikipedia article, and it said, “Wolves … are often referred to as an indicator species; a species delineating an ecoregion or indicating an environmental condition such as a disease outbreak, pollution, species competition, or climate change.” Later on it mentioned that reduced numbers of wolves in Yellowstone had allowed the elk population to explode, in turn causing more and more trees to be stripped to feed all the elks.

Well if the e-mail had said that I would never have questioned it and instead immediately signed the petition! *snrk*

In all seriousness though, I still don’t know whether to sign or not. It’s one of those cases where I feel I don’t have all the information and therefore can’t make a smart decision, instead allowing others to do it for me.

Bush letter

All right, here it is. The long-awaited (ha ha) entry on the letter I got from Bush/the White House.

letter from Bush I came home from work one day last August and found this manila folder in my place at the dining room table—the usual way my mom sorts and doles out our mail—addressed to me, from the White House. For a split second I thought, Oh no, one of the petitions I signed must have pissed off someone and now I’m on the FBI’s list!

Mum and Hidek came up to me ’cause they were wondering what in the world the White House could be sending to me. I told them it must have been a response to some petition that I’d signed online. Opened it up and yup, the letter was about preserving our oceans.

I guess the White House does keep track of e-mails it gets ’cause I couldn’t recall recently signing a petition to Bush about oceans and figured I must have been on some list. Either that or bureaucracy is really really slow and it took many months to send my letter.

I’m inclined to believe the latter because the letter was about something that Bush had done to Save Our Oceans back in June. What was this action that he took to ensure that our oceans would be around for generations to come? Why he declared June 2008 as National Oceans Month! Yes sir, he took action that was not at all proactive and then decided to spend $1.17 telling me about it months later!

See, that’s the real kicker. If I’d received an e-mail from the White House (even months after the fact) I would not be as annoyed as I am right now. (Which honestly isn’t all that much on the annoyed scale. Maybe a little miffed. But I thought this was … unique … and should be commented on.) I’m used to getting “Due to the large volume of e-mail received, the White House cannot respond to every message” auto-responses.

But this time, someone(s?) in D.C. thought it was worth $1.17 to inform me of past acts of “preservation” which I am concerned about? The petitions I sign usually get somewhere around 5,000–20,000 signatures, but let’s assume an absolute average of 10,000. If I got a letter, doesn’t that mean that 9,999 other people also got the same letter? The White House wanted to spend $11,700 sending out information when they could have sent out e-mails?

Or even just send it in a regular business envelope. Why spend a whole $1.17 when postage was about $0.43? Just so I get a flat piece of paper that hasn’t been folded? And I’m sure even the feds can get discounts from the post office if they’re sending out enough pieces of mail—$0.27, right? They spent basically three times more so I get a fancy, special letter about Bush tooting his own horn.

How many meals can $11,700 cover? How many doctor visits? I know the U.S. has a budget in the billions, but come on, every little bit helps!—Oh wait, no, we’re now $10 trillion in debt, so a few measly thousand doesn’t count for much there. Thanks, Bush.

my historical day

Ahh, January 20, 2009. Two great things occured on that day: one was the design day of International Print Week at Cal Poly, and the other was Barack Obama’s inauguration!

The speakers at Print Week that day were a guy from Adobe who demonstrated Adobe CS4’s shiny new functions (and made me covet. and drool a little, yes), a woman from Williams-Sonoma talking about a product line design relaunch, and a guy (CEO?) from a flexo printer.

I didn’t win the raffle for CS4. Not that I expected to, but how fun would that have been, huh? The guy showed … I don’t really remember. He covered Reader and Acrobat, Bridge, Photoshop, a little bit of InDesign, and Fireworks. He also showed us easter eggs in Photoshop. Man, I had no idea Adobe people were geeks like that. Or that programs had easter eggs! Basically, he made me want CS4 (Design Premium package) more than before, and got me interested in playing with Fireworks. Now where to come up with the money…

The product redesign presentation was interesting. I had no idea all that work goes into it, or that it takes that long. (13 months?!) Also further cemented the idea that I don’t want to be a project manager.

The flexo guy went off the cuff, no Powerpoint/Keynote presentation. He covered different things like going green, saving money, going green and saving money, what he’s looking for in interviewees, web 2.0 and technology, lots of stuff. (Interesting point he brought up: to encourage companies to go green, tell them it will save money in the long run. *grin*)

Okay now, in between the speakers, from 9–9:45 am, a live broadcast of the inauguration ceremony was piped in and we got to watch Barack Obama become the next president! Yeah! So cool. It was so much fun to watch it in a room of 50 people or so. There was clapping, there were tears, much elation. I felt like jumping up and cheering while dancing. But of course I didn’t. *snerk*

All in all, much better than if I had watched it here on my tiny tv all alone. Eee!

mileage speed-wise

I thought this was a pretty good reason to drive 65 mph instead of 75 or even 70, going from home (L.A.) to school (SLO) and back (about 400 miles roundtrip).

gas mileage and speed chart “Peak Performance: A U.S. Department of Transportation study averaged the fuel-efficiency curve for eight cars and light trucks.”

It’s one thing for my brother to tell me the highway mileage stat on cars is obtained while driving 47.5 mph and somewhere above that speed the mileage starts to go down. It’s another to see that at 70 mph I get the same mileage as at 15? And the sharp decline as the speed rises…

The rest of the page:

Teutonic Shift: Freedom to speed is an inalienable right in Germany—at least on those portions of the nearly 8,000 miles of autobahn that have no posted limit. Some drivers well exceed 450 mph. So there was an uproar when a European Union official suggested last year that Germany cut greenhouse emissions by imposing a limit of 75 mph or so on the entire expressway.

The idea has merit. Cars burn fuel to overcome friction, air resistance, and other forces allied against them. The more fuel a car burns, the more CO2 it produces. Every car has a peak fuel-efficient speed that gains the greatest distance per unit of energy spent. That speed varies by make and model, but according to David L. Greene, a corporate research fellow at Tennessee’s National Transportation Research Center, “there would be very few cars with an optimal speed above 70 mph.” Still, an autobahn limit might not be a huge help. Even now, its drivers average around 80 mph.
—Tom Zeller, Jr., National Geographic, October 2007