Water restrictions prompt him to use every drop from his sink, tub

August 19, 1999

As an ardent conservationist, I should have been delighted when Gov. Parris Glendening put restrictions on water use in Maryland because of the drought.

[cont. from lifestyle]

In theory I was, but I also was frightfully annoyed because I've been asking people to cut their water usage for years, and they've completely ignored me. To make things worse, I'd cut down my consumption of water on my own, and the governor never so much as thanked me. Instead, he wanted me to cut it more.

But once I got over my bruised ego, I realized there was a lot more I could do. My first impulse was to vow that not another drop of water would go down my drain, but I quickly came to my senses. There was no way I was going to try to recycle the water from my toilet.

I also decided to wait awhile before trying to recycle the water from the clothes washer. I've read that it can be done, but I still harbor painful memories of the day a washer flooded my basement. For now, I'd try to re-use every drop of water from my sinks and my bathtub.


The key is an intricate system of dishpans and buckets. One dishpan in my kitchen sink catches the water I use for washing vegetables, dishes or my hands. I can use some of the water twice, to wash vegetables first and then my hands. When the pan is full, I empty it into a large plastic bucket that I carry outside to water my garden.

This is the ballyhooed "gray water" that I use to water trees, shrubs and flowers. It's a bit soapy, but I don't use any cleaning chemicals, and I don't put it on fruit or vegetable plants.

I also catch the cold water that comes out while I'm waiting for hot water to appear, as well as the water I run first thing in the morning so the coffee water hasn't been sitting in the pipes all night.

Once I started saving it, I was amazed to see how much water I use, and how much I used to waste.

It's trickier in the bathroom. Since I can't fit a dishpan in that sink, I keep a saucepan handy to catch the cold water first. I dump that in a bucket to water my houseplants, and then wash in the warm water.

A friend does it a bit differently. He brushes his teeth with the cold water, and then when it's running warm, he washes his hands and face. But in either case, the end result is a sink full of warm soapy water, and I wasn't sure how to get it out of the sink to reuse it.

That's when I thought back to my high school physics class, and at my local hardware store, I bought a small, hand-operated "kerosene siphon" that works fine for water.

I place a bucket on the floor below the sink, insert one tube in the sink and one in the bucket, pump to get the water moving. Soon the sink is empty, and the bucket is full.

I have another bucket next to the bathtub, to catch water while warming it up for my shower. I plug the tub while showering and have a bucket next to me which catches some water, but there's still a lot in the tub afterward.

I can scoop some of it out with the saucepan, but, after that, I'm stuck. The tub is too low to the floor to use the siphon.

I take fewer showers and use the sink more for sponge baths, which a friend calls "washing the high spots." But now and then I have to take a real shower, and there's always some gray water left.

I doubt that anyone can solve that problem for me, but I welcome ideas from readers as to how they're re-using, recycling and reducing the use of water during this drought. Please call or write me at the address below, and I'll use your ideas in a future column.

Dennis Shaw is a former Herald-Mail editor. Write him at 12364 Harvey Road, Clear Spring, Md. 21722, or call 301-842-3863.

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