Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hydrophobia's new meaning: Fear of water use

Water, water everywhere … Are you feeling overwhelmed by watery problems? We are.

Where will Cambria get the extra water we all need? Will any of us be able to afford it?

How to use less of it so we don’t get clobbered by surcharges … and because conserving it is the right thing to do?

Not only is my work filled with stories about Cambria’s watery problems, so, it seems, is my life.

How long a shower can I afford this morning?

Is my ice-maker wasteful?

What about our water filtering system?

Should we turn our hot-water recirculating system off or leave it on? It supposedly uses less water when we try to get warmth out of the tap. But in the past, a couple of pipe seams have blown apart, and our plumber says that’s because of the constant heat and pressure in the pipes.

Of course, some water-conserving methods are no-brainers.

We leave our cars dirty or clean them at a car wash that recirculates the water.

We don’t wash down sidewalks or what little pavement we have.

We wash windows with a bucket and squeegee and save shower water in buckets for watering potted plants.

We avoid using the garbage disposal (maybe we’ll start donating our veggie waste to a neighbor’s composter).

We only wash full loads of anything.

We flush … oh, never mind.

Our house has a large yard (I won’t dignify it by calling it a garden) paved with African daisies that are, quite frankly, looking scruffy. We have a basic drip-irrigation system, but we use it rarely. Some plants have died from lack of water and attention.

So be it.

But when I start obsessing about other people wasting water in other towns, then I figure I’ve gone over the edge.

Recently in San Francisco, I saw a woman turn on the faucet in a public restroom, and then she left it running while she wandered away to get her child.

I almost went ballistic.

That said, mastering the art of water conserving in a public restroom is … tricky.

To prevent illness, public health folks urge us to wash our hands frequently, thoroughly. They say that, when we’re done, we must dry our hands, rather than using a blower which can recirculate germs, but we shouldn’t touch handles or buttons that others have touched.

Awkward, isn’t it?

I finally figured it out.

First, I pull off two sets of paper towels, and stick one under each armpit (probably not sanitary, but at least the germs there are MY germs. And fortunately, I’m fully clothed, because this is in public, right?).

At the sink, I turn on the water, dampen my hands and turn the water off.

I soap and lather my hands, silently singing the "Happy Birthday to me" song twice to make sure I’ve washed long enough. I take one paper towel from under my arm, use it to turn on the water long enough to rinse my hands and to turn off the water. I throw that towel away.

I use the other towel to dry my hands and open the restroom door, after which I fling the paper into a nearby (we hope) trash can.

Paper basketball is not my strong suit, so sometimes the plan falls apart there.

Of course, there are other problems … when blowers are the only hand-drying option, other than the slacks covering my own rump … when the restroom only has those awful, germ-filled cloth towels that go ‘round and ‘round in a metal container on the wall … when the paper-towel dispenser is empty.

And then there are the soap dispensers. I wish manufacturers would get together and decide where the soap is supposed to come out, in front or near the wall.

Unless I bend over and peer under the dispenser, I don’t know where to put my hand to catch the soap. And if I make the wrong choice, I wind up with soap on the floor or the sink … goo I have to clean up before I leave, which means I have to start over again because my hands aren’t clean any more.


The Purell and Handi-Wipes in my purse and car are looking better and better — and they don’t require water.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at

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