Years ago the husband of one of my best friends started bringing a bucket with him into the shower. He was thinking of his thirsty plants, or perhaps his water bill. After he toweled off, he would trot the bucket outside to his backyard and water his shrubs. I used to think he was crazy. Certifiable. Nuts. Not completely of course (he is a really nice and smart guy), but in this area, yep, off the charts.
Now, however, I’m rethinking my harsh judgement. Here in Austin, it’s been hovering around 100 degrees since school let out, which is my definition of the beginning of summer, and it’s showing no signs of letting up. At July’s halfway point, I’d say we’ve got another 6 weeks of this coming, easy. This is NOT NORMAL. Our summers do get hot, definitely. But usually our 100+ degree days are confined to about three weeks in late July and early August. They’re brutal, yes, but as every Austinite will tell you, stay indoors unless you’re headed to Barton Springs and you’ll be fine. But a whole summer this hot? Unheard of.
To make matters worse, we’re in a record-setting drought, with phrases like “the worst since 1895” flying around. President Obama just signed a major disaster declaration for our area and others around Texas, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared the whole state a natural disaster area. Newspapers are tracking down old farmers to recall working through Texas’s epic six-year “drought on record” of the 1950s, and some of the old timers are saying that this year, it’s actually worse.
Sure, we’re used to no rain. That’s why most of our grass goes dormant near the end of every summer, done in by the heat and lack of precipitation. But to have almost no rain all year? This is a different climate altogether. If this is our new reality, we need to trade in our front yards of turf for the rock lawns of Las Vegas and our shrubs and perennials for Arizona’s succulent gardens.
Poor Lake Travis is only half full. The Sometimes Islands, rocky scrubs of islands that surface only when lake levels are low, are so exposed that they’ve morphed into a peninsula. And our mandatory watering schedule, punishable by a $500 fine, is so strict that you have to schedule your life around it. Drought-induced sadness peaked two weeks ago when Austin’s Fourth of July fireworks were canceled due to the fire risk. All in all, things are pretty bad.
Which brings me to the bucket.
A few weeks ago, I watched as my hand poured three children’s cups of undrunk nighttime water down the drain and realized what a waste this was. Perfectly good water, down the drain, when it could be helping out the wilted angel’s trumpet we call Baby Isabella, or our sad handful of vegetable and herb plants barely clinging to life in our back bed. So I stuck a large mason’s jar on my counter and started collecting water throughout the day. When it gets full, I send a kid outside to water a plant (although I have to water Baby Isabella myself—she’s toxic, poor girl).
Next I noticed how much water actually fits in my pasta pot—a lot. After boiling our capellini, it’s got some starch in it, but otherwise it’s perfectly good water, right? So I’ve taken to lugging my cooled pasta pots outside to dump at the base of our trees, frightened as I am by stories of 100-year-old live oaks falling over from the drought.
And so of course, it was only a matter of time before I thought of my friend’s husband, and his bucket, and realized he’d been right all along. That extra water splashing off my head to circle down into the drain without doing anyone or anything a drop of good is a huge waste. And how hard is it to carry a bucket outside and turn it over every now and then?
Of course, our town is going to need a whole lot more than a couple of bucketfuls of shower water to fix this problem. But I’m not in charge of the clouds. Myself, I’m thinking it’s time to start building canals. If all the rain’s going to fall on the North, then why not just employ all the unemployed to dig a bunch of canals to water the fields down here? There is the minor problem of our government having no money to pay all these unemployed canal diggers. Maybe if we could just get Exxon to pay their taxes. My husband says there are a few more issues with my plan, but my hair stylist thinks it’s genius. Ah, if only all the world’s problems could be solved from the hair salon.
© Amy Daniewicz