Every Drop Counts

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

Needless to say, these past few weeks have been extraordinarily hot. Aside from making people uncomfortable and impacting people’s health, the heat and everything surrounding it is starting to affect the state’s water supply. We need to start thinking about conserving water.

In late July, seven counties in New Jersey—Ocean, Monmouth, Mercer, Hunterdon, Middlesex Somerset, and Union counties—were placed on water restrictions in response to the heat waves and the ongoing impacts on the water supply in those parts of the state. Now things have progressed to the point where the entire state is being asked to consider its water usage.

As of the second week in August, New Jersey was placed on a “drought watch.” I’m guessing this is the climate change version of a hurricane watch or a thunderstorm watch. Just as these weather watches mean that conditions are ripe for some type of weather event, the drought watch means that we’re not too many days or weeks away from tighter restrictions and beyond that, perhaps hardship.

The drought watch is step one in the process alerting us to the situation and asking that we not be careless or thoughtless when it comes to water. This may be as simple as cutting back the amount of time and the amount of water used to keep our yards green. The same holds true for washing cars and doing any number of outdoor things involving water around homes.

The drought watch is basically asking us to recognize that water is not a limitless or infinite resource and to make deliberate decisions in the direction of using less water at this time. This is the government’s way of asking “pretty please” and it begs the question of what happens if we don’t conserve voluntarily. In that case, things will move to the next level, which means a drought warning.

At this point, the “pretty please” of the watch becomes an order to reduce usage and the thinking of officials will shift to managing water supplies and planning exactly what conservation measures will be rolled out if things move to an emergency. Once things get to the emergency stage, restrictions will be mandatory with the force of law behind it.

At this stage, it’s not “all or nothing.” For example, homeowners can still water their lawns and gardens but instead of using water out of a spigot, they use water collected in a rain barrel. The easiest way to do this is to run downspouts into the rain barrel for later use.

Another measure to help conserve water is to use what farmers call “drip-irrigation” or “micro-sprays” as opposed to sprinklers and spigots shooting water everywhere. This type of watering is targeted watering, working to ensure that for every drop landing on the intended target we’re not wasting 10 drops on a sidewalk or walkway.

As far as lawns go, raise up the blade and let the grass remain taller as this will let the lawn hold water far more effectively than if the lawn gets a crewcut. With a little more length to it, lawns will do fine with one inch of water per week.

For those with swimming pools, the suggestion is to use a water-saving filter and to cover the pool when not in use as a way to lower the rate of evaporation. The other thing to avoid on the recreation side are those outdoor toys that require being hooked up to the hose.

In terms of our water supply, we have been fortunate and lucky. Now it’s time to be thoughtful and deliberate in our usage.

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