WATER: Learning To Live Within Limits

ON WATER ALONG THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL…
“You only drank this water, and you only took what you needed to get to the next water source. Other hikers were depending on this water too. The depth of gratitude I felt for that water, and other caches of water in similar areas along the trail, was something I’ll never forget.”

BY HAILEY MINTON

In 2019, I hiked just over 300 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in 18 days. As I was planning it, water was a constant concern, since I could only carry a couple of days’ worth of water on me at a time. Streams and man-made water sources are along the trail at pretty regular intervals during the spring, but there were some stretches that were very dry. Some amazing people, referred to as Trail Angels, provided water for those sections. They take jugs of water and cache them in specific places along the trail, monitor them, then refill them at their homes before bringing the jugs back. I can imagine that is no easy task.

I specifically remember descending into a hot dry valley with a long gradual slope ahead of me on the other side. Cacti were in bloom all around and the “river” on my map was nothing but a dry bed of sand and rocks. A road crossed over this riverbed, and under the bridge was a stash of probably 100 gallons of water. This water wasn’t for washing crusty sweat off your face. You only drank this water, and you only took what you needed to get to the next water source. Other hikers were depending on this water too. The depth of gratitude I felt for that water, and other caches of water in similar areas along the trail, was something I’ll never forget.

A WELCOME SIGHT FOR THIRSTY HIKERS…
People known as “trail angels” make sure hikers along the PCT have water to drink, especially during long dry stretches. Pictured here, under a bridge, is over 100 gallons of water provided by those angels.

The longest stretch between non-trail angel water sources that I passed through was over 50 miles, so I brought an emergency 1.25-gallon bag just in case those caches weren’t stocked. Water is heavy and 1.25 gallons of it weighs just over 10 lbs. I practiced hiking with it before I set out for the trip, and I remember my knees throbbing after hiking roughly eight miles with it. Extra weight makes a big difference, especially over long distances. I had an app that allowed hikers ahead of me to post how much water was left at the different caches. I was very grateful when I topped off my normal four liters at the last source, knowing I wouldn’t have to punish my feet and joints unnecessarily to make it through. The feeling of needing to conserve water at these water caches was visceral because I could literally see how much was left.

Our city’s public works are like our trail angels for day-to-day life. We have the infrastructure to ease our access to water, but that can make it easier to be apathetic stewards. According to statista.com, our per-capita water use by Utah residents is ranked second highest in the nation, coming in at 169 gallons of water per person per day. That’s a bit of a problem, considering our state is the second driest in the nation. On March 17, Gov. Spencer J. Cox issued the executive order declaring Utah in a state of emergency due to drought. He said we need at least 30% more snowpack in the mountains before it starts to melt, and there’s a 10% chance of that happening. Also, low levels of soil moisture mean more runoff will absorb into the soil instead of filling our reservoirs. 2020 was an abnormally dry and hot year for Utah, and the effects are carrying over to 2021. Of all the times to be more waterwise, this is the year to make changes.

Succulents seem to have figured out how to use water effectively.

In July of 2017, my husband had an internship in Cape Town, South Africa, where there is a pervasive culture of water conservation. Yards that once had grass were beyond dead, and residents followed the mantra “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” when using the toilet. He told me about when he hiked up Lion’s Head where he could overlook the city and saw the water reservoirs that were very low. The following January, the city of Cape Town limited households to nearly 23 gallons per day. That’s quite a difference between 23 gallons per household and 169 gallons per person in a Utah household. Our water conservation isn’t as urgent as Cape Town’s was and is, but we can certainly change our habits for the better.

Based on my experience, water is always there when I turn on the tap, regardless of how careless I can be with it. I’ll admit it, it’s hard to give up convenience or comfort to make (what I see as) an insignificant difference in saving water. However, there are a lot of things we can do to conserve water that don’t affect either of those two things. It’s just a matter of forming habits and keeping water conservation in the forefront of our minds. It would certainly be easier to stay motivated to conserve it if we could see our water flowing away like I could see it with those jugs under the bridge on the PCT.

WHAT CAN YOU INCORPORATE INTO YOUR LIFESTYLE TO CONSERVE WATER?

• Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator instead of under running hot water.
Shorten showers, if even by a minute. This can save 1,875 gallons per year according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Fix the leaky faucets or toilets. One way to check for leaks is by checking your water meter when everyone in your home is in bed. If the meter is ticking, then you know you have a sneaky leak somewhere.
Use the same glass for drinking water all day. Pick a place where you always stash your cup or find ways to distinguish cups among family members. You can use rubber bands, sticky bookmarks, or something else creative.
Wash laundry and run the dishwasher only when you can wash full loads. Also, keep in mind you don’t need to launder every piece of clothing you wear every time you wear it.
Use drip systems to water your garden or outdoor plants. Also, water during the cool times of the day. Early morning is better than dusk, since it helps prevent the growth of fungus.
• Everyone has probably heard of the idea of turning the water off while you brush your teeth, but the same can apply to scrubbing and rinsing vegetables. Scrub them in a bowl or a sink of clean water and give them a final rinse when you’re done.
• Repurpose cooking water to hydrate plants.

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