Students showcase surprising way to save water

Students showcase surprising way to save water

Michele Ellson
Follow Charlie car wash

Eddie and Patty Walker wash their car during a May 17 fundraiser at the Follow Charlie Car Wash. Members of the Alameda Pirates youth football club were using special hoses and timers to limit water use. Photo by Dave Boitano.

Fresh water conservation efforts are occurring at a seemingly unlikely place: The local car wash.

Alameda High School’s seniors are hosting the second of two car washes this Saturday at the Follow Charlie Car Wash to raise money and also, to draw attention to what may be to some an unexpected method of saving water.

Using a regular garden hose to wash a car at home can use more than 100 gallons of water over 10 minutes, according to the Alameda Countywide Clean Water Program, which helped pair up fundraising groups with local car washes for the events. But the high-pressure wands at car washes like Follow Charlie use just 11 to 13 gallons of water during a three-minute cycle, the program wrote in a press release announcing the events.

Many commercial car washes recycle the water they use as well, further reducing water use, the program said in the release. And there’s a side benefit: Using a car wash eliminates the toxic runoff created when a car is cleaned in a street or driveway – runoff that ends up untreated in the sewers and ultimately, local waterways.

“We don’t want to put a damper on carwash fundraisers, but at the same time we need to protect our local creeks, wetlands and the bay from the toxic runoff these events typically create,” the program’s manager, Jim Scanlin, was quoted as saying in its release.

California is in the midst of what may be one of the state’s driest years on record, and officials from Governor Jerry Brown on down are urging everyone to use less water.

As of May 13, some 51 California water districts and cities had imposed mandatory restrictions on water use that have ranged from reducing overall use to restricting outdoor irrigation and runoff, according to the Association of California Water Agencies.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District – which includes Alameda – has asked customers to voluntarily reduce use by 10 percent. Instead of imposing mandatory restrictions, the water district has made its first-ever purchase of water from the Sacramento River. Its reservoirs contain 72 percent of the water they normally hold, and precipitation in the Mokelumne basin is just 55 percent of average, its website says.

The water district, which says it is better prepared to handle a severe drought during California’s last big drought, in the 1970s, says it can absorb the $8 million cost of Sacramento River water for May and June but that it will charge customers 14 percent more – about $6 a month – if additional water is needed later in the year.

Spokeswoman Andrea Pook said that over the roughly three months since the district’s board asked customers to voluntarily reduce water use, it has declined 11 percent from the amount tapped during the same months in 2013. Water use in May alone is 16 percent lower than it was in May of 2013, she said.

Here in Alameda, city staffers have offered plans for reducing water use, but the City Council hasn’t formalized water use restrictions for residents or by the city. Alameda Unified has sought to reduce water usage at its schools and facilities by 10 percent, according to a recent Earth Week report to the Board of Education. But between the 2009 and 2013 school years, the district’s water use rose by 18.37 percent, the report showed.

And some of The Alamedan’s readers questioned whether residents are taking the drought seriously, with some saying they’re seeing sidewalks sprinkled and sprayed and cars washed in driveways.

“In almost every morning run I still see sprinklers going off that are either completely malfunctioning or are aimed nonsensically at sidewalks, streets, dead grass,” Heather Holberton Little wrote on The Alamedan’s Facebook page.

Little said her family checked to make sure their sprinklers were functioning properly and have since restricted watering their yard.

“My apartment building just planted flowers & moss that need watering every day. I'm giving them a call to complain,” Facebook reader Carrie Lyn wrote.

“Alameda High has been pretty thoroughly watering the sidewalk on the Encinal side the last few mornings,” reader Ezra Denney wrote.

But others are working to conserve water. Reader Frank Martin said he’s long re-used “grey water” to nourish his garden, while others said they're conserving with fewer toilet flushes and shorter showers.

The Alameda Point Collaborative has saved a million gallons of water through a variety of methods, they said. The list includes more efficient irrigation, drought tolerant planting and a water catchment system for the Collaborative's farm.

At Follow Charlie, the Alameda Pirates youth football club showed off their water-saving ways at their May 17 fundraising event. The football club’s secretary, Cynthia Crutchfield, said club members participating in the event set a timer to limit water flow to three minutes – long enough to both wash and rinse a car.

“Having a timer is huge because you sit there and spray the car,” Crutchfield said.

Alameda High School’s fundraiser takes place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, May 31. Follow Charlie Car Wash is located at 1700 Everett Street.

Dave Boitano contributed reporting to this story. Additional water saving tips are here.


Submitted by Keith Nealy (not verified) on Sat, May 31, 2014

If EBMUD wants us to save water they could more directly relate water bills to water used. My last bill was for $78.58 and we used 5 units. We were charged $13.30 for the 5 units. The remaining $65.28 was for all the other stuff, -fixed charges that don't change with water use. If I reduced my water use by 20% I'd save $2.66.

If they rolled the other charges into the water use charge there would be much more of a financial incentive to save.