Water Saving Best Practices

Types of water

We have a few types of water around here, and you have to get used to the difference.

Potable Water
This is water you can drink. We get it in sealed, sterilized containers. Drinkable water is *never* on tap here. We have made it impossible to accidentally leave the tap running. You always have to manually pump something to get a little bit of drinkable water, which serves to make everyone very aware of just how much drinkable water they are using. It's our most expensive and important resource. We use it for drinking and we use it for cooking. And that's it.

Non-Potable Fresh Water
We keep a tank of fresh water around, and it's arguably drinkable at the time we get it, but it sits in tanks that we do not meticulously sanitize, and it passes through hoses and connectors that we do not meticulously sanitize, and so we consider this water undrinkable because we cannot assure its safety. So don't drink it. You can get Legionnaires' Disease, and you don't want that.  

We try to keep about 200 gallons of fresh water on site at all times. When we run out, we have to take barrels and fill them up with more, and then pump it into our IBC (a portable, pallet-sized water tank), and this is a lot of work for everyone. Everyone takes turns running this errand, as part of our required maintenance tasks. If you've ever wanted to stop taking for granted how much water you use, live in a place where every drop you use you had to work for. You'll start to take water conservation very, very seriously.

All of the faucets and taps that are plumbed at Buspatch (whether by automated pump, like in our bathroom trailer, or by manual pump, like at our utility sink) are for fresh water. Drinking water is never on tap. Never drink water that comes out of a tap. This water is for cleaning.

Grey Water
Water that's been used to wash hands, wash things, wash dishes, or for showers is called grey water. Our shower water is separate from our black water, so this means no peeing in the shower. Our greywater gets serviced once per week, which entails paying a company to come and drain our greywater tank.

It's absolutely illegal (and horrible for the environment) to dump harsh chemicals into our greywater. If you're unsure about what products are ok to clean with, or what to do with oils or paints, don't put it in the greywater! The recology website has a "whatbin?" search where you can learn what to do with these sorts of chemicals to dispose of them properly in San Francisco. Wherever you live, you should figure out the rules in your city. There is no excuse for not knowing.

Black Water
Toilet water. We get our black water serviced twice per week, by a company that comes and drains our tank. We try not to mix black water with grey water to reduce the amount of stagnant water in our black water, thus reducing the odour. 

How to save water & reduce waste water

Every drop counts.

How to save water while showering

  • Low flow showerhead.
If you go out shopping for a low flow showerhead, you'll find something in the 1.5-2.5 gallon per minute range. This is... not good enough. We have two showerheads, one is 1.5 gpm, and the other is 0.5 gpm. If you use the 0.5gpm one, you can take a shower 3 times as long while using the same amount of water. We keep the 1.5gpm one around for folks with long hair to be able to get all the suds out.
  • Turn off the water while you're lathering
This sounds extreme but you'll get so used to it that you'll start to think it's shameful anyone showers any other way. Turn on the shower and wet yourself. Turn it off, and soap up. Then turn it on and rinse off the soap quickly. This will save an incredible amount of water. If you think you'll be too cold, switch your routine so you shower during the warm parts of the day instead of when it's cold.
  • Time your shower
Be aware of how long your shower is taking. Start a timer when you turn on the water. Stop it when you turn the water off. Calculate how many gallons you used.
  • Save the not-hot-yet water
Put a bucket in the shower while you're waiting for the water to warm up, and use the water you catch for watering plants or cleaning.
  • Have a sponge bath
Add warm water into a basin, dip a sponge or washcloth into it, soap up the sponge and then wash over your body. Rinse the soap off of the sponge (put clean water on the sponge) and use the sponge to rinse the soap off yourself. It works just as well as a shower to remove dirt and germs.
  • Only wash that which is dirty
For example… got smelly feet? Just wash them in a bowl. Same for cuts or scratches.
  • Save water by showering together
Not for everyone, but double the fun for some. This brings us to our policies on sex...
  • Shower less frequently
Shower at work, at a friend's house, at a lover's house, at a Tinder date's house, at a gym. It doesn't save water globally, but it saves on the amount of water you have to haul back to Buspatch.
  • Or, don't shower at all.
Not *never*, but maybe less frequently than you're used to. Use baby wipes, which can do a surprisingly good job without any water.

Saving water while washing dishes

There are lots of ways to do dishes while camping. Here's our way:

1. Clean Plate

Making the right amount of food and finishing everything on your plate makes washing dishes a lot easier. Serve only as much as you can eat. Go back for seconds if you need to.

2. Prep Dishes

When you are finished with your meal, remove as much food from your dishes as possible. The more food (and sauce) you can scrape into the compost, the easier it will be to clean the dishes. Use utensils or a single sheet of paper towel to clean your plate as much as possible before putting it the queue to get washed.

3. The four basin system

  • Scrape Basin
One last chance to get all the food residue off your dishes. Use a sponge. Go to town. Don't advance to the next bin until you can not see any more food anywhere on the dish.

  • Wash Basin
There should be no food at all in this basin, just soapy water. Wash the dish thoroughly with soap! This is actually cleaning the dish, not just visibly removing food. Once you're sure you cleaned the whole dish, shake any soapy water back into the basin.

  • Rinse Basin
When the dishes come out of the wash basin, they get dunked in the rinse basin water here. There should never be food in this bin, or you majorly screwed up. This basin is simply for getting all the soap off. After this rinse phase, the plates should be completely free of soap.

  • Sanitize Basin
Dishes coming out of the rinse basin should get a brief soak in this sanitizing bucket. We use 1tsp bleach per gallon of water. The bleach water will ensure it is completely disinfected. This step is especially important if at any point your cookware, cutting boards, knives, etc came in contact with raw meat, or any potential allergens. Soak for about 1-2 minutes, then immediately shake off the dishes so the drip back into the basin, then move the dishes to the clean dish bin and transport inside. NOTE: as bleach evaporates, every time you sanitize dishes you need to check if there's enough bleach in the water and add more to compensate for evaporation.

4. Air dry

The dishes need to air dry to let all the bleach evaporate before they are food safe again. We do this inside so that they don't get dusty while drying. Using a towel to dry is not sanitary, as the towels can harbour bacteria.

5. Changing the dish water

1-2 times per week (as needed, and/or right before our greywater is serviced) we change the dishwater in the Scrape Basin. We add the contents to our greywater tank, then thoroughly clean and disinfect the bin, then replace it with fresh water and bleach, then slide the other three bins down (so the former Wash Basin becomes the new Scrape Basin, the former Rinse Basin becomes the new Wash Basin -add soap!- and the former Sanitize Basin becomes the new Rinse Basin).

This system uses 5-10 gallons of water per week to sustain an entire community's dishes, three meals a day.