Don't throw money down the drain

This measures how much rainfall hit the writer's house. You can get one from the South Florida Water Management District.
This measures how much rainfall hit the writer's house. You can get one from the South Florida Water Management District.

Last week, my rain gauge recorded more than 3 inches of rain in my Lower Keys yard. Finally, we got rain. My plants soaked it up and they look vibrant again.

My two rain barrels are now overflowing and I wish I had a third. Despite this, I continue to have water woes. The problem is the water we use inside the house.

I admit I can be a bit obsessive about not wasting water. Every month I review our water bill and look at the past 12 months on the little graph that is printed on the bill. From last May to October, we averaged 2,500 gallons of water per month. Then suddenly it jumped in November to 3,500 gallons.

There are only two of us in the house and we do the same things every month. We did have house guests and it was the holiday season, so I put my concerns aside even when December's bill read 3,500 gallons again. However the last straw was when January's bill showed 4,100 gallons.

Turns out we had a faulty toilet that would start running intermittently and it was getting worse. Even though it's a low-flow (1.6 gallons per flush) toilet, the wasted water almost doubled our normal water use. My husband fixed it and our water use dropped down to an average of 2,800 gallons a month.

I count myself lucky to live in the Keys. Many people visit and would love to live here, too. The climate is great, there is lots of natural beauty and it is home to the only living barrier coral reef ecosystem in the continental United States.

However, coral reefs are very fragile and sensitive to stresses such as water pollution from runoff and groundwater seepage. Studies have shown that all is not well in the marine environment and increases in bacteria and nutrient levels in the canals and offshore waters have been attributed to septic tanks and cesspits commonly used throughout the Keys.

That is why I am pleased that plans can proceed with the Cudjoe Regional centralized wastewater system and treatment plant, which will eliminate thousands of septic systems and cesspits.

I know this comes with a cost and there is concern about how much each homeowner has to bear in the initial setup and the monthly costs. But in my mind, the bigger cost is losing the coral reef and, consequently, many people's livelihoods to pollution. So this is why I am reviewing our water use.

We pay for the water coming in; we don't pay for it leaving. That will happen when we connect to the central sewer system. This could double our bills. That has motivated my husband and I to look at our future use.

At the moment, I use the water in one rain barrel to water plants and rinse yard tools. We have a sump pump to use in the second barrel and the plan is to use this water to wash down his boat and diving equipment. We are looking to replace the once-faulty toilet with an even lower-flow model so less is used and less will be disposed of. Any hand washing of dishes will be done in a bowl and the remaining water will go onto plants on the porch.

These and other changes will reduce our use. Water conservation is a good practice -- it takes a lot of resources to supply potable water and as my friends know, I hate throwing money down the drain.

  • Shirley Gun is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education. She writes about green living and the four Rs -- reducing, reusing, recycling and rot (composting). She can be reached at
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