Pump Priming

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Economists used to use the phrase “prime the pump” to describe government stimulus spending to jump start economic growth. Back on the farm, if your pump dried out and you couldn’t get water from the well, it was probably because the leather seal in the pump had dried and shrunk. Then you couldn’t get a vacuum, which the pump needed to bring up water. So you primed your pump by pouring water in. This wet the leather and made it swell up.

See the analogy? To get  a lot of water out, first you have to put a little water in.

I used this analogy myself when I started teaching macro-economics in 1993. Then I realized my students had never lived on a farm, never seen a water pump, and didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. So much for the art of communication, especially when the subject is water. But this column isn’t about economics. I’ll come back and defend Obama’s stimulus plan some other day. This column is about our drought.

Hah! I’ll bet you didn’t even know we were in a drought. And to be perfectly honest, the jury is still out on the Great Drought of 2013. Still, surveyors in the Sierras just reported the snowpack is about half normal after the driest January-March since they started keeping records in 1895.

I suppose I could jump from here into a column about global warming, but I’ll let you do that on your own. Today, I’ll settle for talking about cutting water usage.
Last year I looked at my Newport Beach water bill and couldn’t believe we were using so much water. I called the Water Department and had them check my meter. Turns out we use a lot more water than we think.

Something good did come from the call. About 66% of our water goes for irrigation, and the City was offering to install a monitoring device on my garage roof that adjusts our water usage as the weather changes. During the winter, it helped reduce our water use to about 67% of the average for a house our size.

I don’t expect results that good in the dry season, but it shows there are ways we can cut water usage without compromising our lifestyles. The Water Department also helped cut inside usage with some faucet nozzles that reduce the flow rate in our sinks.

Now I get e-mails from the Water Department’s website (called watersmartnewport) which give me updates on usage and provide useful hints to reduce it.

For example, did you know a leaky toilet can waste 30-50 gallons of water per day? Want to know if you have a leaky toilet without blowing a couple hundred bucks on a plumber? Put some food dye in your toilet tank, don’t flush, wait about 10-15 minutes, and see if the water in the toilet bowl is changing color. Neat, huh? Just don’t use yellow dye. I discovered that can be misinterpreted by your significant other.

Even if we don’t have a drought, a few changes like these can save you money on your water bill. Meantime, pray for rain. After all, we do live in a desert.

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