Rivers of Thought

Life, Leadership, Business & Technology

Since I wrote about receiving a Kill-A-Watt for Christmas last year (see blog post “Kill-A-What?”) I have been bombarded with a slew of inquiries about our progress. (OK, really, one guy asked! But I didn’t even know he was a reader, so it was still cool. Thanks Mark!)

You may recall that I was driving my wife crazy by plugging in the Kill-A-Watt, seeing how much power the device was “stealing”, and then shutting it off. We now have power strips all over the house. In that way we can shut off things like the TV, but leave the cable box with the DVR powered up so we don’t miss Lost; or I can power down my home office but leave the printer and the print server active (yes I AM a geek and we have a home network with more computers than people!). We learned (uh, I learned) don’t shut the power off to the cable box in the bedroom, it takes 10 minutes to reboot and by the time its ready, Letterman is done with his monologue.

So how are we doing? Over the last three months we have reduced our monthly kilowatt usage by almost 17% when compared against the average of the last four years (weather corrected, of course). That’s pretty good, I think. It equates to about a 12% reduction in our bills. Rates have gone up. Oh, wait, let me correct that. Rates have not gone up (they are quite proud of that) but a bunch of extra fees have been added on top of the rates.

My goal was to reach 20% so that we would offset the 20% surcharge we pay to have 100% Green Energy. While I haven’t quite made it to that level yet, it is in reach. I think wrapping the main heat duct in the basement (it’s the warmest room in the house) and wrapping the hot water pipes might push us over the top.

Meanwhile, its spring and my mind has turned to our yard and yard work. I recently purchased a (used) Neuton Lawnmower. The Neuton is a battery powered mower…no gas and MUCH quieter. It even comes with a trimmer attachment, so theoretically I will be able to do my entire yard without burning any gas and for pennies in electricity. I can’t wait to get out and do the first mow. (However, as I write this it is 40 degrees and yesterday it snowed! Maybe by the weekend!

Other yard projects include a small wildlife habitat, complete with native grasses, plants and shrubs and my wife’s favorite…ground cover for some little critters (maybe those chipmunks will move out from under the deck)! In the meantime, it’s more topsoil and mulch than I care to think about at the moment.

Final touches for this year, includes a couple of rain barrels (if approved by the HOA) and perhaps a couple bald cypress trees.

I will let you know how it goes…but you know, if you aren’t doing anything a couple Saturdays from now…beer and burgers at my place…did I mention that top soil and mulch?

Another Earth Hour has come and gone. Did you observe it? I have to admit, this was the first year that I participated.  What? You aren’t familiar with Earth Hour? Shame on you! That must mean you are not a reader of my Rivers of Change Action Alerts J. What? You don’t receive Rivers of Change Action Alerts? If you would like to be included in the email list either post a comment here or shoot me an email.

Ok, enough of the shameless promotion of Rivers of Change, back to Earth Hour. If you observed Earth Hour, please add a comment to the post describing how you passed the hour. If you did not observe it, I would love to hear from you as well…was it because you didn’t know about it, were you at work, or was the NCAA game on TV just too mesmerizing to remember to shut off your lights?

As for us, as I said, this was our first year. The first task for the day, was to identify which circuit breaker would shut off our outside carriage lights (shhh, don’t tell the HOA police). While doing this, I made a couple of interesting discoveries. First, electricians have pretty crappy handwriting. (At least the one that installed our breaker box and identified the breakers did) Second, I really DO need my glasses to read anything. Third, even with my glasses on the print was too small read. So I did what any helpless male would do. I asked my wife to read it for me. Excellent , breaker 25.

That evening, as it neared time for the appointed hour, I turned off the Pitt/Villanova game, started a fire in the fireplace and uncorked a bottom of wine (sorry Laurent, it was California wine) while my wife lit several candles around the house. At about 8:25 a huge thunderstorm hit. (Wouldn’t be ironic to have a power outage right about now?). I dashed out to unplug our garden lights and to trip breaker 25. Oops, not the right one. I don’t know what I turned off, but it was NOT the carriage lights. Frantic now to get the lights off (after all, I had to go dark, I had sent out the Rivers of Change alert to hundreds of people, I couldn’t leave my lights on!) I dashed back in the house and yelled for my wife. Thinking the only thing that would cause me to get so agitated was an impending tornado, a serious injury or a Dolphins loss she came running. Throwing caution to the wind, she calmly flipped breaker 27 and the carriage lights went out. (Damn, now why didn’t I think of that!)

So now, it was dark and just in time, too! The lights were off, the candles were lit, we had a roaring fire in the fireplace and a nice bottle of Pinot Noir and we cozied down in the family room to…

Play The Lewis and Clark Board Game, of course! What were YOU thinking? Yes, there really IS a Lewis and Clark Board Game and YES, we really played it! In fact, at the end of the hour, we were not finished with our game, so we continued until my wife won AGAIN (she happens to be undefeated in that particular game). So for us, our Earth Hour was actually two.

You’ve now heard about my Earth Hour, now tell me about yours. I’m willing to bet you did not play The Lewis and Clark Board Game!

Your “crime”? Installing a RAIN BARREL and CATCHING RAIN WATER!

Yes, believe it or not, in some states rain harvesting (through rain barrels, cisterns, or other means) is illegal! A recent example was reported in the LA Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-contested-rainwater18-2009mar18,0,5585599.story?track=rss) by Nicholas Riccardi, reporting from Denver.

Many states sell the rights to bodies of water such as lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, however in some western states they take it to a whole new level. Their claims can actually extend to water BEFORE it enters the lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. In fact, Riccardi’s article Dough Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress as saying, “If you try to collect rainwater, well, that water really belongs to someone else.”

Now let’s think about this for a minute. I can’t use the water that falls on my property? So in this line of thinking, I should not be allowed to have plants of any sort on my property, even grass. That would actually use some of this rain water that falls on my property, wouldn’t it? And wouldn’t having barren soil allow more of it to run into the rivers and streams (forget about erosion for a minute). What about the rain that falls on my land and then evaporates? Can I be arrested because I failed to stop the evaporation? Or what if my dog drinks from a puddle of rainwater, can he be thrown in the pound? What’s next? The air we breathe? The sunlight?

So, what are these criminals in Colorado trying to do by stealing this water? For one thing, they are trying to reduce the amount of potable water they use on a daily basis; which would reduce the amount used by the cities and municipalities in Colorado; which in turn would reduce the amount of water taken from the rivers and streams and lakes and ponds; which in turn would leave more water for those with the so-called “water rights”. I don’t get the logic! What do these crooks do with the water they are “stealing”? Gosh, they use it to water their gardens, water their flowers, and in some cases wash their cars. Doesn’t that water end up in the ground anyway? It serves to reduce storm water run-off, thereby reducing erosion, reducing the need for storm sewer infrastructure, and allowing the earth to filter the water before it enters the rivers and streams. Actually sounds helpful to capture rainwater rather than criminal, doesn’t it?

Where were these guys when we dammed up the Colorado River (I know it’s not in Colorado) to provide water to Las Vegas and Los Angeles? The Colorado River doesn’t even flow all the way to the ocean anymore. Many Mexican farmers have been forced to either move or starve because there is not enough water flowing to grow their food.

How did these laws come to be in the first place? Remember the west of the movies, dry desert for miles and miles? These laws were created because of the lack of clean, usable water. You’ve heard the saying “Water is the next oil?” OPEC will be replaced by WPEC. I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs about lawsuits between states over water rights. It seems incomprehensible that on a planet mostly covered with water that we would face this problem doesn’t it? Do you think anyone 50 years ago would have thought we would be running out of oil?

Few deny the fact of global warming, there may be those that argue about its cause, but global warming is a fact. This will serve to create more stress on our already stressed water systems. You only have to look toward the southeastern United States to see the impacts of a prolonged drought. Or, look to the “bathtub” ring around “Lake” Mead in the Southwest. Vegas could run out of water, not in 200 or 100 or even 50 years, but in a matter of decades.

This is a systemic problem. Just as with the aging power grid, or the issues of dependency on oil, this is not going to be solved without an integrated approach. Government, business, and the individual are going to have to work together to change the way we live and the way we use the resources of the planet. Until recently I had never really thought about what happens to the water as it leaves my property. When I fertilize my yard, where do those chemicals go? When I let my car drip oil on my driveway, where does it end up? We all need to think about it and more than think about, we need to use that knowledge to change our behaviors.

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