smart spending john ewoldt

Hydrophobia is the fear of water, but I suffer from a different phobia — fear of the lack of water. News of wildfires in California and drought in the Northwest, Montana and the Southeast fuel my unease, making me thankful for the abundance of rain, mostly gentle and unthreatening, that we've enjoyed this spring and summer in the Twin Cities.

"We are running a 3.57-inch surplus since June 1 and 1.32-inches above average since the beginning of 2015," said Paul Douglas, founder and senior meteorologist at AerisWeather.com. For the past several years rainfall dropped off the map in July and August, but Douglas doesn't see that happening this year.

I am grateful for these "million-dollar rains," as the Ortonville (Minn.) Independent used to call them in deference to its agricultural community, but it won't open the floodgates to my flinty, ecological water use. When I lived alone, I used only one unit of water many months of the year. When I moved to a different house five years ago, the first remodeling project was to replace an old water-guzzling commode that siphoned 6 gallons with every flush. The WaterSense model uses only 1.28 gallons. And let's just get this out of the way — my partner and I both adhere to the "yellow mellow" philosophy.

I understand how some might see folly in my habits, especially at a time when water is plentiful in our area. My front-loading washing machine has never cleaned anything but a full load. I place empty plastic jugs under the faucet as I run hot water in the kitchen sink before running the dishwasher. (It shortens the running time of the dishwasher, saving water.) I also never rinse dishes before loading.

I use the jug water to water plants and trees or pour it down rarely used drains to keep them clear. Same thing with boiling water for pasta, although sometimes I let old ice cubes melt in the kitchen sink followed by boiling water from a meal as a natural drain cleaner. A plumber gave me that tip.

But I'm no saint that California's tree-hugging, water-worshipping governor could use as a model. My showers are still a six-minute indulgence. (I timed them only in the interest of research for this article.) And here's the "revoke my green card" confession — I use a high-pressure Speakman shower head, with the water-saving O-ring removed (by me). Its fire-hose pressure makes me dread hotels with water-saving showerheads. I leave their showers feeling like soap scum. When the rain slows and drought warnings return, I'll curtail my six minutes of luxury to a two-minute military shower.

Recently, the headline "How farming changed my perspective on rain" caught my attention on the Opinion page. The author put it bluntly by writing, "Rain is life." That fact seems to be lost on many city dwellers. TV weathercasters apologize when rain is forecast. One local anchor described a day last month when rain was predicted as "a day that starts out with a smile that gradually turns into a frown."

Where does my fear of running out of water come from? Partly from my dad. He lives on a large corner lot with a big lawn kept green with automatic sprinklers. According to Consumer Reports, outdoor watering accounts for almost 30 percent of water use. Showers are 12 percent.

So it's not my dad's thrifty habits but rather his German heritage. A Wall Street Journal article last year said Germany's love of water conservation verges on overkill. The Germans use about 32 gallons of water per day, while the French and British use about 45 gallons, according to Europe's water-utility trade group. The average Minneapolis water customer puts about 70 gallons down the drain each day.

Apparently, there can be a dark side to this frugality. Deutschlanders' infrequent flushing of water-stingy toilets is causing sewage to stagnate in pipes. The noxious gas produced from the stagnation is corroding cement. Basements in Berlin are flooding because of the rising water table.

Some may be disgusted by a citizenry known for flushing toilets with old bath water and watering plants with water saved from a toothbrushing rinse. I admire their environmental consciousness, but I'm sure they'd consider my water-usage profligate by comparison. But at least those six-minute full-stream showers I take every other day help to keep Minneapolis' water and sewage pipes clog-free.