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Water Conservationist : A Flood of Ideas Helps Woman Win Contest

August 30, 1987|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

As a child in Alabama in the 1940s, Lois Haynes learned what it means to be short of water. There was a drought, and her family's water supply--a usually reliable spring--was reduced to a muddy puddle full of frogs.

"I was about 7 then," she said the other day, "and one of my chores was to take my little bucket and walk two miles to a neighbor's to ask for water. Sometimes they couldn't spare any, so we had to drink from that puddle. It tasted awful."

So last year, when the Dominguez Water Corp., which supplies water in her Carson neighborhood, announced a "Wise Water Use" contest, Haynes just naturally jumped in and started conserving. She reduced her usage by 76%, compared to the previous year, winning first place and setting a record in the water conservation promotions the company has been running since 1974. More than 1,700 Dominguez customers participated.

The prize is a $1,000 "smart garden" that Dominguez will plant in Haynes' front yard next month, when the summer heat lets up a bit. Dominguez Vice President Michael Moynahan said the garden will consist of plants, such as bougainvillea, bird of paradise, statice and kalanchoe, that need 50% less water than those seen in most gardens.

Haynes' close rival in last year's contest was Joe E. Love of Carson, who reduced his consumption by 72%. He received a $200 gift certificate redeemable at a local nursery.

Moynahan said the example set by the winners is particularly timely, since experts in the water industry believe that the state may be headed into another drought period next year.

"California droughts appear to run in 10-year cycles, and the climatic conditions now are similar to those that produced the 1976-77 shortage," he said. "The snow and rainfall were substantially lower than normal last winter, and if that condition is repeated this winter, we could face cutbacks and even rationing in the summer of 1988."

Moynahan said it may seem strange that Dominguez, a private firm that retails water to about 30,000 customers in the South Bay, persistently tries to get people to use less of its one and only product.

"But we've always felt that we have a responsibility to promote conservation," he said. "If people in Southern California take an abundance of water for granted, then we may all have to face the long-term consequences in terms of shortages."

In the contest now getting under way, the first prize will be doubled to a $2,000 garden, and Haynes, a registered nurse at Dr. Martin Luther King Hospital in Los Angeles, said she is going for the top award again--even though it might seem impossible to reduce her water usage by anything like another 76%.

She is undaunted by the challenge. She pointed out that her son and his wife lived with her for part of the six-month contest period last time and that she also was the host for a big family reunion. She won in spite of all the water those guests used, she pointed out.

But now her sister has moved in.

Here are some conservation tips, which Haynes said she was glad to share with other contestants and anybody else who wants to save water:

Showers: Run just enough water to get wet, turn it off, soap up thoroughly, then run enough to rinse off. And don't waste water while you're waiting for it to heat up; collect it in a container and use it later, to water plants or store for emergencies.

Brushing teeth: Use a cup. Don't let all that water run down the drain.

Washing clothes and dishes: Do it only when you've accumulated a full load.

Cleaning driveways: Use a broom, not the hose.

Watering lawns: More than half the water used by residential customers goes on gardens and grass, the Dominguez people say. So Haynes waters sparingly. And she washes her car and dog on the lawn, so the grass benefits.

Leaks: Fix them quickly. In the meantime, collect the drips in a pail.

Flushing toilets: Don't do it every time.

"Hey, I've barely started to find ways to cut back," Haynes said.

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