Drop by drop, Vivian Zoe saves water
The child of German refugees who survived a concentration camp and the Holocaust, Vivian Zoe grew up wasting nothing. Her parents grew their own food and saved and reused what they could, instilling a mindset she follows today.
"I'm sure as a kid I was much less aware of it, but it sort of sinked in without me even knowing," Zoe said.
Zoe, who lives in Ledyard, attempts not to waste natural resources within her home — starting with water.
Water is the first thing you notice upon stepping into Zoe's kitchen, which boosts river views.
"It's great to watch the wildlife," Zoe said. "In the summer, it's very enclosed and shady and you can't see the river but in the winter it opens all up. I've been watching an osprey hunt all morning."
The second thing you notice is the plants that line Zoe’s kitchen windowsill. They're simply a few of the numerous plants she has indoors and out, and one of the reasons she collects water that many wouldn't think twice about sending down the drain.
She saves both water from her shower and also, depending on the type of rinse and soap she's using, water from washing fruit and vegetables.
While outfitting homes with rain barrels that collect rainwater from downspouts for gardening or car washing has become increasingly popular, rain barrels only work if there is rain. In recent years, more and more places, including in southeastern Connecticut, have seen droughts. Zoe uses the water she collects primarily from the shower to give her houseplants, outdoor perennials and shrubs a drink.
"I tell people about it and they think I'm nuts," Zoe said, adding that she recalls reading an article many years ago about how the next wars will not be about borders but will be about water and thinking then we need to conserve.
Shower buckets have long been common in parts of the world where water is scarce. People, like Zoe, use them to collect clean water from the shower for use around the house such as to water plants, wash muddy boots, and refill a birdbath. The trickiest part is often not spilling the water when you’re taking the bucket out of the shower.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average shower, which lasts about eight minutes, uses a little more than 16 gallons of water. That translates to more than one trillion gallons of water used yearly in the U.S. for showering.
More than simply conserving water, though, Zoe chooses plants based partly on how much water they will need to thrive.
"I planted catmint, which is resistant to drought, resistant to cold and heat and the deer don't like them," Zoe said. "It's always a work in progress though. The curve of my driveway used to be all hostas but together with the drought and the deer they got decimated this year. I dug them all up and planted them in the back where it will be shadier."
When necessary, Zoe will also ration water for her plants.
"You need not water your lawn," Zoe wrote on a post about water conservation tips on NextDoor where I first met her. "It will always come back. It's your shrubs, trees and some perennials."
Water and climate change are inextricably intertwined, but while news about droughts, changes in precipitation and sea level rise tend to steal headlines, water use also exacerbates the climate crisis. It takes energy to move, treat and use water, and that energy is responsible for more than 5 percent of the U.S.'s overall carbon emissions every year, according to research by BBC Future.
According to the EPA, a faucet that runs warm water for about five minutes uses about as much energy as a 60-watt light bulb in 14 hours. Water and greenhouse gas-producing electricity are also incredibly linked. That's in part because water is used to cool power plants. According to the EPA, it takes up to 6,000 gallons of water to power one light bulb 12 hours a day for a year.
‘Faith in the youth of this world’
When she bought her home six years ago, Zoe wanted to divest from fossil fuels entirely.
"Everything I do, I think about not only for the environment but also for my pocketbook," Zoe said.
She took advantage of some of the state programs and rebates around green energy and energy efficiency, spending a year doing a gut rehab of her home. Walls came out, the oil-burning furnace, which was leaking, was removed, and mini splits, a heat pump water heater and solar panels were added.
"I didn't want any fossil fuels," said Zoe. "I'd have to be an idiot to need new heating and cooling and decide I was going to have natural gas or oil, if I could afford to get rid of them."
Despite growing up in a household that saved and reused as much as possible, Zoe is quick to point out that much of what she does, whether it be the plants she places in her garden or the water she tries to save, are things she's still learning to do and constantly evolving.
"I have tremendous faith in the youth of this world and fingers crossed that they will keep at it and not give up and not let the adults who have mucked things get away with it and continue to ignore them and push them aside," Zoe said.
5 tips for conserving water
1. Use a shower bucket, a container in your shower, where you can collect clean water; you don't want to get soap or shampoo in it unless you're sure the chemicals in your soap and shampoo won't hurt your plants.
2. Try shaving a minute or three off your shower.
3. Stop watering your lawn.
4. Only wash full loads of laundry and use cold water.
5. Install a rain barrel on your downspout.
What changes - big or small - have you made to reduce your carbon footprint? Post in the comments of this article on theday.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.