The Easiest Way to Deal with Drought


Water Tank Similar to My Intended

A Similar Tank

Panama is at the beginning of what promises to become a serious drought. The rains were late arriving this year, and they are sparse. In the Azuero everything is usually green, full and lush beyond belief by August, but this year the grass is slightly yellowed the way it usually gets at the beginning of the dry season, the trees are being conservative, and crops are almost stunted. It’s hotter than usual, too, because we don’t have our accustomed rainy season frequent cloud cover to shield the land from the fierce tropical sun.

Water Rationing Again

Peña Blanca is back on water rationing once again. Households have running water from 5am to 8am and then again from 5pm to 8pm. Gracias a Dios, my landlady tells me, it’s because the pueblo bought a new, giant water storage tank or two, and they are using the other 18 hours of the day to fill it up.

That is comforting, since the population growth has obviously outstripped the infrastructure. But I still worry that next year in the dry season we will run out. As much as I dislike being without water 18 hours of the day, I still hope the conservation practices currently in place will continue, so that being careful now will keep us moist later.

In spite of that (terribly enlightened, wouldn’t you say?) attitude, my personal tolerance meter for living without water most of the day is almost in the red zone.  So I’m doing what most sensible households that can afford it do. I’m buying a water tank of my own. Various proud owners of existing water tanks have offered help and advice, which I am happy to take, for the most part.

Advice on Water Tanks

The first bit of advice I got was to buy the largest tank I could afford. This is a sound suggestion, and I would do that, except that I’m renting and when I leave, the tank will stay behind. So, instead, I calculated my weekly water use, and based on that, I’m buying a 260 gallon tank, which, if I am careful, will get me through a full week. Longer, if I’m really careful about toilet flushing and laundry.   Here are my (intellectual) minimum usage calculations (one person). Yours might be different.

ITEM GALS/DAY
Toilet flush 2 x day @ 3 gals ea –                            6.0
Dipper Bath 1 x day @ 1.5 gals ea –                      1.5
Teeth  (I rinse well, OK?)                                            0.5
Dishes 3 x day @ 1 gal ea –                                      3.0
Cooking / Drinking @ 2 gal                                     2.0
Other @ 1 gal                                                                1.0
Laundry 3 x wk @ 45 gals ea (rounded up)    20.0

That’s 34 gals per day MINIMUM, not including plants. So I could actually do OK with my 260 gallons, especially if I let the plants die and take the laundry to town.

I went through about a week of online fussing with water sensors and meters and such, until I finally decided that since the tank was going to be within 14 feet of the house, I could just thump it to check the level and save about $60 in sensors, tubing, and installation. The one thing I really want to be sure I get is a float so that the intake valve will shut off automatically when the tank is full. There’s no point in wasting water when you’re trying to save it.

Beyond that, I’m not hooking it into the main system. For one thing, I want to be aware when there’s no system inflow, so that I’ll know to conserve. I’ll use a hose to fill the big tank when we have our “horas de agua” (hours of water), and I have plans for new ways to use my kitchen and bathroom buckets.

The Hottest Tip for Tanks

What I consider the most important piece of advice on buying a tank came from friends who learned the hard way.  What happens when you leave a container of water in the sun? Algae grows, that’s what.  And the water gets nasty and smells.  So then you have to do all kinds of maintenance and futzing around.

My friends told me what you want to ask for is a double or triple lined tank.  This type of tank costs $20 or $30 more than the other, but light does not penetrate it, so algae does not grow in it.  Here, you know you’ve got one when the inside is white.  The outside could be blue or gray or even black, but if the inside isn’t white, don’t buy it.

Ministering to the Interior

My biggest issue with our water restrictions is a soap allergy. Completely rinsing the soap off your hands without running water is tough. As you pour water from a pitcher over one hand, you get soap on the pitcher. Then you get soap on the rinsed hand when you switch hands. If I didn’t get little-bitty, itchy, Itchy, ITCHY blisters from any soap residue at all, that wouldn’t be such a problem, but I do. So, clan MacGyver, here we go.

I’m having the machine shop in town build me a couple of metal towers. One for the kitchen and one for the bathroom.  If wood were easier to come by, I would use that.

In the bathroom, I’ll put the tower between the toilet and the sink. It will support a bucket with a spigot near the bottom. There’s a strange set of faucets and hose between the toilet and the shower (I suspect intended for a bidet that isn’t there) that I currently use to fill bathing buckets in the shower. I can use that hose to fill my tower bucket, and I’ll attach some tubing to the spigot on the bucket so I can easily refill the toilet tank, brush teeth and wash hands. Maybe I’ll even get fancy and put a splitter on the hose so I don’t have to move it back and forth.

The kitchen tower will go over the sink. When the water goes off, I’ll draw “running” water from a spigot on the bucket.

Most of the time I should be able to fill the bathroom buckets using the infamous bidet-less bidet hose. I’ll fill the kitchen bucket either using some tubing attached to the kitchen faucet, or by filling it with a pitcher, as I do now.

If I have to use the water in the big tank to fill the inside buckets as well as to water the (food) garden and do the laundry, then I have a nice long hose I can use.  Meanwhile, using the tank for the garden and laundry will keep that water fresh, plus I won’t have to get up with the parrots to do the laundry.

When this is all in place I’ll post some photos. I’m sure it will look a bit weird and primitive, but hey, what price running water?