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Water conservers will have to pay more in the end

This year, I've been taking drought talk seriously. And if you don't believe it, you should see my front yard.

The first six years after we moved into the house, we labored in the yard to make it a show stopper. This year, the show simply stopped.

Brown patches, thatch and weeds like morning glory that thrive in dry dirt slowly are claiming dominion over the entire thing.

It's not a pretty sight, but the reduction in consumption compared with last year that is reflected on my utility bill has made me feel like a real team player, helping my community cope with the water shortage, which experts keep saying is just getting worse.

I've been approaching it as a contest with myself, a personal challenge to see how much water I can save. I put a brick in the toilet tank to displace a bit of water and thus conserve. I started opting for showers, instead of the leisurely baths I prefer (Have you ever tried to read in the shower?)

I no longer run the dishwasher or clothes washer unless there's a full load. I don't let water trickle while I'm peeling potatoes at the sink, though that makes the task a little tidier. I use gray water for my houseplants, and they don't seem to care.

And I spend time contemplating things that never occurred to me before, like what a shame it is that I can't redirect the water from the washing machine outside to feed my poor, dying yard.

There have been some interesting and unexpected benefits to my recent water-pinching ways.

The girls and I are seeing a lot more of the valley than we used to. A year ago, I let Jeni and Aly, now 6 and 5, play in the sprinkler on a hot day, to their hearts' content. We were homebodies, somewhat antisocial as we guarded our time together against outside intrusion.

This year, we've toddled off on a quest to find the the best in wadeable fountains the Salt Lake Valley has to offer. And there are a surprising number — and variety — of them.

On a really hot day we make the loop from the hissy-splash fun of The Gateway's water plaza to the water staircase at the new library. I usually drag them into the library first to check out a book, then read it while the girls splash around in the shallow "pool" at the base of the steps.

If we only have time for one stop, we go to my favorite, Liberty Park, walking past the duck pond to the core of the park, just east of the lovely greenhouse and flower gardens, where we all wade in the "creeks" before the kids plop down in the little pool.

Last weekend, we ventured a small distance north from there and discovered an entirely new water option for the kids: colorful pastel rings of water and shooting geysers near the play area at Liberty Park.

The valley's becoming a much more kid-friendly place than it was just a few years ago, with family-focused venues popping up all over. Best of all, they're free, which is a pleasant surprise in an era where children's clothes cost nearly as much as an adult's and a family of four may have to save up to be able to afford a movie and some popcorn.

So I'm feeling pretty good about myself as I do my part to conserve. And I'm having some fun on the weekend with my daughters, who too soon will be at an age where hanging with Mom isn't the activity preferred above all others.

What I'm not doing, though, is saving money compared to my old water-wasting days. My water bill is higher than it was a couple of years ago.

Then again, so's the gasoline bill, the heating bill, the child-care bill, the food bill and pretty much any other bill you'd care to name.

I'm getting used to my water-saving ways. And to the fact that, no matter what I do, it's still going to cost me more to do less of it.

That's why I only wept a little when the water folks started talking about raising the water rates to make up the revenue they lost when people like me started doing what they asked, namely conserving water. I can understand why it never occurred to anyone that if I use less, they sell less, which might mean a little less money for them.

Something's got to give, right? And it might as well be the consumer.

It usually is.


Deseret Morning News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at lois@desnews.com