Water drop
Well, we finally know what it’s like to run out of water! We went through a dry spell in Saba, with little to no rainfall, which to vacationers, was probably heaven. But to us residents, it was not so exciting. Every day, Joel would go out and check the level of water in our cistern, watching it get lower and lower. For the new readers of our blog, you can learn more about the perils of relying on nature for water in this previous post.

Conservation Newbies
Now I admit, we are still neophytes at this water conservation thing. We thought we were doing really well at first, but come to find out, it was unusually wet for the first few months of our tenure as Saba residents. So we have to go back to the drawing board and really learn some new water conservation skills.

How Big Is Your Cistern?
As we talked to our more experienced island friends, we realized just how inexperienced we are at living off the land. For example, Cedric told us that in his first house, his family of 4 lived with a 3,000-gallon cistern. To put it in perspective, our cistern is 6,000 gallons – so we have double the water capacity with half the people! Cedric laughed as he reminisced about he and his wife telling the kids, wash your hands – but be careful of the water! When Cedric built his new house, high up in the mountain, he included a 40,000-gallon cistern! No more fears of water shortage there!

See, in Saba, we aren’t big on comparisons of material things in general. You don’t hear people talking much about square footage in their homes. What you do hear a lot about is the size of people’s cisterns. In fact, we can tell you the size of the cisterns for all of our neighbors and friends on the island! The whole scheme of rich and poor is set askew when you live off the land. The person with a big cistern becomes the rich person, who can help those less fortunate by providing extra water. Most of the newer homes in Saba have cisterns that are 25,000 gallons or more. Building a new cistern is not a small investment, so many people with older houses make do and conserve.

Water Stores
Now it doesn’t always get that bad – there are island water stores that can be tapped if you run out of water. This is what we had to do when we ran out of water. Coochie, our neighbor with a truck, is often called upon to transport water. We’d see him going by with a giant piece of Tupperware (for lack of a better description!) strapped to his truck, full of water. Or we’d see him filling that giant Tupperware with a hose dangling into the ground on the side of The Road. What’s he up to? We’d wonder. Then we learned about how he is one of the folks who takes water to people who’s cisterns run dry. Little did we know we’d be one of those people!

When the island stores of water run dry, people go to the island residents who have big cisterns – and extra water. These kind folks are used to receiving requests for extra water, so they have to decide how they want to meet these requests. For example, what if we are in the middle of a long drought? It’s a tough decision, although I’ve found there is great kindness on Saba when someone is in need.

Water Tips – This Takes The Cake!
Over the past year, Joel and I have been collecting tips for water conservation – not that it did us much good this time! But we did get good ideas, like using tubs for dish washing, so you only use a little water, and using a button on the shower head to turn off the water flow while you soap up. Obviously, we needed guerilla tactics – this is where Travis and Vivi came in. Travis and Vivi, new to Saba, are not new to island life – nor are they new to water conservation. Vivi grew up in Brazil, so she gets all the credit for these ideas. The one that takes the cake is the bucket-in-the-shower technique.

It goes like this:

  • Put a bucket in the shower, turn on the water to get wet – with the bucket between your feet.
  • Then you turn off the water and soap up.
  • Then turn the water back on for a quick rinse — keeping it short, though!

The idea is to catch the water in the bucket. So then what? Here’s the beautiful part – you use the water in the bucket to flush the toilets! My father taught me the toilet flush with a bucket of water trick when their 200 year-old farmhouse ran out of water. It seemed quaint then as an emergency tactic – little did I know that some people use this as a way of life! Where do people find the time for things like this? Imagine having to fit that scheme into your daily get up, get ready, get to work scenario? Actually, it’s not so bad when you live the island life. There isn’t much rushing going on when on island time!

Desalination & The Last Laugh of Mother Nature
With the water desalination plant, which processes sea water into drinkable water, there is some capacity to create water – although this is a small plant. The cost of buying water is $50 for 500 gallons – not much to some, but expensive to others. Joel and I got two loads of water delivered, $100, but when you’re out of water, you do what you have to do! Right after we got the water, it really started to rain. Go figure!