Like many people in drought-stricken Southern Oregon, Robert Marlowe of Phoenix is doing his part to conserve water.

Like many people in drought-stricken Southern Oregon, Robert Marlowe of Phoenix is doing his part to conserve water.

He lets laundry pile up so he can do bigger and fewer loads each week. He waters his lawn only every two or three days, letting parts of it go brown and adjusting his mower to leave grass taller, thus shielding the soil from drying out.

After Friday's rain, Marlowe figures he won't water until the lawn "gets really wimpy and wilty. I'm going to stretch it out there."

In Ashland, especially, where the city may impose higher rates for extra water this summer if curtailment measures become necessary, residents are taking it upon themselves to conserve. And they're passing water-saving tips along.

Ashlander Kathy Mansfield suggests putting pots out in the rain to fill up for garden use. When she spots waste around town, Mansfield speaks up about it. She told the city about a leak in Lithia Park and her landlord about sprinklers drizzling into the parking lot. Both got fixed fast, she says.

Tom Beck of Ashland decided to let half his lawn die back to brown for the summer. He attached a hose to his washing machine's drain, letting it flow out to various outside plants. These are easy measures, he notes, adding it's a shame to waste 22 gallons needed to do just one load of laundry.

He's moving to a front-loading washing machine, as it uses as little as 15 gallons, he says.

As always in drought times, Beck stands by the time-honored toilet guideline: "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down."

Talent contractor Stephen Morrow, who has a business in Ashland, says it's time building codes required gray water systems for all new building or remodels. In addition, he says, toilets should not be using potable water for flushing; that should be gray water from showers.

"Myself, I wash the cars a lot less, only once this season so far," he says, "and I do it a lot faster. I used to let water run on paintbrushes for however long it took, but now I get after them and make them clean quick."

Instead of planting and watering his own garden, Morrow is planting on the yard of a friend who has Talent Irrigation District water.

Snow Thorner of Talent used to luxuriate in 20-minute showers, but now she limits them to about eight minutes. And she waters only some ornamental plants and herbs, not a lawn.

Ranching and growing hay in the Colestine Valley, Cindy Warzyn says the drought has not yet affected her family's well, but "I use less because there's less to use."

Patti Busse of Ashland takes quicker showers and has replaced grass with shade plants that are well mulched with bark and stones. Hostas and ferns work well, she says.

Busse plans to ask the city of Ashland for a water audit — an in-person evaluation of her sprinkler system's design, operation and management.

The city of Ashland is giving out free low-flow shower heads and low-flow bathroom and kitchen aerators, which will cut flow from 2.2 gallons a minute to 1 gallon, says city water conservation specialist Julie Smitherman. That can save an average of 80 gallons a day, she says.

The city also provides soil moisture meters, which will tell residents whether there's water just below the surface of ground that may look dry, thus saving them from watering that day.

The water-saving measures are available at the city's Community Development and Engineering Building, 51 Winburn Way.

As for using gray water from a washing machine to water plants, Smitherman says no city permit is required but residents must install a diverter valve so the gray water goes into the sewer system in winter. Water diverted to the yard has to be in a subsurface system, she adds, so it doesn't pool and cause water quality problems and invite mosquitoes. Use eco-friendly detergents when diverting laundry water, she says.

The city's page on audits,, links to a sample watering guide and lets residents set up an appointment. For more water-saving tips, see

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at