RV Travel | How To Conserve Water When Off-Grid and During Droughts

This month, Lake Mead hit a record low. As luck would have it, Lake Mead feeds the three states I spend the most time in: California, Nevada, and Arizona. It forced me to reconsider where I’ll finally put my tiny home and whether it’s even worth having one, not on wheels. Right now, I’m in Wyoming: a Midwestern state that looks surprisingly desert-like in the summer. They are also experiencing a drought, which has fuelled water wars among the farmers in the community serving as my home base.

No matter how severe droughts are, most Americans are so used to water consistently coming through the pipes, that few feel truly compelled to make changes. For RVers on the road, conserving water is a way of life. Our freshwater tanks can only hold so much and our waste tanks generally hold even less. So, here are some water conservation tips for RVers who need them and traditional home dwellers who want them.

1. Use Wipes as Part of Your Hygiene

According to the United States Geological Survey, Americans use 1 gallon of water for handwashing and about 2 to 5 gallons of water per minute for showers. I save a lot of water by sometimes wiping my hands clean and then sanitizing them.

For serious water conservation, you can also consider body wipes. These are larger wipes created for the specific purpose of replacing a shower. I use these when tent camping and when dry camping and they are lifesavers.

*Surviveware is the only brand I use and I always make sure I have a pack in the RV. Ideally, you should aim for biodegradable wipes. Remember not to flush them down the toilet, even when they say they’re flushable.

2. Reduce Cooking Waste

I never noticed how much water dishwashing took until RVing. According to the USGA, Americans use up to 27 gallons to wash dishes. Dishwashers use up to 16 gallons per cycle, but most people power those with on-grid fossil fuels.

When I dry camp, I use biodegradable plates and utensils to reduce the need to wash anything. Whether off-grid or not, I also wipe my dishes clean with paper towels before washing. I find I use less water and less soap when I do this.

Finally, I pour gravy, oil, and other excess liquids into an enclosed container and toss it out with the trash. An empty taco sauce jar or pasta sauce jar works just fine.

3. Try Premade Dishes

In one of my YouTube videos, I shared that I am not a very good camp cook. My meals never taste as good when tent camping as they do in the RV. Consequently, I keep dehydrated meals handy.

The ones I use, you can eat directly out of the pouch, so there is nothing else to wash but the spoon or fork you use. I only buy Good-To-Go dehydrated meals. I’ve tried almost all the flavors from this Maine-based company and especially recommend their Thai curry.

I keep these in the RV for camping trips and lazy days. You could also consider the occasional TV dinner, but these are much healthier.

4. Switch to a Composting Toilet

Another household activity that uses way too much freshwater is flushing the toilet. According to the USGA, new toilets use around 1.6 gallons per flush. Older ones use as much as 4 gallons per flush.

RV toilets use considerably less, but that’s still a waste of freshwater. Consequently, many RVers have switched to pricey composting toilets. I thought of making that switch until I realized that a Luggable-Loo works almost as well.

I use my $35 Luggable-Loo when I don’t have consistent access to both water and sewer connections. How much water does it use? None. I use a special liner, plus pine pellets or pet-bedding sawdust.

5. Use External Facilities

RVers generally have all the amenities we need on board. Van-dwellers and other people living more compact lifestyles often don’t have bathroom facilities.

These minimalists tend to rely on external facilities provided at RV parks, truck stops, laundromats, and gyms. Using facilities provided by family and friends is also handy. For example, while parked on the farm in Wyoming, I have access to a bathroom and laundry room on the side of the house that faces me.

Using external facilities won’t reduce your overall water usage. Still, it saves you from tapping into your limited onboard resources when you don’t have full hookups.

If you’re in a drought-affected area, it’s time to reconsider how you use water. Reducing consumption won’t put an end to droughts any time soon, but it will better ensure reservoir levels remain high enough to serve communities. And, if they don’t, you will have coping mechanisms in place to make it through the worst of what may lie ahead.

What are you prepared to do to reduce your water consumption, this year?

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8 thoughts on “RV Travel | How To Conserve Water When Off-Grid and During Droughts

  1. A few months ago I wrote you about this issue in your present neck of the woods. I appreciate all the steps you are taking to reduce your personal use. Now if you could just get those backyard swimming pools in Arizona to do the same!

    1. I think all RVers and tiny home dwellers take measures like these. We have to. Our tanks have limited capacity.

      As for our sticks and bricks neighbours, ESPECIALLY in Arizona, that’s a whole other ball game. Arizonans are very self-focused. The idea of making sacrifices for the greater good or the community just isn’t much of a state value. The pandemic showed me that clear as day.

  2. These are all great ideas, Alexis. I remember when we had a drought here (in NC, surprise!) and even though we were on a well, people’s well all around us were going dry. So we limited our shower time, bathed the kids together and watered the plants with dishwater. Luckily our well was at 605 feet and we never went dry!

    1. Wow! We’re on a well at the farm and the owners don’t seem at all concerned. When I came, one of my hoses was leaking and I was in a panic over it. The wife said, “Don’t worry about it, we’re on well!” That was so strange to me. I got it fixed by the following day. Wyoming is in a drought.

      Glad to hear you came out of yours unscathed. I feel sorry for your neighbours! Do you think it’s because they didn’t conserve enough?

  3. living in SoCal, we have been in drought conditions for years. since i live in a semi-rural area, my water is from a well. i use water as wisely as i can. i also use paper products, and body wipes to cut down water usage. my trees are suffering from the drought as when i first moved here, we had wetter weather but now i need to water them and they dont get all they need. 🙁

    there are some things i feel not only state governments can do, but also the federal govt. can do about the water crisis in the west. California is hell bent on a having a high speed rail system but we need water. desalinization plants would help. but what to do with all the left over salt. also, places in the east get flooded. why not build a pipeline to redirect the water that would cause flooding to the west and fill up the reservoirs. not only would water plants and pipelines help with getting water, they would provide employment.

    i like the lights on the trailer. using things to decrease water usage, has its drawbacks with increased landfill waste.

    1. One of the most interesting things I’ve learned about California is that despite being in a sustained drought, and despite its big desert territory, California is considered the state least susceptible to drought. The reason is because of the government interventions that have taken place over the past few decades. But, I do agree that others should follow. They were looking into desalination last I checked. The issue was trying to figure out what to do with the brine. The brine creates environmental concerns around potential pollution.

      I also agree that using things to decrease water consumption increases landfill waste, which is why I stick to biodegradable items. The body wipes I use are biodegradable, as are the one-use plates. My luggable loo also uses biodegradable material, such as the sawdust, pine pellets etc. Everything breaks down in about 3 months.

      I’ve heard of the proposed solution of funnelling flood waters from the east. The issue is some of those areas are also in drought. The flooding isn’t necessarily from excess precipitation. It’s often because of poor infrastructure or blocked drains. After all, even the desert floods.

      Here’s to hoping we figure it out! We can all do our parts and make a big difference.

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