Water & Drought

Conscious of drought, San Luis Obispo woman proposes Five Gallon Challenge

In the past month, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has raised close to $100 million to help fund research for ALS -- a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease -- but some critics in drought-stricken California have said the trend, though for a good cause, is a waste of a disappearing resource: water.

San Luis Obispo photographer Brittany App, 35, has a compromise: Instead of dumping a bucket of ice water on one's head, she is challenging people to live on only 5 gallons of water for a day.

It's called the Five Gallon Challenge, and App is hoping it will help raise awareness not only for ALS, but also for water issues around the world. She also hopes that, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, people will do the conservation exercise and donate money to the cause.

"Water is a gift," App said. "Without it we can't survive, and I think sometimes we take it for granted because of how readily and easily available it has been to us in the past."

As part of the challenge, App chose to donate money to the ALS Association; WaterAid, a nonprofit that looks to improve access to safe water in Africa; and to the De Groot nursing home in San Luis Obispo.

App said she got the idea for the twist on the Ice Bucket Challenge one night while talking with her husband, Steven Anzel.

"I knew (an Ice Bucket nomination) was coming," she said, "so I was thinking to myself that there has to be a better way to do this -- a way to participate in the challenge and honor the fundraiser but still respect the water issues here. So I told him, 'If I get nominated, I'll live on 5 gallons of water for a day.' "

Sure enough, she was nominated not long after that, and she and Anzel set out to go one full day using only water from an orange 5-gallon bucket. From brushing teeth to filling water bottles for drinking, the couple shared the 5 gallons from the bucket and documented the entire thing in a video, which App posted to her YouTube account Saturday. They also limited themselves to three toilet flushes in the day.

Though initially it was difficult -- trekking outside to fill the bucket with her hose and then carrying the heavy load inside, all before having her morning coffee, was no easy feat, she said -- there were aspects of the day that were much easier than expected.

"Showering was surprisingly easy to give up," App joked. "But I like camping, so it might not be as easy for other people."

App said overall, the point of the challenge is to make people more aware of their water usage because a future where water is a severely limited resource may not be too far off.

The five-minute video shows the stark reality of that message, using App's photos from her project " Where There Once Was Water," as well as documenting the couple's water-saving strategies. The video also encourages donations to the ALS Association.

"This challenge really forced us to think about and talk about how we use water," App said. "And yes, the Five Gallon Challenge is a challenge right now, but if we don't do something soon, in the future it could be a reality."

Read more from The Tribune, the McClatchy Co. newspaper of the Central Coast.