BIG SUR (KCBS) – Restaurants across California are trying to find ways to conserve water during the drought. While the easiest solution has been to only serve water upon request, a Big Sur chef has taken his kitchen’s conservation efforts a big step forward.

John Cox is executive chef at Post Ranch Inn’s restaurant Sierra Mar. He said the restaurant uses about 3,500 gallons of water a day, well above the industry average, and he was looking at creative ways to conserve.

“It all started as an idea to clean the kitchen at night by bringing in a small air compressor and using it to spray out ovens, corners and other places we were typically using a hose for,” Cox said.  “I was looking for a place to put this compressor and it ended up in a little area below the dish station.  And that’s kind of when the idea clicked.”

So the restaurant is cleaning off dishes with the air compressor.  Cox said the water sprayer uses about a third of all the water used in the restaurant and he said in the first week of installing the air compressor and airgun, they noticed an 80 percent reduction in the restaurant’s water usage.

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Please share with your California restaurant friends! A bit of background- Given the current drought we have been looking for creative ways to conserve water at Post Ranch Inn. Sierra Mar uses approximately 3,500 gallons of water per day (already well below the industry average). One of the single largest uses is for spraying off dirty pans and dishes before loading them into the dish machine. Just that one spray handle uses close to 1,000 gallons of water per day. Last week we installed an air compressor on our dish station to use in place of the water sprayer. By using compressed air we have been able to reduce the sprayer use by 80%. This represents a huge water savings for our restaurant. Right now California has an estimated 60,000 full service restaurants. If each of these restaurants switched to compressed air for pre-cleaning plates and could save even just 250 gallons per day that would equal over 5 billion gallons of water per year. While the current requirement for restaurants to only offer drinking water by request does bring awareness to the issue, it does not represent a major water savings. To illustrate- Each of our guests drink approximately 2 cups of water when they dine in the restaurant. That equals just over 18 gallons per day of drinking water. Over the course of a year we would save around 6,570 gallons of drinking water – compared with a savings of 292,000 by using the compressed air. This is an easy and efficient way for restaurants to save water. If other restaurants across the state would start this practice it would make a real difference with water conservation! #savingwaterblows #californiadrought #waterconservation

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“If all the restaurants in California were to do this, it could save between 5 and 10 billion gallons of water a year,” said Cox.  “And that’s not including schools, office buildings, hotels, prisons – it may just be a small drop in the bucket but at this point, any drops in the bucket help.  If we can do our part in the restaurants, hopefully other people will come up with creative solutions as well.”

Cox posted the idea on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and he said the video of cleaning carrots off a plate with the air compressor has already been viewed more than 9,000 times in a little over a week.  He said at least five restaurants have already made the switch and a numerous other chefs and restaurants have contacted him about implementing the plan.

He received questions about how cost-efficient the new method was and said his setup cost about $200. There were also concerns about noise and Cox said he bought an ultra quiet compressor and hasn’t had a problem thus far.  “The loudest part is actually the noise from the air coming out of the airgun.  We’re trying to figure out a way to suppress that,” he said.  “But you can’t hear it in the dining room which is really our major consideration.”

When asked about possibly patenting his idea, Cox said that’s less important than the overall water savings and he’d like to see as many people adopt the idea, or come up with their own creative solutions for conserving during the drought.

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