Water, water, everywhere

I didn’t get a chance to watch all of Obama’s press conference on Wednesday.  Too busy wrestling with our well booster pump, visiting Dr. Thacher for our annual inspection, and soaking up the beautiful Ojai spring wonderland.

Our booster pump went south about ten days ago.  For the uninitiated, a booster pump forces water up the hill to storage tanks where it is eventually gravity fed back down to our house.  Since water has yet to learn how to run uphill, once your storage tanks empty you’re done, fini, over, dry.

When I tell people that we get our water from a well, their first reaction is “Wow, lucky for you that you don’t have to pay those rates charged by Casitas Water.”  Then, I recite the litany of costs associated with owning a well and they quickly move to a new subject.  Booster pumps are the least of it. 

Ralph has been struggling with the pump for over a week.  Dragging it from its cozy home, analyzing why it failed, looking for replacement parts (which aren’t available) and finally, admitting failure, ordering a new pump from Fresno.  Now we wait patiently for the UPS man to arrive with reinforcements.

We’ve got this high tech gizmo that tells us how much water is left in the storage tanks.  It’s in our laundry room and I pass it twenty times a day.  My head snaps 45 degrees to catch a glimpse of the digital readout every time I walk by that green eyed monster.  It’s a habit I can’t break.  Seven feet of water in the tank.  Then six, five…   During the day I mentally calculate the remaining available water.  “Let’s see, one foot of water in an 8 foot tank holding 5,000 gallons equals about 600 gallons per foot.  There are three tanks.  But one-third of the tanks is reserved for firefighting.”  My head spins.  I wonder when Ralph will arrive with the new pump.

Even when the well behaves, we don’t take water for granted.  I regularly wonder if/when the well will give up its last drop.  I review the consequences of living in a waterless environment.  I see sprinklers caressing the grapevines over at Dwayne’s ranch.  I think about county officials urging us to stop flushing toilets…while 80% of California’s water is guzzled by agriculture.  I wonder why we need strawberries that look great but taste like the Ojai Valley News.  I think about life without oranges, avocados, and, god forbid, wine.  I muse about Kevin Costner’s Water World and that lonely tomato plant.

We haven’t turned on the irrigation for almost two weeks.  A lifetime.  The olive trees seem happy.  But you never know with those guys.  They can look beautiful but then refuse to bloom or set olives.  Not enough water?  And even if they do, the fruit fly lurks. Our tiny, guilt ridden, patch of lawn hangs in there.  Wonder if we need it.  I think about crushed aggregate, mulch, astroturf…ugh.

Funny how being being cut off from something that’s always been there makes you sit up and pay attention.  I begin to understand why folks go to war over water rights.  Two hundred and sixty three rivers either cross or demarcate international political boundaries, in addition to countless aquifers.  According to the Atlas of International Freshwater Agreement, 90 percent of countries in the world must share water basins with at least one or two other states. Major conflicts such as Darfur have been connected to water shortages, and lack of access to clean water.  Israel and Jordan took time off from calling each other names to forge an agreement over the Sea of Galilee. Oil is a minor irritant compared to drinking water.

Much of the world is allocated the grand total of 2.5 gallons of water a day.  As usual, the United States gulps more than its fair share at 1,430 gallons per day.  But don’t feel overly guilty.  Personal consumption is only about 100 gallons of that amount…and most of it is used outdoors.  We turn the spigot on and wait for a gusher to emerge.  What if it just drips…slowly?

I’m thirsty.


6 Responses to “Water, water, everywhere”

  1. 1 Kellene April 30, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    That is such a priceless photo! Have you considered capturing rainwater? This water can be used for drinking once it’s pasteurized, and it certainly can be used for watering your garden, cleaning, bathing, etc. http://tinyurl.com/cesg3u


  2. 2 Maureen (Other Maureen or Mo) April 30, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    HI Fred and Ila,
    I talked to Gordon in Zimbabwe on Sunday, he was really excited because they had had running water for a couple of days at the house, for the first time in months, but then it was gone again. He has been carting water from work in barrels and treating it so he can use it and he is lucky because at least he has access to some water (regardless of how it looks) at work. It does make one pause and feel guilty when luxuriating in a lovely shower each morning!


  3. 3 Ojaidon April 30, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Many years ago my (then) wife and I traveled to the small town in Italy, Baia e Latina, near Caserta, where her mother was born and where some of her relatives still lived. They had water from the municipality about four hours a day. What every household did as soon as the water went on was to fill every available container, including the bath tub. All this, of course, drew down the water supply alarmingly, so the city fathers had to shut off the water again. We pointed out to them that if the townspeople stopped this practice, and just ran the water as they needed it, the city could probably leave the water on all the time. This was greeted with laughter and skepticism, and as far as I know the town still rations water the same feckless way.


  4. 4 Karen May 2, 2009 at 4:38 am

    In college during a drought the administration turned off our water. We had gallons of rubbing alcohol in the bathroom to clean hands. The water was on about 2 hours a day when all the toilets were finally flushed and we quickly washed up. It was amazing how little laundry one could get by with!
    I have never forgotten it. I’m appalled at how many of our faucets are designed to require the water to be turned on full force, how unconscious most people are about long showers, endless small loads of laundry, washing cars, watering lawns. Here in NYC maintenance staff wash down the sidewalks instead of sweeping them. The water they use is fit to drink!


  5. 5 Dick and Toni May 4, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Hey Fred:
    Is there any way we can help?
    Dick & Toni


    • 6 fredila May 4, 2009 at 1:25 pm

      Hi Dick and Toni,

      Our new pump was installed on Friday (I think) and is running OK. A few
      things still need to be worked out but we are happily bathing and watering
      the tomatoes.

      Thanks for your concern.




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