Posts Tagged 'drought'

Dry as a bone…

Dry as a bone.

As I walked along the paths that pretend to delineate the approved lanes of travel around our house, I stared at the vacant spaces that once were occupied by living plants.  Plants that we had carefully selected and studiously placed when we moved here almost fourteen years ago.  Plants that had been carefully nurtured in alien nurseries and then transported to this hostile environment known as the Upper Ojai.

What seemed like miles of drip irrigation had kept them alive for years.  Not enough water to flood them but just enough to make sure they didn’t turn up their toes and seek the great plant heaven in the sky.  Mending breaks in the ubiquitous half-inch tubing caused by critters either seeking water or just something to gnaw on was a weekly adventure that made me a VIP customer at Aqua Flow.

In spite of our careful tending, plants died.  Some of old age.  Some of benign neglect.  We got familiar with the flora that seemed to be semi-self-sufficient and gradually became a bit jaded by the lack of water that came with undetectable plugged emitters and our procrastinated repairs to shredded tubing.  Rock rose and rosemary seemed particularly independent of our poor plant management techniques.  Lavender, in spite of its occasional mysterious die-offs, seemed happy to do without extra moisture.  Even the olive trees seemed to say “Don’t worry, I’m tough.  After all, the Romans planted me all over the world and they never visited Aqua Flow.  A shower or two during the rainy season is enough.”

Two years ago we had about fourteen inches of rain.  Last year, ten.  This year a measly one and one-half inches.  Even the air looks eerily dry and foreign.  Today, fourteen percent humidity.  Attested to by a myriad of static electricity jolts delivered as I exit the car or touch Sweetie.  When I scan the landscape and the Topa Topas, I wonder what the place will look like as a desert.  A place only semi-hospitable to tortoises, rattlers and scorpions.  A place abandoned by those who are uncomfortable living in tents and tending camels.

I wonder what will happen if (when?) our well goes dry.  I marvel at the series of millennia-old underground aquifers that we undoubtedly sit on and, like the world’s supply of crude oil, know can’t go on forever without significant rain.  With no way to actually measure the available life-giving resource in the ground, I stare at the well’s electronic control box that announces the periodic pumping of water and wait for the dreaded red light that announces “sorry boss, but we’re taking a break for a couple of decades.”

I imagine replenishing my five thousand gallon water storage tanks with the aid of a commercial water truck dragging its precious cargo up the hill.  And then I ask myself where in the world that water is coming from and how long it will last.  Forget the exorbitant rates they’ll charge.  That’s of secondary importance.

I think about Lake Casitas and the poor Joes who rely on the stored water in what is fast becoming a gigantic mud hole.  I think about the current misguided effort to allow swimming in what’s left of the lake and marvel at the public’s seeming lack of concern about the larger problem of keeping any kind of water coming into their homes.

I’m no saint when it comes to conserving water.  But I don’t come anywhere close to comparing with the water glutton in central California who bemoaned the restrictions placed on her ability to continue the one hour showers that begin each of her days.

I also blanch at the signs along the thousands of crop growing acres that line Interstate 5 from Bakersfield to points north.  Signs that say “Food grows where water flows.”  An obvious, mildly threatening reminder to keep our hands off the corporate farmers’ ancient rights to all the water they want.

I calculate the water savings that come with the prudent use of low flush toilets, restricted shower heads, turning off the tap while brushing teeth and letting plants other than cactus go belly up.  Ten percent of the state’s water supply is directly controlled by the general public while eighty percent grows the crops along the Interstate.  Dutifully playing my part in this doomsday scenario and reducing my pee breaks by twenty percent will massively impact the overall problem by a microscopic two percent.  Salvation is at hand.

And then yesterday I was reminded that the quantity of water isn’t the only worry.  My e-mail delivered a friendly message from the laboratory that, in accordance with California law, performs monthly tests of our well water.  Tests that determine its drinkability, or in this case, its un-drinkability.  “Hello there, homeowner.  You’ve got a total coliform count that can wreak havoc with your intestines.  You probably should pay closer attention to what you and your neighbors are spreading around.  Have a nice day.”

After locating a five gallon jug of bottled water that we had acquired to stave off the consequences of a potential 7.2 earthquake, and which was several years beyond its expiration date, I relaxed with a glass of wine.  And wondered “they can still grow grapes without water, can’t they?”

But I have hopes.  This Saturday the Reverend Karen Wylie will be leading a Bring in the Rain ceremony at Ojai’s Soule Park.  All of us will be drumming, dancing, meditating and praying for rain.  We’re encouraged to bring either a drum, rain stick or maraca.  Damn, too bad I sold that old trumpet that I played in high school.


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.



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