Sunday, May 13, 2007

Water, water

So far this month we've received over six inches of rain. I think it all showed up last week! With curious timing, water has been a theme for me lately.

It sort of ended up that I began reading quite a lot about water, where we get it, how we use it, and lots more. Informative booklets to help me learn about possibilities for rainwater capture and use on our suburban lot (Water Storage, Create an Oasis with Greywater, Branched Drain Greywater Systems). For an understanding of global water issues, the book When the Rivers Run Dry: Water -- the Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century (the first three-quarters was incredibly informative and depressing; the last quarter is fascinating and actually a bit hopeful). I started reading Water Storage in the midst of When the Rivers Run Dry, and the simple presentation of aquifers, groundwater, surface water, wells, runoff, and all that stuff in Water Storage helped me understand better what I was reading in WRRD about dry areas of the world (like ours).

Then it started raining. A lot. And I discovered that all of that water looked different to me than it had. Usually I would be vaguely happy that the plants (from gardens to fields) were receiving water, and I'd also be annoyed at how waterlogged our yard and garden beds would be for a day or so.

This time I saw that many of the big puddles we carefully drove through extended onto the neighboring land. A big stream of runoff water gushed across a road and along a ditch between nearby fields. The big "lake" formed, as it does in every substantial rain, at the bottom of a huge grassy slope outside a campus building. Suddenly I loved all of that water in unpaved places because now I understood that it was recharging our precious groundwater. Also, what a luxurious contrast to the drought we've been in! At last, all over the state, farm ponds and reservoirs are nearly or entirely full. Last week rivers reached flood stage for a time. Creeks ran full and fast, and then gradually subsided.

Witnessing all of this water, so much so fast, here and then gone, I wished the runoff across the land moved more slowly, so that much more of it could sink into the soil. Sure, a big rain would create for more flooded areas for longer (that could be directed into various areas..). And yet. Water in the uppermost layer of soil would be there for the plants to draw from during dry times this summer, and water in deeper layers could recharge groundwater... rather than so much water being rushed off to the river in such great quantities. Wouldn't it be great if every homeowner, business owner, and commercial builder considered water something to capture more of, rather than send straight to the (paved) street? Why not slow it down or even capture some of it before it runs down driveways, across sidewalks, into gutters, down stormdrains, and away to the river?

The grassy drainage ponds designed into new developments suddenly look a lot less like a big bother and a lot more like a wonderful thing -- slow down that water and let it percolate downward rather than dumping it right into the stormwater drainage system. What always seemed such a neat and tidy solution to rainwater runoff (the storm drain system) now looks to me like a big waste of all of our wonderful rainwater. A way to avoid understanding what we have done by covering so much of the earth with hard surfaces. Now I understand a little more of the purpose of farm ponds.

In our own yard there are various ways we can slow some of the runoff to encourage more water to be held in the soil for the trees and plants, while still directing water away from the house. In our front yard, which gets pretty waterlogged in a big rain, we do have to make sure the water moves through the garden beds and away from the house. In one narrow side yard that also gets waterlogged, we need to put in a French drain... not toward the street in front of the house, but toward the back yard, which slopes away from the house and is very hot and dry all summer long.

In the back yard, I hope to plant fruit trees this fall. I'm thinking about various ways to direct rainwater runoff into the soil to hang on to that water a bit longer. The idea I currently like is this: when we plant the trees, leave a slightly lower soil surface around the trees, and fill that with mulch so that the downhill flow of rainwater is slowed down there and some is directed into the soil. For greater effectiveness, possibly do this in long curves across the yard with the fruit trees sort of lined up, and plantings under the trees... Hmm.

In the back of my mind, I wonder what our town's water resources are. How we are managing our resources. What percentage of our town is paved. How our creeks are cared for. How badly our groundwater aquifers have been drawn down. What plans have been made for the future. Whether any big-picture thinking has been done, to look beyond dollars and users to the environmental impacts that always, eventually, impact us.

This morning dear husband read aloud to me an editorial in the local newspaper that mentioned the state water resources board and some upcoming meetings about its statewide water plan! I found and began looking through documents online and learning a lot about the state of water in Oklahoma. Hmmm.

Water, water everywhere, 'cause it's springtime in the Great Plains. Splish, splash, splosh is our springtime tune. Summer and dry times are right around the corner, though. Dear husband is mowing the front lawn; when he's finished I'll put up my yard sign: Make Every Drop Count.


Seeker said...

I share your facination with water. When I was in law school out west, I wanted to specialize in riparian law...the law of water use. To whom does the water belong, who can take water out of the stream, and how much, etc. I also learned all about water conservation and the concept of water capture and reuse (grey water.) When I moved to PA, I discovered that grey water systems were not only not used, they were illegal! We had one anyhow, not willing to waste precious water by sending it down the drains and using well water to water two acres of land!

Now I am back home in Florida where water is everywhere, but increasingly, there is not enough to go around because of over-building and over-paving everything. I am drawn to water, and even celebrate each birthday at its edge...the ocean, the Great Salt Lake, The Colorado River, various mountain streams, the Susquehanna is our life, symbolically as well as factually.

I am going to get some of those books if they have them at the University library tonight. I stummbled on your site through a random link from the blog ring...thanks for the inspiring start to my day! :-)

Heidi Whitaker said...

I grew up in wet Indiana. I now live outside of Salt Lake City. I have always felt guilty about the water we used in our yard, so about eight years ago I began xeric gardening. I have a beautiful and extensive flower/plant collection that uses VERY little water.