Monday, May 19, 2014

Use Water Wisely

A Pound O Rain sprinkler in use.

         Proper watering has become a matter of controversy, as many people think that watering is optional and wasteful of water that someone somewhere else can use.  You cannot waste water in Grants Pass by irrigating properly, which means all over the ground and plants.  The water either evaporates from plants and soil, is sucked up by plants and transpires, or sinks into the water table and recharges wells and the river.  That which goes into the air humidifies the air, cools it, and contributes to rain.  The only real way to share it with people in other places is to use it and send it downwind to make rain.

Some think that if they don’t water, they won’t have to mow.  But weeds don’t care about watering, even thrive on dryness, and once they have taken over a lawn, one must mow more often to keep their flowers from seeding the neighborhood and making the yard uglier yet. 

Some say to use plastic mulch and drip irrigation.  Plastic mulch is ugly.  Drip is unreliable and incomplete.  You can’t really tell how well drip is working if it is covered, and it’s delicate.  You can have a leak and not know it; voles chew holes in it; shovels break it; tree roots and rocks pinch it.   You lose the benefit of evaporation from wet plants and soil and don’t wash the dust off your plants, causing fungus on leaves.  People think that it is bad to water paths, but trees, shrubs, and even large annuals like tomatoes send their roots under paths and suffer when they are not watered.  And it’s not cheap or easy to build a drip system. 

The best watering is also cheapest and easiest: sprinklers.  Automatic sprinklers are the most expensive system to build, though most reliable.  But poor people can get by best with hoses, sprinklers, and mechanical faucet timers.   Watering by hand sprayer rarely works well; one must hold a hose too long.

The best sprinklers are also cheap: Pound of Rain, a pound of metal with a big hole in the middle, which blows out a nice, even circle of water and can pass BBs.

Water an inch per week for good growth and beauty of lawns, vegetables, most ornamentals and fruits, and it’s best to water any one spot only once a week, twice at most.  One can move a sprinkler or two around a yard to hit everything once a week.  For even watering, one must set the sprinkler on the edge of the previous wet spot, as no sprinkler sprays completely even.  Automatic sprinklers are set up to water to the next sprinkler to cover an area completely; even watering is double watering, so you only need ½ inch at a time on each spot.

Last, but not least, do not skip watering because it is going to rain.  When it rains half an inch or more, skip watering for a few days.   It may sound superstitious, but if you don’t water, it won’t rain enough to matter.  Call it insurance.

Please Don’t Save Water

The rain that put out last summers fires.  It fell much more heavily in the Douglas Complex area.

          Grants Pass is beautiful this spring.  The new growth on our trees and shrubbery is bright and abundant, thanks to last summer’s forest fires.  While miserable for people and animals, the smoke from those fires was full of CO2 and water vapor, plus ash, which was watered in by the fall rains that came early and put out the fires.  Indeed, the water vapor produced by the burning of all that wood must have contributed to the rainstorm that put them out, probably quite heavily.
          We have just had a warning of the summer heat to come, which will blast all those nice, tender new leaves unless we give our plants the water they need to keep them green. 
We didn’t have much snow in the mountains this winter, so the snowpack that our rivers and irrigators rely on is low.  On the other hand, spring rains have filled the reservoirs.  We are being told that we have to save water to make it last through the summer. 
One has to ask what we are supposed to be saving it for.  If we don’t use it, it will only run to the sea.  If we use it to water our yards and feed the water cycle, we can make rain that will continue to fill our creeks, rivers, and reservoirs, and help make it last all summer by re-circulating it upstream.  We are dependent on rain this summer, so we’d better do our best to make it rain.
We on the West Coast are blessed to take our water from rivers that run west into the prevailing wind.  Any water that evaporates or transpires blows upstream and uphill and can make rain in the top of our watershed.  It can even make rain right on our heads, if we get thunderheads.
Thunderheads we will have, no doubt about it.  But watering our cities and farms makes the difference between wet thunderstorms and dry lightning that makes forest fires.  We make rain when we water enough.  In the two last decades, we haven’t been watering enough.
A computer simulation by University of California researchers showed, last January, that farmers in California make rain in the desert Southwest. This inspired a study of summer rainfall in the Grants Pass 97526 zip code from 1983-2012 that showed that we had larger rainstorms in July and August than in June and September through the first decade, and the reverse in the last two decades.  Over those last two decades, our average monthly summer rainfall, June-September, fell by nearly a tenth of an inch per decade.
In the 80’s, we had reasonable water rates, and nearly everyone watered, mowed, and took care of their yards; this was a very neat town, reminiscent of Goshen, Indiana.  It seemed like we had thunderstorms nearly every week in the summer.  Now we have tiered rates that charge us through the nose for watering our yards, and dry, dusty, sometimes smoky summers.
If Grants Pass based our water charges on what it costs to provide the service, the rate tiers would be reversed, with most of the charge on our basic winter water use.  The vast majority of the cost of clean, delivered water is overhead in plant and employees, which must be covered regardless of use.  Talk to the city about changing its water rate structure, and water like the quality of your life depends on it, regardless of the rates.  It does.