Tuesday, July 28, 2009
From My Garden: Water
"Whiskey's for drinking - water's for fighting" is how the old play-on-words captures the spirit of how water's been historically regarded in the west. And things are little different here today; Gallup's aquifer is receding; many Native Americans and ranchers still haul water by the ton, weekly, in back of pick-ups; sprawling ranchette developments, each with a thirsty straw sunk into the ground spread in the foothills of the Zuni Mtns. each year. I live in Gallup and so that means my tap water is the non-renewable ancient variety pumped from deep in the ground. Reports say the aquifer is receding at such a rate that the only solution is to put another straw into my favorite river- the San Juan - and pump it 120 miles to Gallup. And so, I've often considered the ethical choice i'm making by using non-renewable water to grow food in this inhospitable growing climate; is it a sustainable food solution or an expensive hobby cloaked in 'green' intentions? I hope the former, but I'll be the first to admit I could improve the effeciency of my water use in the house and garden to avoid the latter.
1500 gallon chalkboard
However, water in Gallup is not only found deep beneath the rocks; 11.5" of rain or snow falls from the sky each year. And so to limit my use of the city's fossil water I invested in a 1500 gallon plastic tank (about $900 at most local hardware stores), a 400 gallon galvanized stock tank ($159; T&R Market), and new rolled-aluminium gutters ($3-4/foot, locally installed). The stock tank captures run-off from the rear portion of the roof to irrigate my rows of chile, tomatoes, and corn. A stone hearth under one side of the tank allows it to be heated for winter soaking. The plastic tank captures rain from the front-half of the aluminum roof. A 12-volt SHURflo pump powered by a 115 amp deep-cycle battery distribute water in the tanks to any portion of the gardens. A solar-cell to charge the battery is in the works. My most trusted technical resource for water planning is Tuscon permaculture expert Brad Lancaster's website and book, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 1.
400 gal. hot-tub cistern awaiting adobe plaster
In addition to the intrinsic sustainabilty of rainwater harvesting, the roof water has been great to have on-hand for uses where chlorinated water would kill beneficial bacteria like making compost tea, bread yeast starters, brewing beer, soaking shitake mushroom logs, etc. I recently read this article showing that my rainwater harvesting and storage would amazingly be illegal in next-door Colorado, where century-old water laws prevent storing water destined for downstream users.