The announced proposals to meet the drought crisis in Oklahoma City are recklessly inadequate.
The proposal to raise rates by percent increases is fine up to a point. We’re in trouble if a large number of small users increase their usage, so we should certainly increase the price of water if a particular user’s consumption goes up more than normal.
But we are also in trouble because we have some very large domestic users of water, including golf courses, upscale homes with water amenities, and luxury business and academic campuses. This Oklahoma City Gazette article Water Hogs, online at http://www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/article-13296-water-hogs.html, reports that the top seven private homes in Oklahoma City consume more than 17 million gallons of water!
Our golf courses also consume huge amounts of water. Earlywine Park Golf Course in Oklahoma City uses 143.7 MILLION gallons of water. Oklahoma City has five publicly owned golf courses. There are . . . hmmm. . . about 10 privately owned courses. That is a lot of water, and it’s not clear, especially with the public courses, that all of that water is publicly accounted for. You occasionally see signs claiming that the golf courses are not watered with treated water. Given that our situation is an absolute shortage of water, not a capacity shortage of treated water, that claim rings false as a drought mitigation effort. I am certainly not opposed to golf, nor to publicly owned golf courses. But if I, as a home gardener, will be asked to sacrifice my plants, I expect our golf courses to be using every best practice on the books to minimize their water usage.
The basic structural change we need is to charge more when people use more. Why should my working class wallet subsidize the water greed of wealthy homeowners who use upwards of three million gallons of water each year?
Besides that structural change. . . Everyone needs to consider their personal water behavior. My new book, iPermie — how to permaculture your urban lifestyle, has a whole section on water, which discusses the importance of better personal water behavior, as well as changes to the structures that regulate our water supplies. It’s available as a $1.99 ebook download at http://www.ipermie.net . (Please excuse the commercial, but having already written thousands of words on the subject, it is easier to refer you to my published commentary than to repeat the effort here.) Oklahoma City lives and dies with its watershed. How does your personal behavior impact that watershed?
We need more water harvesting within the City. I recommend that everyone take a look at http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/ and implement suitable strategies to conserve water at your home place. Over the last few months, I’ve been sculpting my land with berms, swales, and keyhole beds to catch water that runs off the roof, driveways, sidewalks, and the higher elevations of my property and retain that so it soaks into the ground. The basic trick we want to do with rainwater is to slow it down and spread it out.
None of this looks weird. Someone looking at my yard from the street would think I have a series of raised beds with pathways. Which I do, but these particular raised beds and pathways also function as berms and swales to catch water and hold onto it long enough for it to infiltrate into the soil and soak up into the beds (swales).
We can all hope and pray that the drought breaks, but that hope should not be the basis of our public policy. Our entire city is designed to waste water because the city’s pricing of water tells a false story — that water is abundant and cheap. In fact, water is scarce and expensive, but that’s not the story our prices tell us. So we don’t design for water frugality, instead, we design for water waste.
Our politicians need to get a real-world orientation when it comes to water and so do we the people. The time to learn water conservation habits and build a water frugal city is BEFORE the climate crisis droughts drain our lakes. Those who wait, vacillate, and procrastinate will pay a terrible price for their reckless irresponsibility.
Two technical notes:
1. How to calculate the potential water harvest from your roof: Multiple the AREA of your house in square feet times the annual rainfall in feet. This gives you the cubic feet of rain that hits your roof every year. Multiply this number by 7.48, which is the number of gallons in a cubic foot of water, and voila, you have the potential harvest from your roof in gallons. You can also do this for your sidewalks and driveways and any outbuildings you may have.
Even in a dry year, this is not an insignificant amount of water. The dryest water year for Oklahoma City over the last 100 years was 10 inches of rain (.83 feet), our average annual precipitation is about 3 feet of rain.
In the driest year on record, my house, which is 1,548 sq. ft, would catch:
1548 TIMES .83 feet of rain EQUALS 1,284 cubic feet of water,
TIMES 7.48 gallons/cubic foot EQUALS 9,604 gallons.
2. The first step towards designing your own rainwater harvesting system is to observe where the water flows. Note that the place to start is by sculpting your land. Later you can think about gutters and tanks but start with berms and swale (raised beds and pathways). Every time it rains, take your umbrella and go outside and observe where the water is flowing. You may think your property is flat, but it probably isn’t, so learn how it slopes. A lot more about this is written in iPermie, but the basic trick is to start at the highest level and work from there. Always allow room for overflow. Besides iPermie, the Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond books are essential reading. Find more info about those books online at http://www.rainwaterharvesting.org.