The City sent everyone in town a brochure this week describing the new City contingency plans for watering restrictions during drought. At first glance, it looks reasonable, even prudent, but there’s a big bamboozling devil in its details, and that is its total silence on the subject of swimming pools. Apparently, those who own backyard swimming pools will be able to empty and fill them at will even in the worst stages of drought emergency!
Meanwhile, those of us who have planted food gardens out of economic and nutritional necessity will not be able to hand water our food plants even though others will be allowed to wallow in tens of thousands of gallons of water for their upscale backyard pools.
Sounds a bit odd to me. If things are so bad that we can’t water our food gardens and edible landscaping, it seems to me we shouldn’t be able to fill pools either.
We should ask: is this a truly universal policy? Will golf courses, which get free untreated water from the City, have to comply?
Sauce for the goose should always be sauce for the gander, but that’s not the way things work in Okie City, where who you are, and how much you have often matter much more than the common good.
So! We must look out for ourselves and our edible landscaping. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid the drought wolves:
I. Drought-sculpt your lawn. When it rains, grab an umbrella and spend time watching where the water runs on your property. Chances are, your lawns are higher than your sidewalks and driveway, so these paved areas act like canals to shoot water off your property into the storm sewer system.
- You will need a shallow swale on the downhill side of your sidewalks and driveway, so the water runs off the driveway or sidewalk into the yard. A swale is a place, lower than the surrounding area, where water can pool and soak in or slowly flow and soak in.
- Imagine a series of half scallops marching across your yard, made from scooping up dirt from a circle about 3′ in diameter and piling it on the downhill half of the circle. We’ll call the pile of dirt a “berm” and the purpose of this arrangement of circular swales and half circle berms is to provide places where water can pool and soak in. As it does so, it creates an underground lens of water under the berm. The berms are the equivalent of raised planting beds. The swales are the equivalent of a sunken planting bed. Space the berms about one foot apart. Plant “more water loving plants” in the circular swale. Put plants that don’t like such wet feet on the berms/raised beds.
- You get extra points if you put the berms on top of sticks and logs. Before you start digging, pile up some sticks and logs, outlining the place where your berm will be. If you do this to the whole yard, you can visualize the entire system and make any changes that seem necessary before you start digging. As you dig the soil from the circular berm, cover the logs and sticks with it. This is known as “hugulkultur” and it is another drought resistance tactic, as the wood will get spongy and retain water that your plants can use.
- Start these scallop berms and circular swales at the highest elevation of your yard and work your way to the lowest. Usually the land is highest close to your house and lowest at the curb. Generally we don’t start water harvesting structures like this within 10 feet of a building. The next row is off set from the first row. When the first row of circular swales fill up, the water will flow between the berms to the next row. So on your next row, center a circular swale on the foot wide space between the first row’s berms. AND so on and so forth, across the property.
- Try to follow the contour (slope) of your land, as best you can. We’re talking mostly about small, residential properties here, not 160 acre fields. The swales along your sidewalks and driveway should connect to this system of circular swales and half-scallop berms.
II. Mulch! Mulch! Mulch!
We want six inches of mulch everywhere you have food growing. If it comes to a drought emergency, don’t water with a hose. Instead, use a bucket and a dipper. Don’t water the mulch. Pull the mulch aside and pour water directly on the ground around the plant. Then cover it with mulch again.
Mulch your container plants too. They take more water than in-ground plants, so you need to mulch them to reduce evaporation.
III. Get your church to drill a well.
Every church in Oklahoma should drill a well. That would represent an enormous increase in the resilience and persistence and constancy of the entire area. Test the water to make sure it is pure. If we get to a drought emergency, it will be illegal to water your garden with City water. But you could use water from a well — from a neighbor’s well, or from a well on your church (or synagogue, or temple) property. Carrying water in this way will certainly teach you to be a frugal waterer of your vegetable garden.
IV. Use grey water.
- Wash your dishes in a basin in the kitchen sink, and then pour the water onto your garden.
- Put a tote in your shower, stand in that while you shower, then carry it out and dump it in the garden.
- Put a basin in the bathroom sink, to catch the water when you wash your face, brush your teeth, clean your contacts, etc. Pour that on your garden plants.
Greywater must be used immediately. Don’t attempt to store it, it will get fetid and foul quickly. So take it out and pour it onto the garden right when you are finished washing ot showering. Pour it onto mulch.
V. Become a water conservative.
Everyone can change personal habits so they become more water conservative.
- Short showers! 3-4 minutes, shut the water off while soaping and scrubbing. Don’t take baths unless you are ill or your body is sore and you need to soak. Filling a bath tub takes a LOT more water than a short shower.
- Don’t let water run mindlessly.
- Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator so you don’t run tap water to get to the cooler water.
- When it comes to flushing the toilet. . . “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow. If its brown, flush it down.”
- Never use a garbage disposal! Any organic waste that would go down a garbarg disposal should be composted! Don’t waste water flushing vital nutrients into the sewer system!
- Fix any water leaks! Make sure all faucets have aerators.
- Drive less — it takes 13 gallons of water to make one gallon of gasoline.
- Don’t buy a new car — it takes 39,000 gallons of water to make a new car and all of its parts and accoutrements.
- Teach your children water conservatism.
VI. Pray for rain.
I know it sounds odd to talk about the need to pray for rain, after the recent spate of rains and storms here in Central Oklahoma, but much of Oklahoma remains in a drought situation, including places where OKC has lakes to supply drinking water. Pray for rain that is a blessing, not a curse, as we have found recently that rain and certainly be too much of a good thing.
VII. Advocate for more sensible policies.
Contact the mayor and your city council people and urge them to evolve their drought policy so it allows for responsible hand watering of food gardens and forbids filling pools when water is scarce.