OKC’s new drought watering plan: sacrificing food gardens for swimming pools?

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.


Posted in Good and Frugal Government, Climate Instability, food, garden, Local Food Systems, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Living, Permaculture, rainwater harvesting, water | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The sustainability community and the post-tornado disaster conversation.

Does the sustainability community have anything to contribute in this latest tornado disaster recovery?  Beyond, of course, donations of time and money to organizations working to alleviate immediate pain and suffering for those involved?

I think we do and now is the time for us to start that conversation.

The Urban Heat Island Effect.
Oklahoma City  has an enormous footprint and that creates an urban heat island effect.  This may be influencing the weather south and east of the city, an area that includes Moore. Is there a connection between tornadoes and the urban heat island effect? There isn’t enough research to say one way or another, but there is preliminary data which suggests the answer may be “yes.”   Study links tornadoes to urban heat island effect.

We need public and private investments in research so that we know whether the urban heat island is a factor in formation, intensity, and path of storms in this area. In the meantime, anything we can do to mitigate the urban heat island effect will save us money in the long run. The primary mitigations?  Planting trees, shading pavement, and white (or other light colored) or green (planted with vegetation) roofs.  If it turns out that our urban heat island is a major influence on storm formation, intensity, and path, then those mitigations take on a greater urgency.

Three ecological concepts: constancy, persistence, resilience.
In my iPermie book, I have a long discussion on the ecological concepts of constancy, persistence, and resilience. These days, the  three concepts are typically combined into the single term resilience, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

Resilience is about how a system recovers from damage. We do pretty good with that, at least, “so far so good”.  On May 20th, public and private resources mobilized instantly to respond to the grave damage of the latest Moore tornado.  That response is on-going and will continue for years.

It’s not a perfect system though. If the disaster is really big, and/or if there are multiple disasters at the same time, the resources of both public and private agencies can be stretched to the breaking point.  During the Katrina disaster, the local government cut and ran, abandoning thousands of the poorest of the poor to their fate in the face of the on-rushing hurricane.  Police killed unarmed citizens fleeing for their lives. Nursing home residents were abandoned to drown and some may even have been euthanized.

Oklahoma’s Republican congressional delegation helped delay disaster relief money for the victims of the Sandy disaster, which happened in “blue states”.  After the Moore tornado, there were calls in New York and New Jersey for their congressional delegations to oppose aid to Oklahoma as political revenge for the opposition of Oklahoma Republicans to aid for Sandy victims.

In the future, disaster relief may not be as available as it is today.  Politics, austerity, and compassion fatigue may get in the way. Which is why we can no longer afford to ignore  ecological concepts of constancy and persistence.

Constancy is the ability of a system to support itself. As with resilience, we do reasonably well with constancy ( “so far so good”), but many of our systems are brittle.  We depend upon long supply chains. Our communications and energy systems are at risk of weather, terrorism, human error, and “deferred maintenance” of normal wear and tear.   The sustainability community is already busy working on these problems with our programs to  grow local food systems, promote energy conservation and alternative energy, boost the local economy, etc. That work needs to continue.

While resilience and constancy are both necessary, it is better to not need so much resilience in the first place. Persistence is the ability of a system to defend itself against grave threats.

Because of our political and economic structures, which drive our personal decisions, we have very little community persistence. We are almost totally defenseless before the primary threats and hazards of life along the Great Plains of North America.

  • Much of our critical power and communications infrastructure is above ground, vulnerable not only to tornadoes and straight line winds, thunderstorms and hail, but also to snow, sleet, and ice storms, terrorism.  Water and fuel systems have vital above-ground technology that if damaged or destroyed render the systems inoperable.
  • Our residential and commercial housing and buildings have no defenses to speak of against severe weather damage.  Oklahoma building codes are weak and mandate little in the way of weather-resistant construction.  Oklahoma’s building industry is firmly against strengthening those building codes and is even opposed to a proposal to make tornado shelters mandatory in new construction. Our assessment systems and standards do not value storm resistant construction or life-saving structures like cellars, basements, and safe rooms.
  • Less than 10% of Oklahomans have access to a cellar.
  • There are few public shelters and  the trend in recent years is for cities to close the few existing public shelters due to a bureaucratic decision to encourage people to “shelter in place.”
  • No one knows how many schools in Oklahoma have tornado shelters or safe rooms. There is no state mandate for cellars or safe rooms for schools.

On May 20, 2013, the tragic result of this political irresponsibility was manifested before the world, as children died while “sheltering in place” in schools without adequate tornado protection, betrayed and abandoned to their fate by the politicians in the state legislature and the Moore school board.

Our pioneer ancestors with their sod huts were right.
Underground and earth-sheltered housing is the most appropriate vernacular architecture for residential properties in Tornado Alley.  If my house gets blown away by the wind or burned by fire, my intention is to replace it with a hobbit house — partially underground, earth-sheltered, storm shutters for windows and doors.  This type of construction is, I think, the natural vernacular construction for the Great Plains.  It protects against all of the extremes of Tornado Alley weather.

If we always do what we always do, we will always get what we always get.
If  we let this disaster and its recovery pass, without making some changes in the way we do things here on the Great Plains, we will compound this disaster and make the next one even worse.

  • We need to stop building brittle infrastructure and start investing in weather-proof energy and communications infrastructure.  Meme: No more brittle infrastructure!
  • We need investments in public shelters at schools. These shelters could also provide neighborhood refuges when the area is threatened with severe weather. Meme:  Protect our children from life-threatening storms!
  • We can offer housing alternatives that will resist the weather extremes of the Great Plains.  Meme: Underground and earth sheltered housing can protect your family from the extremes of Tornado Alley weather.
  • We need research into the Urban Heat Island Effect, and if it turns out to be true that the OKC urban heat island is causing  more intense storms to form and track to the south and east of the metro, then we need to do things that will mitigate our urban heat island, such as shading pavement and white and green roofs.  Meme: Study the urban heat island effect. Plant trees, shade pavement, whitewash our roofs.

Many of us are rightly concerned about what is happening with the climate. The future is likely to bring more severe and more frequent storms.  We can’t afford to simply be fatalistic and blasé about the risks of life on the Great Plains. This climate issue has consequences that may impact our resilience — the ability to recover — as well as our persistence — in the event of future disasters!

  • How many multi-billion dollar disasters can we afford?  The answer is not “As many as may happen.” Someone I know has had to replace her roof three times in the past ten years due to hail. All of the money spent on recovery is money that can’t be spent on other things, situations, opportunities.
  • After the last few mega-disasters along the Gulf Coast,  sine casualty insurance corporations stopped selling insurance along the Gulf Coast and in parts of Florida. What happens if insurers stop selling insurance for tornadoes and hail storms in Oklahoma?
  • Insurance companies will certainly raise their rates in Oklahoma to recoup all of the multiple billions of dollars that this latest disaster will cost.  My house insurance nearly doubled over the past decade.  What happens if it doubles again in the next decade? The money I spend on insurance premiums I can’t spend for other things. What will the economic impacts of soaring casualty insurance payments be to the Oklahoma economy?
  • How many people are we willing to kill by our foolish and imprudent lack of community preparations for the known hazards of the area?
  • Why do we elect politicians to school boards who build schools without proper tornado protection?  I am inclined to vote against all incumbents in future school board elections absent some rather fast action to solve this problem.

Right now, politicians are crawling all over Moore, Shawnee, and the other damaged areas, emoting public sympathy for the victims.  Totally absent from their commentaries is anything that approaches a constructive effort to reduce the damage that these grave storms can do.  None are acknowledging any responsibility for the political and economic structures that make this disaster worse than it needed to be. They won’t discuss a state mandate for storm cellars in schools and even the City of Moore is backing away from a proposal to require storm shelters in all new construction, due to opposition by home builder associations. 

That kind of do-nothing, “it’s not raining, the roof isn’t leaking, so we don’t have to fix it” attitude has killed people again and again and again in our history.    Here’s another meme:  Vote against all politicians who don’t protect children and neighborhoods with school and public shelters. No exceptions! No political commitment to school and public shelters, no vote!

Got a plan?
The final thing the sustainability community can do is get busy doing for ourselves, so that our households and neighborhood communities are characterized by constancy, persistence, and resilience.  As we create a community of safety and security at the grassroots level, we will see change in our politics.  There are things that we as individuals and families need to do, and there are things the government needs to do, and civil society is part of this too.  We should all get busy.  Do what you can, with what you have, where you are to create a community that is persistent, constant, and resilient.

You can work on this on your own, but it’s more fun if you get others involved as a community project.

My ebook  iPermie! How to permaculture your urban lifestyle, has 399,000 words on the subject of creating a life that is persistent, constant, and resilient.  It is only $1.99 at http://www.ipermie.net. If you can’t afford two dollars, email me and I will send you one for free.  It’s an ebook, available as a pdf or any of the other major formats (Kindle, Nook, Android, Apple, Kobo, etc.).

Summary of suggested talking points/memes:

  • No more brittle infrastructure!
  • Protect our children from life-threatening storms!
  • Underground and earth sheltered housing can protect your family from the extremes of Tornado Alley weather.
  • Study the urban heat island effect. Plant trees, shade pavement, whitewash our roofs.
  • Vote against all politicians who don’t protect children and neighborhoods with school and public shelters. No exceptions! No political commitment to school and public shelters, no vote!
  • Do what you can, with what you have, where you are to create a community that is persistent, constant, and resilient.
Posted in Good and Frugal Government, Climate Instability, Environmental Sustainability, Permaculture, Safe Community, Social Justice | Tagged , | Leave a comment

On pilgrimage in Hughes County

I had no intention of getting arrested as part of the Keystone pipeline opposition.

My friend Stefan Warner, youth minister at Church of the Open Arms, had been by a few times and talked about it.  He asked me what I thought about him getting arrested and I told him I would certainly support him 100% and it was a good thing to do.

Then he asked if I would consider getting arrested.

That wasn’t so interesting to me.  I am, after all, a busy person.  I have lots of responsibilities.  But I will help publicize and write letters and etc from the safety of my home at NW 21 and McKinley.

Somehow though the thought wouldn’t go away. It kept coming back to my mind, typically when I was praying and just after receiving Communion, and so I continued to work on my list of excuses, eventually developing a really impressive list of reasons why I could not do that particular thing in the cause of justice and care of Creation.

In other words, Jonah was becoming my middle name.

To refresh our memories a bit. . . God told Jonah to go preach repentance to the people of Ninevah, capital of Assyria, surely one of the most bloodthirsty empires of all time, whose spectacles of torture of captives are legendary even to this late date.  I’m sure Jonah figured he would end up being torn to pieces in some particularly fiendish way just for the entertainment of the population.

As we all know, his refusal extended to running away on an ocean voyage, and a three day stay in the belly of a whale.

Fortunately, I managed to avoid the whale fate.

A few days ago I came to a sudden certainty that yes Bobby Max Waldrop, you needed to go put your body on the line.  The spiritual discernment method that I am trained in is known as the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius, and this certainly fit the bill as one of the methods God makes His will known to us.  So I sent an email to my friend, Frank Cordaro, at the Des Moines Catholic Worker, who has been urging me for some time to take up getting arrested as a spiritual discipline, just in case, you know, the next morning the certainty was gone. If it had been gone, that would itself have been a sign that perhaps it wasn’t God speaking to me but only my emotions or the politics of the moment. Everybody doesn’t have to do everything in the cause of justice, peace, and the care of Creation, but I think it is unwise to turn your back on what God might be calling a person to do.

In any event it wasn’t gone the next day and it didn’t go away as we planned this event and so it came to pass that arrangements were made with the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance team and we were off to Hughes County about 4 AM Monday morning.  I had about 1 hour sleep.

Spiritually I was ready.  I went to confession on Sunday, received Communion at Mass.  I took along a Rosary, prayer cards for all my favorite saints (IF YOU MUST KNOW — St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, St. Joan of Arc, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Patrick,   St Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist), St Peter, St Michael the Archangel, St Florian patron of firefighters).) I didn’t have a prayer card for her, but I had been praying a Novena to St. Kateri Tekawitha. I also took my house icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a Crucifix.  We  inscribed the words Kyrie Eleison on the restraint (see the picture for how it turned out) and I also bought 4 dozen flowers.

We got to the site around 6 AM.  We had easy access.  There was no night watchman.  There was no “No Trespassing” sign. The gate wasn’t locked.  We opened it and then we closed it behind us.

The first snafu was that the first idea for a place to attach me and my giant concrete restraint turned out to be too high in the air and I thought it would be too straining physically for me to be in that position for long.  So we found another excavator across the road, which had a convenient metal ring that I could put my arm through, then that arm went into one side of the cast and the other into the other side, and voila, I was not going anywhere.

The first workers arrived and some hilarity ensued.  Apparently if they don’t get sent to another site they get the day off with pay after waiting a certain amount of time.  When one left, he hollered out his window, “Come back any time boys.”

A friend who is also part of the GPTSR stayed with me.  I had a bladder with a sipping tube for water, and some boiled eggs and pumpkin seeds for snacks.  I wasn’t particularly hungry but just before the sheriff arrived I decided to go ahead and eat an egg.

The site was  “flat Oklahoma land.” I had taken my contact lenses out, the wind was blowing and I figured the extraction, when it happened, would have to be somewhat vigorous, so the contact lenses came out before I locked myself down and went into a case in my little personal bag I had with me, which also had a couple  days worth of my medications.

The sun came up.  Birds started chirping. It was a beautiful clear morning, there were cattle on pasture not fenced away from the construction site.  They ignored us until the sheriff and firefighters arrived, then they started running across the road in front of their cars, sort of like they were running interference for us.

The sheriff walked up and said something along the lines of “It’s a fine morning young man.”

I replied, “That seems to be an exaggeration.”  He asked — “Which, the fine morning or the young man?” I said, “The young man,” Which he thought was funny.  About that time the under-sheriff walked up — in uniform — and said, “He’s just mad because I dragged him out of the coffee shop.”

They both came over and inspected the restraint device. They asked me what Kyrie Eleison meant.  They didn’t ask me to leave.  In fact, no one ever actually asked me to leave.  Not the sheriffs, not the firemen, not the representative from Trans Canada who eventually showed up.  I think they just forgot in the excitement.  They did ask if there were feces inside, and I replied, “There better not be.”  I guess somebody told them that we might do that, somebody probably being Trans Canada.

They wandered off for a minute, came back, a Trans Canada guy showed up and started snapping pictures and recording video.  No one had asked my friend to leave.

The Holdenville Fire Dept then arrived in a small truck with two firemen.  They were a bit more grumpy, “Don’t you realize someone might die because we are here and can’t rescue them?” I replied, “Surely your dispatch would have enough sense to pull you out of here if somebody somewhere else was actually at risk of some real danger.”

So he brought over an ax, handed it to the sheriff, who started hitting the restraint device rather vigorously about 4 inches in front of my nose.  Then the sheriff  handed the ax to the firefighter and said, “You’re younger than me, you do it.” About that time, the Trans Canada guy asked the sheriff to ask my friend to leave. I guess they decided they didn’t want any witnesses.

After he was gone, the firefighter (the grumpy one) started whacking, first with the sharp end of the ax, then with the flat back.  That cracked some concrete, they fetched additional tools and started working through the layers.  Then they started whacking again, this time to the front of the device, so the blows were effectively aimed at my upper torso.

I was amazingly calm throughout this.  My heart rate did not elevate.  None of the tell tale signs of high blood pressure materialized.  I almost felt disembodied, as if I was watching this happen to someone else. The ax whacking became a lot more vigorous and the restraint device began to move around quite a bit, which caused some considerable amount of pain to my wrists.  There were chains on my wrists, which carabiners on the end, when I put my arms into the restraint, I clipped the carabiners on to a bolt embedded into the device.

So I decided I had made my point and I told them, “I am at my limit.” They immediately stopped and I extricated my left hand, but I had to have help with the right because the device had moved so that I didn’t have any play in the chain and one of the onlookers had to reach in through the left arm hole and undo the carabiner.

The under-sheriff then walked me over to his car and searched me.  I said, “You aren’t going to handcuff me?” He said, “You aren’t telling me that you need to be handcuffed are you? ” I said, “No.”

Nice ride, as such things go, to the Hughes County Jail.  At the jail, I waited a bit while the booking matron released someone, and then she began the booking process. While  being fingerprinted, the other inmates were calling out, “Oh no, they’ve arrested Santa Claus, we won’t get any presents.” The matron told them, “Settle down boys, his elves have already bailed him out.”

Catholic Workers often refuse to post bail, Dorothy Day never posted bail, she just waited until they let her out.  What can I say, this was my first time, maybe I will “do better” next time.

We ended up at a McDonalds, where I ate my first McDonalds food in a Very Long Time. It was a salad though, so I didn’t get any pink slime, lol. They had wifi which is why I guess it was chosen for the rally point.

Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance was very well organized and tactically, the entire effort was carried out very well.  I am very grateful to them for their practical and moral support, the bail money, and their experience and organizing abilities. There was a police liaison, a worker liaison, a media team, a companion for the resistor, and back up people here and there with vehicles.  Some of the workers took our flowers but none of the law enforcement or fire department people did.

I have been charged with trespassing, although my lawyer notes that in the absence of any official demand for me to leave, he is no sure what grounds they have to charge me with trespassing.  In any event, I will plead “Not guilty because my actions were necessary to prevent a greater evil.”  First court date is June 28, my attorney is Bob Parr, who seems very competent and eager (the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance arranged for the attorney).

While standing there for several hours, I had time for some musings.  I find myself wondering why there is such a ruckus when something like this happens.  After all, they could have just left us there until we got tired and left and then this would have been a complete non-event.  But that’s not what they did.  They swooped down on us and the whole thing played out.  So I am wondering “What’s up with Trans Canada?” They made a point in their PR about our action that the pipeline was “on schedule” but I wonder if that is really true. They aren’t acting like a corporation confident of its position.

In fact, they seem to be acting like they are freaked out scared of something.

I wonder what that might be?

Rumor has it that TransCanada may sue the protestors.  That’s fine.  They are going to fight with money. We will resist with time.  They will run out of money before we run out of time.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

Ten Tragedies, a Call to Action, an Appeal to People of Faith — the reasons why I did this.

Novena to St. Kateri Tekawitha against the pipeline construction (start it and pray it anytime, anywhere!)

Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance


Posted in Catholic, Climate Instability, Corporation shenanigans, Environmental Sustainability, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Living, Peak Oil, water | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Against the Ecocide in Canada and the Keystone Pipeline

Ten tragedies, a call to action, and an appeal to people of faith.

A new essay, hair and beard on fire, on the situation with the Keystone pipeline and the ecocide in Canada (tar sands production).  It is posted online at http://www.justpeace.org/keystonepipeline.html .

See also Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance at http://gptarsandsresistance.org/ for updates.

Bob Waldrop

Posted in Catholic, Climate Instability, Corporation shenanigans, Environmental Sustainability, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Living, Peak Oil | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ten years of drought susceptibility ahead of us.

The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts and the Oklahoma Conference of Churches have partnered on a project to encourage people to pray for rain to end the drought.  Some here in central Oklahoma may be wondering “What Drought?” but that is strictly a matter of our location, which has been blessed with recent rains. Most of Oklahoma remains deep in drought, and the long term outlook (10-20 years is actually quite grave.)

The Pray for Rain project was kicked off yesterday with a press conference at the State Capitol followed by a luncheon at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Gary McManus, associate state climatologist with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, gave a most interesting presentation about the current drought and our prospects for the future.

Here begins a transcription of my notes regarding his presentation.  Executive summary: Not Good News.  We should all go to www.okpray4rain.com and sign up to schedule a service of prayer for rain at your particular faith tradition.


The state of Climate Science is that we know more about the climate ten years from now than we do about the next three months.  The recent rains have primarily been a phenomenon of a band in the central part of the state and in the east.  The peripheries of the state remain in serious drought.

The present drought cycle started in October 2010.  The Summer of 2011 was the hottest summer for any state on record, not just “hottest in Oklahoma history”.  There was some recovery due to rains from October 2011 through March 2012 over the eastern 2/3 of the state.  The western third didn’t see as much relief.

The drought returned with the failure of the spring rains in April/May 2012.

The extreme heat aggravated the drought — the winter of 2010-2011 was warm and that didn’t help either.

In 2013, February was the 12th wettest February on record. March was dry, but it was also cool, which helped.  April 2013 was wet in most areas, but NOT everybody.

Large scale climate patterns don’t necessarily predict a dry spring, but they do point to a serious risk of drought susceptibility about which more will be said later.

La Nina drives drought on the southern Plains.

When the Pacific cools, air flow patterns at the equator change.  This pushes the Jet Stream to the north.  The Jet Stream controls storms and thus influences rain. So this pushes the rain north.  The southern 2/3 of the US gets dry.  Looking at the last 100 years, La Nina has a strong correlation with dry weather in Oklahoma.

Our water year goes from October 1st through September 30th.  The 2010-2011 water year was the second driest on record, on average the state was 16 inches below normal rainfall.  1956 was the record driest.  The 1930s and the 1950s were very dry decades, the 1950s actually more so than the 1930s. These trends may repeat.

Across the state, 2010-2011, we were 8 inches to 20 inches below our normal rainfall. 16 inches was the statewide average.  In October 2011, the US Drought Monitor showed 70% of the state in D4 drought, which is the highest level of drought.  D4 droughts should be a “1 in 50″ or “1 in 100″ year event.

After the relief in part of the state in late 2011 and early 2012, in the spring the rains failed and the drought surged back.  It intensified through January 2013, rain in general was 13 inches below normal.

Oklahoma has two rainy seasons — spring and fall.  Both seasons are critical for agriculture and livestock and the general ecology and its watersheds. January 2013 was the third driest January on record.

February 2013 brought relief in some areas.  Between February 2013 and April 21, 2013, rain was above normal in central and east central Oklahoma.  But western Oklahoma and the Panhandle mostly remained dry.


Next seven days, more rain chances except in the southwest, west, and Panhandle.

May – July, like to have above normal temperatures, except in the Panhandle, which has a slight chance of below normal temperatures.

Drought will continue in Oklahoma except in far eastern Oklahoma through the summer.  There may be some continued improvement in central Oklahoma, assuming the spring rains continue into May and the fall rains show up.


There are three major planetary conditions that impact Oklahoma weather, and there is a fourth developing that presently is a wild card.

1. El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has a 1-3 year period. El Nino correlates with cooler and wetter conditions on the Great Plains. La Nina sends us warmer and drier weather.

2.  Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). This has a twenty to third YEAR period. In its cool phase, we have more La Nina’s, and that’s generally bad for Okalhoma.  In its warm phase, we see more El Ninos and that means wetter and cooler weather along the Great Plains.

3.  Atlantic Decadal Oscillation (ADO).  Its warm phase is bad for Oklahoma (hotter, drier). Its cool phase is good for Oklahoma (wetter, cooler).


The 1950s drought, the worst drought since settlement was a three strike event — La Nina, Cool PDO, warm ADO.

The 1930s drought, 2nd worst drought since settlement — La Nina, Cool PDO, warm ADO.  Three strikes.

The bad news:  those same three conditions prevail now.

This does not mean we will have 10-20 years of drought.  It is a prediction of 10-20 years of drought susceptibility.

Recent history has been very favorable.  The years 1975 – 2005 saw abundant rainfall. But with the three — ENSO, PDO, ADO — lined up against us, going forward we will see more dry years than wet years.  (Bob note: IOW, the dice will be loaded against us somewhat.)

Monsters that lurk in our past.

Droughts of recent years are babies compared to historical events.  The last fifty years have been a very favorable time on the Great Plains. The history of the Great Plains of North America contains some monster droughts as long as 150 years.

There was a 25 year drought, 1850-1875 which destroyed the western cattle industry, which led to opening up the Plains for homesteading.

One of those 150 year droughts brought down the Anasazi peoples at Chaco Canyon.

2010-2013 summary. 

We saw two drought periods within a longer period. At present, the eastern two-thirds of the state have had some relief. The next two months are critical for the rest of the year. (Bob note: more so for western Oklahoma which has had little relief.)

If May -June are dry, then we get a third year of drought.

Ocean patterns are long term unfavorable for the state.

The wild card is the melting of the Arctic sea ice.  This is a very major developing issue. Without ice, the ocean absorbs heat and that changes weather patterns. There is some evidence that our extended hot and extended cold periods are related to the melting of arctic ice.


The only drought in history that hasn’t ended in the present drought we are in.  All droughts eventually do end.


End of transcript.

My question for my readers is — how does an extended 10-20 year drought impact you and those you love and the economic systems that support you?

How will you adapt to meet these looming challenges?

That’s why I wrote iPermie: how to permaculture your urban lifestyle and why I priced it so cheaply.  You need a plan. iPermie is a guide to getting a plan.

Posted in Climate Instability, Economic Prosperity, Environmental Sustainability, Financial Crisis, food, Local Food Systems, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Living, Permaculture, rainwater harvesting, water | Tagged , | Leave a comment

An unwelcome and tragic reminder.

Today’s Boston Marathon bombings are an unwelcome reminder of the realities of this era.  Witnesses to the event said, “This must be what it is like in Iraq.”  And that’s true. This is what life has been like in Iraq for a long time.  People just walk down the street, going about their ordinary errands — and boom! they are dead, their lives end in an explosion of blood and terror and death. Maybe it’s a roadside or sidewalk-side bomb planted by a non-state terrorist.  Perhaps it’s a missile strike fired by a drone operated by agents of state terror.

Today’s tax day reminds me that my taxes have helped pay for a considerable amount of such mayhem, in terms of both direct and indirect violence.  Paying such taxes is always on my list of sins to confess when I go to confession. Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I willingly wrote a check for the balance I owed the government above what was withheld, after dutifully declaring all the little bits and pieces of income in my life, $41.60 here, $293 there. It doesn’t add up to a huge amount but the devil certainly got his due out of it.

But so did the Lord, because even a wild and crazed anarchist  like myself admits that governments on occasion manage to do some good.  I know lots of firefighters and I think what they do is very important and critical and I am glad that I can pay taxes to finance their operations. And I don’t even mind the government borrowing a prudent amount of money on occasion on behalf of their activities.

At the rate the world is devolving, we unfortunately will be in great need of fire fighters and other emergency first responders.

NB: Those of us of the Catholic and Orthodox and Episcopalian and Lutheran religious persuasions and thus in the habit of invoking saints. . .   should be calling upon  St. Michael for all emergency first responders and St. Florian for firefighters in particular.  All can add their voices and prayers in their own ways and traditions.

And then we need to all go out and wash the feet of people we meet.

After the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, someone put up billboards all over town — ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

That is eternal truth. Our good doings are the answer to evil’s doings in the world. Great or small, every act of beauty and wisdom stands against the increasing chaos and violence of our day.  Even though the structures of evil that make it so easy to do violence in this world appear to prosper and seem irresistible, their strength and permanence are not what their proponents would have us believe. All of that world of evil is at risk as we, by grace and work, create our own structures of goodness that will make it easier for all to do good and resist the bad.

It doesn’t look that way right now, because the mainstream media conditions us to believe in the inevitable triumph of evil and the defeat of all that is good. We are fed a steady diet of misinformation and propaganda that this year finds maybe an ultimate expression in the premier of a television series on a major United States network about a cannibalistic mass murderer.

The reason for building alternative structures now, before the feces hit the ventilating device full strength, is so that when the feces do fly, we have some shelter and don’t get plastered.  Truthfully, I’d have to say that depending on where you are at, the feces may already be hitting the ventilation devices.

There doesn’t seem to be much time to waste.

It would help if the United States government would stop contributing such a significant amount of violence and terror to the world situation.  That’s within our power. We could, constitutionally, do something about that.  We could amend the Constitution to keep our troops and fleets at home unless we are attacked or are rescuing people in the wake of a disaster. We could have a Department of Peace to go with our Department of War. We could sit here on the North American continent armed to the teeth, cheek, and jowls and nobody is going to bother us. We’ve already established our potential for violence in the world. I don’t think anyone needs anything further to understand exactly what we are capable of in this world.  So we can declare peace and go home.

Those who run around the world looking for trouble will certainly find it. Now would be a good time to  stop asking for trouble and start minding our peace.

It all begins at my house. And yours. No one has to wait for anyone else to start counteracting the evil that runs so strongly in our days.  Everyone, in their own individual ways, can do something.  And we all need to do something.  No slacking when it comes to the good!

I say that today is truly an emergency and we should all respond with good to overcome this evil. 


Posted in Catholic, Middle East, Peace, Social Justice, War and Peace | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

More anti-sustainability nonsense.

Here in Oklahoma, the focus seems to be on an obscure UN program, “Agenda 21,” which promotes sustainability.  A recent meeting in Tulsa resulted in this story — Tulsa group fears UN agenda is assault on personal rights. 

Meanwhile, our neighbors to the North in Kansas provoked this screaming headline this week at Bloomberg: Kansas’s Self Destruct Button: A bill to outlaw sustainability. It defines sustainability as —

“development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come.”

It’s a good thing our great grandparents and grandparents didn’t follow this anti-sustainability nonsense. If they had, Oklahoma and Kansas would both be deserts today. I wonder if anyone in the anti-agenda 21 crowd realizes that they are making the outrageous claim that farmers terracing their fields and the work of the soil conservation district system are essential components of a menacing anti-American UN plot. 

The hypocrisy of this movement is evident.

Do we hear an assault on neighborhood single use residential  zoning, which prevents people from adding basement, attic, garage, or backyard apartments?

Do we hear calls for an end to anonymous snitching on neighbors that brings code enforcement, armed with the statutes of a nanny state so detailed that the allowable height of grass is legislated, down upon a homeowner, in a clear violation of his or her property rights?

Do we hear demands that the rest stops on our highways and turnpikes be opened up as places for a free market in commerce?

Of course not. And the reason for that is very simple. Actual property rights have nothing to do with what the paymasters manipulating this issue aim to achieve.

I like property rights. Property rights are the rights of human beings with respect to property. As such, I am a firm defender of property rights.

Here in the nanny-state of Oklahoma City, the code enforcement commissars routinely make outrageous claims like “your mulch is trash,” or “your compost pile is trash”, “your dandelions are weeds.”  Oklahoma City dictates where I can plant a fruit tree on my property.

Never mind the fact that I paid for this house, and I pay property taxes on it every year.  Where is the outrage from Anti-Agenda 21 folks about these violations of property rights? It’s nowhere. I’ve asked them — online — about this, and they don’t even reply. Actual defense of real property rights is not on their agenda.

Right now in Oklahoma there are many transparent, grassroots initiatives to bring about a more sustainable way of living on this land. That grassroots involvement, however, is what the paymasters of the anti-Agenda 21 crowd are afraid of. They don’t want people organizing at the grassroots for any reason. They want us to continue to divide ourselves from each other based on issues we disagree on, so we never understand that people actually agree on many things across ideological divides.

Consider the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. Conservative, fundamentalist Christians work happily alongside pagan lesbians. We even have Unitarians! AND Catholics! Lions and tigers and bears OH MY!

And then there’s VOICE — Voices Organized In Civic Engagement — which is doing faith and organization-based organizing in the Oklahoma City area. How does it happen that Unitarians and Catholics can come together and work on projects that benefit the whole community? Because of a focus on issues where we agree, and not on issues where we disagree. Obviously, Catholics and Unitarians differ on many issues, important to both of us, some of these differences are in the nature of “radical”, but why should we let things we disagree about stop us from working together to get things done that we both agree need doing?

The divide and conquer focus on what we disagree is a tactic that was ancient when Machiavelli wrote about it in the Prince. It is a primary method of social and political and economic control in the United States today.

Every person who wakes up and checks out of that divide and conquer system, and struggles to see his or her neighbor as a truly human person, even if they are a conservative fundamentalist Christian. . . or a radical lesbian Unitarian. . . or a Democrat . . . or a Republican. . . strikes a death blow against those who seek ultimately the ruin of our civilization with their greed and bloodthirsty lust for power.

Posted in Corporation shenanigans, Environmental Sustainability, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Living, Permaculture, Social Justice | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Towards a barefoot permaculture corps. . .

A holistic look at the world situation explores what it means to go from bad to worse. The earth’s systems — biological, economic, political —  continue to degenerate and fall apart and the velocity of the devolution appears to be accelerating.  Entropy is gaining ground.

As hundreds become thousands and thousands become millions, we build a better future, one life at a time, when people take control of their own destinies and design a plan for a life and way of living that cares for people, cares for the planet, and has a care for the future. This would be a corps of barefoot permaculturists.

Everyone does not need to know how to do complicated permaculture designs for large and complex properties. What everybody does need though is enough permaculture knowledge and skill and understanding so that they can intelligently design their own lives, and manage their interdependencies and relationships with others, so that they and all that they do cares for the planet, cares for people, and cares for the future..

People can do this by forming small groups to study permaculture and learn from each other. You can use free materials found online, like the Permaculture Design Pamphlets available for free at http://www.barkingfrogspermaculture.org/PDC_ALL.pdf . People can use books from the library or buy the Permaculture Design Manual. Or they can spend $1.99 for a copy of the ebook iPermie, which specifically advocates this kind of grassroots approach, and in its 399K words, gives some ideas for strategies and tactics that are useful in real life. See http://www.ipermie.net for more information and links to versions in various formats (Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple devices and phones, etc.)

The future is designed every moment of every day.  What future does your life design for you and all you love?

Posted in Climate Instability, Environmental Sustainability, Local Food Systems, Peak Oil, Permaculture, Social Justice | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Senator Rob Johnson, Prince of Death, Cheap Whore

Today’s news reports that the Senate’s General Government Panel, led by Senator Rob Johnson, defeated the proposal to allow local governments to establish their own smoking regulations.  As things stand right now, only the state legislature can enact such regulations. Cities can’t even control smoking in their own parks.

The Oklahoman reports that the chairman of this committee, Senator Rob Johnson, received more money from the tobacco culture of death corporations than any other member of the state legislature, about $10,000.  He obviously gave them their money’s worth.

In news reports, he whined that his ideology was more important than the common good.  Well, he didn’t actually say that, but that seems to me to be the common sense translation of what he did say, which was something nonsensical about “business rights.”

Anyway, I think Senator Johnson deserves recognition for his efforts to boost the culture of death.  We obviously do not have enough misery, grief, and sorrow in this state.  We need more cancer, more emphysema, more heart disease! As a fine and upstanding Republican member of the Oklahoma Legislature, Senator Johnson will no doubt do his best to  do the bidding of the tobacco culture of death corporations who have bought and paid for his services. If that means more dead bodies, well, obviously that is a small price to pay for those nice checks  from the tobacco corporations.

I have prepared a certificate proclaiming Senator Johnson as a “Prince of Death”.  If you would like to download it and send it to him, I am sure he would appreciate the gesture.  Download it at http://www.bobwaldrop.net/death.pdf.

Cheap whores and lunatics, that seems to be what we have this year at the Oklahoma State Legislature.  Here’s hoping Senator Johnson has some primary opposition next time around.  Looks like a considerable amount of his district is within the parish boundaries of the Church of Epiphany where I work as director of music.  I will be sure to pass around news of his allegiance to the culture of death.

Posted in Good and Frugal Government | Tagged | Leave a comment

Oklahoma City’s water policies are recklessly inadequate.

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.










Posted in Good and Frugal Government, Climate Instability, Economic Prosperity, Environmental Sustainability, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Living, Permaculture, rainwater harvesting, water | Tagged , , | Leave a comment