Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Debate

Super Tuesday's over, Romney's dropped out of the race, Hillary and Obama are set to debate here in Texas, and folks are thinking our state may play a significant role in the election of the next President. In spite of all that, a debate of another kind may have more impact on the quality of life we gardeners can expect in the future. It's about the availability of water and the conflict many homeowners feel every time we talk about whether or not to reduce or eliminate turf areas, what kinds of plants to use in our landscapes, and how far we should go with the idea of rainwater harvesting - whether it's going to be buckets, barrels, or bigger.

Like many homeowners, the resale value of our home is always weighed against changes my husband and I might want to make to reduce our water consumption. Our suburban neighborhood attracts families, and families like grass for the kids to play on. The suburban code seems to mandate the requisite patch of green from front door to street. However, there's an ever growing number of those families drawing water from a limited supply. An average of 60% of that water consumption is being used for watering turf, and we jeopardize the quality of our water with the runoff of the fertilizers and pesticides we use to keep them picture perfect. We actually saw our water bill exceed $300 one month that didn't seem out of the ordinary in terms of heat or water usage. So reducing turf areas makes economic and environmental sense.

So, why don't we do it? Is it the expense or the aesthetics? When I bring up rainwater harvesting with friends or at rainwater harvesting seminars, people almost always say they want to do it but ...
Some don't think the tanks will be okay with their neighbors or homeowners' associations, or are afraid it will reduce the value of their home if they decide to sell. Some don't know how and think it's going to mean a choice between cactus gardens and lush green retreats. Some just don't know where to start. After going through rainwater harvesting specialist training through our Master Gardener program, I knew a long list of compelling reasons we should do it, could recite the theory of how to do it, but still hadn't actually done it at my own house.

Last weekend, we initiated change in our patch of the planet with the delivery of a 1600 gallon tank. I know it looks HUGE - but when I told a friend who's installed systems all over the world what size tank we got, he said, "Oh, you got the small one." Later, when he was looking at where we planned to put it, he said it was a great place because there would be room for the second one about 4 feet away. Hmmm, well, one step at a time.

Step One was horrifying our neighbors with the arrival of the big green tank.

Actually, step one for me was going to Menard, Texas, taking the training, and seeing systems of all sizes from a small one to feed a little fish pond to the big one complete with educational gardens at the city library to the single tank for watering an enclosed patch of "backyard" at a goat ranch. My instructor, Billy Kniffen, always invites the classes over to his home to see what he's accomplished on property purchased for a song because it had no water supply. His two story home, shop, pond, and lush gardens are all supplied by rainwater. When it came to actually putting water into a tank in my own yard, though, I froze and realized the enormous gap between theory and practice. That's where having an installation close by for reference really helps. In Austin, you can go to Zilker Gardens and see a couple of different systems that have been installed by the Master Gardeners.
Bud Kane is one of the experienced installers, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all the hand holding he's been willing to do with me. In turn, I'm going to document our installation for you; so consider your hand held. Feel free to ask questions as this goes along.

This is the point of the day we were sure we heard a collective gasp from the neighbors. I'm sure they were worried they'd be looking at that big green tank for a long time.

This is Corinne, the wonderful voice of Triple S Feed. She knows what they carry, what's in stock at the Creedmoor location and the Dripping Springs location, the tank dimensions, what fittings you might want, and sometimes even talks her husband into making a delivery on a Sunday morning.

Once it's unloaded, the easiest way to move it is to roll it. This tank only weighs about 250 pounds, but its shape makes it awkward to move any other way. We removed one panel of the fence (in one piece) and rolled the tank into the back yard. The fence panel goes right back in place. This tank is 6 feet tall and 7 feet in diameter, and will be hidden from view by the fence.

It actually takes more people to decide where it goes than it does to move it around.

Corinne and her husband leave, and we realize we don't know exactly where the water goes into the tank. Yes, it's still sitting on its side. we're leaving it that way for ease in moving it around until all the guttering and PVC pipe are in place. About where the water enters the tank, that's answered next time ...

Be sure to read the comments for reader questions on this post and my responses.

Purple Martin Party Time!

Travis Audubon hosted a Purple Martin Colony visit this past Saturday next to the historic home of Laura Joseph.  Laura started...