Water is beautiful. Our Frog Pond is beautiful. We can’t drink this water, but in July of 1990 it helped keep our house from burning down. The previous owners of our house used Conservation funds to enlarge the pond enough to qualify as a Fire Pond. We are so glad they did. Mostly, though we just use it for fun, swimming, catching (and releasing) newts, and ice skating in the winter.
Water is essential. Out here in the country most of us depend on wells for our water. Some of us have a gravity feed spring. This year I nearly ran our drilled well dry. No more watering the garden. I have never watered a lawn. We have become even more careful of our water.
Many people are now aware of how they use water, for economic reasons as well as for environmental reasons. We don’t water our lawns. We have low flow shower heads. We have low flow toilets. I admit that ever since my friend Kari Huus Kaill ranted about people who leave the faucet on when they brush their teeth, I always turn the faucet off. Mostly. Many gardeners are now building rain gardens to keep rain water on site, and to prevent dirty water from overwhelming storm sewers and polluting our streams and other waterways.
But huge amounts of water are wasted, and cause serious environmental problems in ways we never imagined. I first became aware of the lakes of manure slurry in 1991 when I read A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. I was horrified but even then did not realize the full implications of this type of farming.
I just finished reading Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon. Logsdon has many concerns in this book, from the decline in soil fertility because manure is wasted, to how much money is spent to handle animal and human manure, and how animal and human health is affected by the way manure is handled. There is a push to get humans to use low flow toilets, but before this book I never heard anyone talk about the amount of water wasted when a barn floor is turned into a flush toilet. Logsdon, who has visited large farms, described how dairy barns are hosed out twice a day with hundreds of gallons of water, flushing all the manure into a slurry lagoon. The manure loses up to 70% of its fertilizer value, and when sprayed on the fields it does not help maintain the loamy structure of fertile soil the way composted manure does.
The United States is known for producing state of the art systems, but there is a price when these are copied in very different parts of the world. Logsdon talks about farms in Saudi Arabia being patterned on California farms. A desert country? No problem. They dig a mile deep well. The well does dry. No problem. They dig a two mile deep well. Saudi Arabia is a rich country, but is this the way to build a sustainable agriculture?
We cannot live without water, to drink, to water food crops, and for cleanliness and health. We need to consider well how we get, use and protect our water supply. For more about water logon to Blog Action Day 2010.