Water – Not as simple as it seems

As RangerSir and I interview places we are considering for our retirement move, one of the things is on our list is water.  I remember the day our dry creek bed first ran with water.   Even if it is only a short spell each year I was thrilled to see water run in the small drawl that ran across our property for the first time.   I called RangerSir at work with my news.    I told him to guess what I had discovered that day on our property.   Of course, he asked for a hint.   My hint was people fight and get shot over this.   His first guess was water.  Not sure how that happened but it was one of those moments when we both knew we were on the same page about that resource.

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It may seem kind of an odd thought in a country where we seem to have plenty of water that it is a blog-worthy topic.  Yet it is not that simple, no matter if you have your own well or are on a “public” system.   Here are some things to think about when you talk water.

There are many cities where your water does not come from a city-owned municipal utility.   There are cities where you get your water from a publicly-owned for-profit company.   Think about that for a minute.   You are getting an essential commodity from a company who is charged with making money for the stockholders.   The people who own your water don’t live in your community or have any care about your water system other than what economic return there is.   There are two communities in Montana that are poster children for the disaster that this can be.    Butte’s mining companies owned the water system from the beginning of the town’s history (prior to 1900) and for years they put no money into the system infrastructure. It was in such bad shape that the water was still in most cases flowing through the original redwood pipes.   The city had over 800 bursts pipes annually.   Splinters, rust and more came through the city water system into homes.  Finally,  in the 1990’s there was a transfer of ownership of the water company from the mining company to the city.  The system was in a bad state.   Bonds and mill levies were passed and millions were spent to bring the system back up to snuff.   It wasn’t cheap, but the community can once again use the water that comes out of their tap. Another Montana city, Missoula, recently purchased its water system back after being sold and resold by public companies because its aged system was starting to need capital investments.    The public companies liked the income but weren’t so crazy about investing in infrastructure.  It cost the city a lot of money to buy their system, but they did it  saying they wanted to ensure the people of the city had “access to clean, affordable and reliable water.” Similar things have happened elsewhere.   It isn’t cheap for a municipality to own and maintain a water system but from what I have seen, the other option isn’t so great either.  So as I look at cities one of the questions I ask about is their utilities.   I assume nothing.

 

Here in the country, we have a well.  We are lucky in that our well is exceptional.  What I mean by that is, water is clean, plentiful, not full of minerals, and it doesn’t  have a nasty odor or taste.   We have it tested regularly and say a prayer of thanks for our results each time.   That said, I think about what will happen if our well runs dry?   Just a couple of miles away as the crow flies the houses are on a different aquifer.  Those wells don’t supply enough water out of the ground on demand for basic household needs.   In order to support their water needs, those folks have large holding tanks in their basement to ensure they have the pressure and quantity of water for a normal household.  Pretty strong wake-up call when you know it is just geography and luck that I can turn on my spigot without a worry.

There are other stories around the word about water shortages for people and agriculture.   It is something that we don’t often think about until it doesn’t work.

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Waves of Grass

Last week I was in Lake county, Montana.   I stayed in a nice Mom & Pop motel that looked out onto the Flathead lake.    I loved the fact that in spite of it being right on the highway, it was also right on the lake.   In the evening when I was finishing up paperwork I would sit at the table with the window open listening to the waves break against the shore.

My accommodations last week were a classic mom and pop place, built right on the highway  with an awesome view of the lake.

My accommodations last week were a classic mom and pop place, built right on the highway with an awesome view of the lake.

When I got home on Friday, the wind was blowing as it usually does at our place.   The spring has been good to us with moisture and my rangeland grasses are tall.   Watching them bend with the winds, they undulated and reminded me of the waves from the Flathead Lake earlier in the week.   Though I may live a distance from water, my tall grasses are like the amber waves of grain from the song America.

Recycling Encouragement

Fox as a symbol for recycling?!#?

Fox as a symbol for recycling?!#?

In my hotel, last week, there was a hang tag with a fox on it to encourage recycling.   Really?!? Using a predator to encourage recycling what was the ad company thinking when they made this?? Have we gotten so far away from nature that people do not know that a fox is not some warm fuzzy animal.   I know that right now I am a little tainted in my view of foxes, but seriously I think that they could have found some cute “nice” animal like a rabbit or fawn.  Some sort of “helpless” creature that needs our help.   A fox for the most part is smart enough to take care of itself.

Timing is everything.   This  well-intended, well-placed reminder caused shake my head in wonder.   Not the good kind of wonder either.

Green Lawn Fantasy

When the days of winter start to  get noticeably longer it  is the time my deep Midwest rural agriculture roots show up in full force.   This is in spite of the fact spring is a long ways away for me since my average last frost is the end of June here in Montana.  It is too early to take action but it isn’t too early to plan, and even fantasize a little bit.

RangerSir wants to try a lawn.    Now I am not sure what possesses him.   We are not in Iowa, and the very best green lawn in Montana is nothing like an Midwest lawn.     I have asked him more than once what drugs gave him this fantasy.   There is not a place that you drive by in our rural area that has a natural green lawn.  Only those with irrigation set ups have green lawns the rest of us have whatever nature deals out.  There are so many reasons for this.

First, we don’t have soil, our land is  crushed granite, that looks like coarse sand.   Zero organic material here.   We have put soil amendments in small plots and it is quickly absorbed/moved/incorporated and soon it is back to crush granite.     When you have soil like this it does not support lawn grass.

Second, we are in an area of Montana called a high semi-arid cool desert.   It means we get less than 12 inches of moisture and most years we don’t get that much. This is not prime grass growing conditions:no moisture and what comes runs right through it in seconds.    Grass, lawn grass likes moisture.  Meaning here we would need to water a lawn to get a green one, something I see as a waste of a precious resources.

Other factors to consider is the wind blows here relentlessly, so keeping things moist long enough to sprout is hard.   The average last day of frost here is the last week of  June, so by the time it is warm enough to sprout grass, any rains we may have had are long gone.  Finally we will need to fence out our free-range chickens, because if they see a seed, they will eat it.

I plan to work with the man of the house to start a pilot project and see if we can get some kind of lawn going.      At a recent charity fundraiser I bought a basket with a bag of  local blend of grass seed for lawns  developed by a local ranch, feed and supply.    Here is to hoping that this blend will allow some sort of lawn without the need for too much water.  As I write this I have come to realize if this comes to pass it will be because RangerSir wants this bad enough to put forth the effort to make it happen.   I have learned to love the maintenance free lawn I have right now….sparsely covered with bunch grass and lots of bare soil.  Maybe my Midwest roots aren’t so deep after all.

Dumb Luck

When you make emotional decisions, they generally are flawed and this one was no different.  I was heading to town after my lifetime friend and her husband left after spending some time with us.   It was nothing short of a great time and like always we reconnected as though we had been together last week rather than two years ago.   I was sad to see them go as I  know that we won’t see one another for at least a year.    Though I was heading to town I wasn’t ready for people and so impulsively decided to head to a forest trail I had always wanted to try.

I parked my rig a the trail head, pulled out a photo copy map from the kiosk and headed out.   I enjoyed the sounds of nature and got myself grounded again.    I was about three miles out when I had an ah ha moment.  I had taken this hike without thinking  first and I was now the realization was hitting me what I had done.

  • I had thrown out my drink glass in a bear proof container and I had not thought about bear spray, something I usually walk with.
  • l found  a great rock formation in the sun to photograph.   It seemed like a great spot to sit and soak in the sun.    Then I realized that rattlesnakes were not unheard of in this area and for the first time I was not hiking in boots, but rather I was  where was wearing my sandels!
  • I had taken off with out water at noon at August.   Fortunately I had done enough training that this did not put me under, and I was not in the full sun.   The distance and the temperature dictated I had water with me.
  • I had originally taken a rails to trails, but when I went back I took a forest trail.  The grade there turned out to be pretty intense.   I would have sold my soul for my hiking poles.  They really help take so much of the stress off of your knees when are faced with steep climbs.
  •  I had gone out into the woods and not told a single person where I had gone.  No one had a time that I was due back.   If you do nothing else when you head out into the woods that is the most critical thing you need to do.   It is your safety net.

Dumb luck was with me and it all worked out.  It was a reminder that emotional decisions can be full of flaws due to the impulsive nature.   It would have only take an few minutes to call home and leave message where I was going and when I should be home.    I keep all the other supplies I should have taken in a crate in my rig at all times.   There were all there for me.   I should have taken them them with me.   There are no walks or hikes that are too short to take your safety supplies.    This all worked out fine, and it serve as a great reminder of what I already know.    THINK.    It could be live saving.