Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

Water Doom: The Spring Gave Out

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Update: 3 May 2010

Recent rain has recharged the spring. There’s good flow into the tank and it’s 3/4 full now. Faucets, shower, etc. are working again.

The streams are still not flowing as usual, so we’re continuing to take it very carefully with water.

—End Update—

The Far North of New Zealand is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. Kaitaia, the town near us, has been running under emergency conditions for weeks. Anyone caught using a hose outside faces a NZ$20,000 fine. The local farming community is in deep trouble. The hay and silage that has been put up for winter is already being used for feed. Some beef and dairy farmers are getting ready to slaughter their herds. Soon, it will be too cold to grow much grass, even if rain comes. But there’s no meaningful rain coming anyway…

Our new kitchen faucet

We have been OK here, but after months of what might as well have been no rain, the spring finally gave out, and we used up the water that had accumulated in the tank. Technically, the spring hasn’t stopped. I’d say that about five litres trickle down to our house per day. And the cows probably drank more water than we used.

For the last two weeks, we have been living over at Becky’s parents’ house. At first, we thought that it would be easier over there with Owen, but it turned out to be pretty hard going because their place isn’t two-year-old proof. We’re back home now, but living in a quasi camping mode. Our total, usable household water supply includes two 20 litre water containers and a 200 litre rainwater barrel that’s about half full. [Update: Our friend Andrew let us borrow another 20 litre container and offered to let us fill up over at his farm.]

I’ve been giving the chooks water from the rain barrel. I’ll probably start giving the dam water to the chickens, but I read somewhere that it’s better not to give very turbid water to chickens. I don’t know if that’s true, but our dam water is very cloudy.

Rainwater barrel

I have been putting off piping water from the dam down to the troughs and garden. Well, nothing puts a bomb under your tail to complete a water infrastructure project like having cows with about a day’s worth of water remaining in their troughs. Luckily, this is a personal, local and regional collapse situation, and not a BIG biggy collapse. I was able to drive to town, in our petrol powered pickup truck/ute, and buy the NZ$550 worth of pipe and fittings that I needed to complete this project. The pipe was even on sale! HAHA. A few hours of work later and the cows had a gravity fed water supply. (Another time, I’ll write about the gravity feed system that I built. It’s working great.) At first, the cows stood by the trough and looked at me, in protest, “We want our spring water back.” But they got used to the dam water pretty fast. Bex and I are happy that we didn’t have to send our cows to the works, or give them away. I doubt that anyone would buy our cows now, since most people are facing the same situation with water.

I’m seriously thinking about buying a Big Berkey water filter, as that thing could keep us going if the drought persists. I could put our dam water through that and it would be fine. If the dam runs out (a really grim possibility) there is still plenty of water in the river below our property. It’s flowing well and the water is probably ok to drink. I just don’t like the word probably when it comes to the safety of water. We could have that water tested, but I wonder if the quality could vary over time… There are no intensive farming operations around that river. It’s just bush and several lifestylers with a few dozen cows over about five kilometres. Anyway, the Big Berkey could come in very handy if the shit really hits the fan here. The reality is that it will probably never be this dry here again in my lifetime, but there’s that word probably again…

Bill Mollison, 1981: Permaculture Design Course Transcript

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Interesting, useful, free: Permaculture Design Course Transcript.

Research Credit: TF

Earth Works

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

One fine morning last week, a big truck with a digger perched on the back came rumbling up our driveway. Kevin and I went running out to meet the driver. We had arranged for the digger to come and level a site for the proposed milking shed, as well as dig out a dam on our hillside. This was the big day!

Barry goes right to work on the milking shed site

As the digger went to work, we stood together on the side of the hill, mesmerised. Kevin commented that the digger had moved more earth in five minutes than he had moved in his whole life. Quite humbling! We watched the digger undertake work that would (I imagine) take the two of us (with shovels) the rest of our lives. It was finished by 4 in the afternoon! This exercise has made us ponder anew the wonders that our “petrochemical slaves” can accomplish for us. With this project, we feel we have made prudent use of available petrochemical power to establish water security and farm infrastructure that should serve us well for many years to come.

Shed site

Inset ‘shelf’ for water tank; sandstone and very hard clay

Just below the site for the shed, the digger cut out another smaller level site. This will be for a large water tank to store rainwater harvested from the shed roof. We will use a gravity-feed system to bring this water down to the house for domestic use. The dam will be for irrigation and stock watering. We already have a gravity-feed system coming from a spring on a neighbour’s property. This has been sufficient for our needs so far, but would not be enough for irrigating trees and garden during a dry summer. We are aiming to create a water system with multiple redundancies, so that in the future we will never need to worry about a lack of water on the Farmlet.

The cows looked very curious to see the digger in their paddock. Esmerelda looked taken aback to see something (something bigger and louder than her!) chewing up her hillside. After a while, their curiosity got the better of them. When the digger driver stopped for lunch, three cows wandered over to check out the new terrain. . . and to rub their heads in the fresh dirt. They all got very grubby, and had to be shooed away so that the digging could continue! The animals are now fenced out of the dam area, and this is the way it will stay! After all that work, we don’t want them turning the area into a horrible, boggy mess.

A creature larger than Esmerelda?!

Looking down on the dam area

Erosion has been (and still is) a major concern with all this work. We asked around to find a digger operator with an excellent reputation for building stable dams. My aunt and uncle recommended Barry, and so far we have been very impressed with his work. We asked him to keep the topsoil separate from the subsoil as much as possible, and spread it over the top of the open areas so that it will be easier to re-establish ground cover. We have already mulched part of the dam walls, and have sown lupins and mustard for cover. Eventually, we hope to plant mat-rooted plants (like New Zealand flax) on the dam walls. We also hope to plant other trees and plants, in order to create a special micro-climate around the dam.

Finished and ready

Water storage dams need to be deep in order to work well, but I had hoped we could have a shelf of shallower water around one side of the dam. This was to be an area for various aquatic plants that grow well in shallow water. Barry was about to cut out the ledge, when he realised that the shallow area would be very hard to reach (for planting, cultivation, and harvesting) due to the height of the dam walls relative to the overflow. So, we ended up scratching this aspect of the plan. I’m disappointed, but hoping we can still cultivate a variety of floating aquatic plants in the dam.

Now we are planning a trip to the hardware store (probably the day after tomorrow) to sort out materials for the shed. Busy times are ahead! We are hoping the weather stays dry for a while, so that we have a better chance to get the building supplies up the hill. Of course, we are also eager to see how the dam will handle its first decent shower of rain.

Rain, Glorious Rain

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

As the Northern Hemisphere heads into Fall, down here on the Farmlet, Spring is heating up.

And drying everything out.

The weird, early dry weather seemed to increasingly creep into conversations no matter where we went in recent days. People would comment on how nice the clear, sunny days were, and then follow up with something like, “I hope we get some rain soon.”

It’s somewhat ominous that the lack of rain is pervading the collective consciousness around here this early in the season. The dairy farmers in the area were starting to twitch a bit.

Thankfully, this morning, the heavens opened up and we have received a decent soaking. The rain has continued, on and off, throughout the day, and has been very heavy at times. Water tables are rising, streams are flowing and tanks are topping up.

Our spring sourced, gravity fed water supply should be ok as it is now, but we want to overbuild our “infrastructure” to ensure that we will have more than ample capacity to irrigate our garden and water our stock. There is a small area, at the base of a very steep part of our pasture, that becomes quite boggy when it rains. As soon as we can afford it, Becky and I want to hire an earth mover to construct a dam/pond in this area. With a little assistance from us, this naturally occurring bog would make a beautiful pond based microclimate while providing a bit of water insurance for the Farmlet.