2015: The Year of Water

Winter rolls on, and despite a bit of rain and a little snow here and there, it seems to be bringing with it the continuation of the drought that has been nagging Southern Oregon and most of California for the last few years. Although our local ski hill on Mt Ashland has opened this season (it never did last year) there is hardly any snow pack, and our reservoirs are still shockingly low.

Over the holidays my partner and I traveled north to the Willamette Valley to spend time on the McKenzie River. We drove past the Cougar Reservoir. It was a depressingly familiar sight: towering dam wall, high water marks, and then bare, clear-cut shoulder slopes that painfully, obviously, should have been underwater. Near the approach to the dam, a line of red floats stretched across, hanging limply down the side of the rock, down, down, crossing the small patch of water at the bottom, and then crawling back up, up, up the shoulder on the other side. Indicating all too clearly how high the water should have been. It looked the same the last time I drove by the giant Shasta Reservoir, just south of here in California.

It’s the same outside our front door. We live a quarter mile from Emigrant Lake, one of a series of reservoirs feeding the Ashland valley and right now it looks like a dry desert lake bed. It’s beautiful, all cracking mud and peeling clay. The old road that used to run along Emigrant Creek, buried since they put in the dike wall decades ago, is visible again. You can walk along it. In fact it is high above the water. They finally pulled the dock up this winter. Since late summer last year it had been sitting in the mud on the shore, ten or twenty yards from the edge of the receding puddle of water, making it hard to believe we ever dove off of it into unimaginable depths. Emigrant Lake is filled from the other reservoirs above it, the high mountain lakes, Hyatt, and Howard Prairie. But right now they have nothing to offer.

 Emigrant Lake last fall

Emigrant Lake last fall

At home the water sensor on our well pump keeps tripping the breaker, preventing our pump from burning itself out trying to pump nothing, and saving us the huge expense of a broken pump, but indicating the scary truth that turning on the tap and expecting water to come out is no longer a guarantee.

Needless to say at Squawking Hawk Acres water is on our mind. Big time. In the big picture and on the home front, the water scarcity is weighing heavy on all of us. Because of this we decided to dedicate 2015 as The Year of Water. To focus on it in all the ways we can, to become more aware of it, to appreciate it, conserve it, and find ways to make our homestead more resilient to the changing water supply in our valley.

Here are a few of our ideas and plans for The Year of Water:

  • Hosting Documentary Movie Night(s) and discussions of global water issues
  • Installing two 5000-gallon water tanks to capture rainwater from our roof, and hosting work parties and workshops of the process so others can learn how to do it too!
  • Using “mulching urinals” in our bathrooms and exploring options for composting toilet systems
  • Investing in a Water Meter for our well so we can actually track our water usage- and the success or our conservation practices! (Because we are on a well, and don’t have metered city water, without investing in our own meter we have no way of knowing how much water our household is really using).
  • Designing a comprehensive greywater system for our home, to reuse household water from laundry and showers to irrigate the landscape
  • Implementing a Laundry-to-Landscape greywater system (the first phase of our comprehensive whole-house system), and hopefully hosting a workshop on how to do it
  • Changing plumbing fixtures to low-flow (last summer we swapped out all the shower heads to 1.5 gal/min fixtures, that also have shut-off valves so you can easily pause the flow of water while you’re lathering up. I guesstimate that this reduced our shower water use by more than half!)
  • Investing in an efficient front-loading washing machine
  • Being observant of our water use, and willing to change our habits
  • Taking pictures, writing, and blogging about our experiences throughout the year, in the hopes of educating and inspiring other to do the same!

What would you add to this list? What are you doing in your home to conserve water? How does water affect your life?

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