As the rain has fallen with increasing frequency through late November and now into December, we really are starting to believe that El Niño will bring us a much needed big rain year. But after four years of drought, we’re not taking anything for granted. First of all, weather experts are warning that California reservoirs and groundwater supplies are so low that it will take several years of above average rain to refill them. Call me cynical, but I can’t see four or five rainy years in our future. After this El Niño year, we may go right back to drought times. Face it, California is a semi-arid environment. We’re always on the edge of drought. The problem is we Californians have been on a drunken water binge for at least a hundred years. If we want to continue living here, especially as Climate Change makes things hotter, that bender has got to stop. What? You didn’t think there was a price for all that sunshine?
I’m here to tell you, we are facing up squarely to that dry future here at Rancho Los Dos Terriers. Basically, we are setting ourselves up to live as if the drought were never ending. Of course that starts with planting nothing but California Natives which have evolved to thrive with little water. Still, after a four year drought, even Cal Natives can wilt. And what about all the other things we use water for? Especially water usage that makes us feel guilty? Things like washing down our tractor and the ATV. Or having a thirsty vegetable garden? Or washing dogs and, when we get them, horses and horse blankets? Much earlier residents of California happily roamed even the most arid parts of the West and felt — while extracting water from cacti and seeking out rock depressions that captured dew — that California gave them all the water they needed. We’ve evolved to think we need more. And since we don’t want to have to master the completely crazy wild man off-the-grid techniques outlined in this newsletter, we need a way to get a reasonable amount of water without reducing ourselves to licking moisture from the north side of boulders.
I’ll tell you, we’ve been thinking about this for a long time. And, if we are going to exist happily on the edge of drought, we’re going to capture every precious drop of rain that the California skies send us. One word, my friends: cisterns.
We’ve already buried two thousand gallon tanks near our house site, which will eventually — that is when we have a roof on the place — be fed from our gutters and store water for irrigating my vegetable garden and my fruit trees. The exciting thing about capturing rainwater, is that it doesn’t even have to rain. Sonoma seems to get a healthy amount of condensation most mornings. Even in the summer. When daytime temperatures hit 100 degrees, the nights cool down to the 50s and 60s. Consequently, most mornings, there’s a healthy line of dripping condensation from the tin roofs of the barn and outbuildings. While my larger cisterns won’t be fully operational until the house is finished, we’ve got a number of barns and outbuildings, each with lovely moisture capturing tin roofs.
Oh, and if you’ll refer back up to the picture of Jonnie attaching guttering, you’ll notice we are accomplishing this project with the cheapest nastiest low-cost aluminum and PVC guttering and piping we could buy. Because, never fear, there is always a way to dress things up the Rancho way. Ranch Manager Louis found a metallic spray paint that makes our guttering look like we’ve taken the “spare no expense” copper route.
Which is not to imply that this project was easy. When you have a tank this large — and you factor in the expected weight of 360 gallons of water — you need to completely level out and concrete a standing pad for it. And the guttering needs to be perfectly angled to funnel the water down without having it pour down too fast. I should mention, we bought these cisterns from Bushman, which makes an excellent product. The system includes insect and debris screens, so you get clear, clean water that doesn’t become a mosquito breeding ground in hot weather.
Ranch Manager Louis did the math and, given the square footage of these two outbuilding roofs, we only need a half inch or so of rain to completely fill the tanks. And guess what? We had that rain in the last week. Our two tanks are filled. So we did what you would expect. We ordered two more tanks that the Bushman system will allow us to daisy chain on to the existing installed tanks. We’re assuming El Niño will fill these tanks and, during the upcoming drier summer months, nightly condensation will keep them topped up. We are positively giddy at the thought of all our captured water. And we are high-fiving each other with the thought of places where we can use water: “We can wash cars and farm vehicles! We can give certain trees a late spring deep watering!” Louis and Jonnie even took a drink out of the cistern — which I’m not sure I would have without a water purifier. But they insist: “the water’s fine”.
Next up, we are planning on putting tanks over by the barn to capture rainwater for filling up horse troughs, washing horses and horse blankets.