This summer, a visitor wrote to me that she had walked through our secret gardens on a workshop, and found them sadly in decline compared to their glory twenty years ago. This was poignant. Not for her words, but for the story behind them. Twenty years ago the gardens had plentiful watering. Twenty years ago, too, we knew less about the effects of pumping water from the creeks that run through our land. Today I know much more. And this summer, I had no water at all for those gardens.
Fifteen years ago, I chased a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. It is a national agency whose mission is to help "America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources". My grant is a cost-share program. That is, I make payments in full, and they reimburse 50% of my costs.
With the support of the NRCS, we began to protect the watershed on our land. We planted willows to support the creek banks. We fenced creekside pastures with a generous set-back from the banks, to prevent excess nitrates from animal feces draining into the creek. We installed huge rainwater recycling tanks. These projects were enormously expensive, and I struggled to find the income to pay for them over the years. It was a relief to receive the reimbursement when it came. In the most recent financial downturn, we were lucky to receive the Obama administration’s extra stimulus for landowners already in this NRCS program. We bought all our supplies from US companies, and have always hired local labor.
In 2009, we dug a well in our south pasture, across the road from the pasture immediately behind the farm. We had been watering all pasture from the creek in the south pasture, pumping the water under the road to the rest of the farm. I understood by now that to truly protect the watershed, we would have to stop taking water from the creek. Basically, no water, no fish. No creek life. The well drilling cost almost $50,000. Even with the promised 50% reimbursement, I couldn’t go on. The electricity company wanted a deposit of $5000 simply to look at the job of pumping well water to the rest of the farm. I had a hole, but no water.
In 2011, we bought the land and barn next to the farm. This property had a well. Now I could forget the electricity company’s gouging. Now we have a well on the same side of the road as the pasture behind the farm, the pasture that needs watering in the summer if the goats are to eat grass. I had a vastly increased mortgage, but at least I had a new well.
However, the south side of the road was still dry. The secret gardens were parched. There was no water for our orchard and berries. This was sad, but I could deal with people’s disapproval. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the crop failure in the fields we lease to Blue House Farm. They didn’t need much water for their heirloom beans and squash, but they didn’t get any. And ravenous herds of deer are already out from the wild, searching our cultivation for food. They ate rows of crops overnight. So I called Dave Landino the well guy, and asked for water in the well he had drilled for us six years ago.
This is how it’s done
Just a couple of wires to hook up
Within a week, I had 110 gallons a minute.
That’s a lot of water.
That’s the farm’s watering problems fixed.
I had a new huge bill to pay, but I couldn’t feel anything but lucky. Water is liquid gold. Back in 2009, I declined the suggestion of a dowser or water witch. I pointed to a spot in my field and said Drill here! I had lined the spot up with the road tunnel exit in the pasture across the road. It turned out to be a spot of great good luck: a deep, generous aquifer.
Next, we will fence the crops against the deer. We have a new grant to remove the log jam in Pescadero Creek on our land. And we will begin a long, exciting effort to build an irrigation pond in the field between the farm and the new barn, where we have our office and baby goat nursery. So, there’s more to the water story, but it has a happy ending.