We’re having a serious drought here in North Carolina. We had no hurricanes bring heavy rains in September, and it has been a long time since our last good hard rain. The tops of the trees are turning brown instead of their usual fall colors. This isn’t the first time we’ve had a serious shortage — one year the university delayed the start of school because there wasn’t enough water for all the students to take showers and flush toilets. But it is the first really serious one I can remember since we opened a new reservoir several years ago.
The town has restricted water use — no car washes, restaurants serve water only on request, hotels change linens less often, sprinklers can only be used one day a week before 9AM or after 8PM. You can still water outdoor plants, but only if you are willing to carry buckets of water or stand there with a handheld hose. There’s a 1/2 inch limit which they suggest you measure with a tuna fish can, but I think the boredom of standing with the hose helps keep people within the limit.
What really brings it all home is the new block pricing. Up to 3000 gallons per month per household, each 1,000 gallons costs $1.98. After 11,000 gallons, each 1,000 gallons costs $13.05 – more than 6 times as much. Higher costs bring the restrictions to the front of everyone’s mind. We experienced this with gasoline earlier this year. The local transportation authority had to hire new customer service people this summer to handle the increase in calls as the gas prices skyrocketed.
Shortages remind us that there limits to our ability to solve problems. No amount of wishful thinking or brainstorming will fill the creeks. There are things we just can’t have. My husband spent weeks making a fall planting plan, researching plants that like shade, can get by with low levels of water in the summer, and are deer-resistant. But now he is going to put it off. We hope next fall will be better.
There are still a few pools of water in our creek. He has been hauling water in buckets up the hill for the plants he put out last year. It makes me think of my grandfather’s family who lived on top of the Snake River Canyon in Idaho early in the 20th century. My grandfather and his brothers hauled all their water — for drinking, washing, watering stock, irrigating the vegetable garden — up from the bottom of the canyon in mule wagons. They never took water for granted. Later, when some of the river water was redirected into irrigation ditches, a serious threat was “I’ll cut your water off.” Maybe my grandfather just hauled too much of it to like drinking it. He used to tell me, “Water is for washing your feet with.”
Shortages make us reserve and savor water that is essential but commonly taken for granted.