Well Water Doesn't Help if You Can't Get it Out of the Ground

They had the good grace not to say I told you so, so I'll say it for them. They told me so.

I've written before about our place becoming a family farm practicing permaculture—sustainable farming with raised compost beds, organic fertilizers, no chemicals, and making the least possible impact on the land. But with any family farming operation there will be disagreements. An important part of permaculture is conserving water and the kids wanted to put rain barrels around the house.

I've nothing against rain barrels. My grandparents had them beside the house. They used the water to wash clothes, saving an inordinate amount of labor to bring that much water to the house from the spring. (My grandmother had wash pots in the backyard.)

But I pointed out that we have fairly new gutters and drains to take water away from the house and am reluctant to start tearing them out. Besides, I said, we have two wells on the farm and all the free water you need.

Then came last week and the violent storm knocked out our power and it took KUB a couple of days to get it restored. Guess what? Water pumps in your wells do not operate without power.

I'm not a complete dummy. I keep 20 one-gallon milk jugs of water in my well house and it was there for the household and to flush toilets. But there wasn't enough to irrigate the lettuce beds and herb garden. They did have one rain barrel which got us through a hot dry couple of days and even saved my wife's just planted birthday magnolia tree.

Our KUB electricity hasn't been off for more than an hour or two since the blizzard back in the '90s that kept us off the grid for a week. But we had snow to melt then. Not so much in July.

The storm last week was one of the most violent I've ever seen here. I knew something was badly wrong when the wind starting whipping up from the north. Our weather always comes from the west. It's why our weather reports on TV are about what's happening on the Cumberland Plateau. Because, whatever it is, it usually it will be happening to us within a few hours.

We take water for granted in the Tennessee Valley. I recall visiting some cousins in rural Ohio when I was a boy. We were sitting around bored and I had a bright idea. Let's go swimming. They looked at me like I was crazy. Just where were we supposed to swim? I looked out over several miles of cornfields and saw that they were right. But growing up in the Tennessee Valley I can't remember a time when I wasn't near a branch, a creek, or a river. The idea of being miles and miles away from water was a foreign concept.

On a Fourth of July visit, I drove through Middle Tennessee and North Alabama. I saw fields of corn plants already yellow and brown, the crops a total loss due to hot dry conditions and a lack of rain.

If our weather patterns are changing we will need to adapt. Drought in Texas. Colorado is burning up. Storms leave 2 million without power in D.C.

I talked to my cousin, an agriculture extension agent, who told me that with the mild winter some farmers got corn in the ground really early this year. It matured before the hot dry weather and should be okay. But corn planted at the traditional time, later in the spring, is getting killed. My farmer neighbors confirm that corn they planted early appears to be fine.

We may face hot, dry weather all summer. TVA lakes may be too low to generate much power. But we still have an abundance of water here. Let's not take it for granted.

Maybe the new suburban status symbol will be rain barrels to water flower beds and lawns, rather than sprinklers.

But there is one thing about rain barrels that I've found to be a drawback.

It has to rain.