With Amherst in “extreme drought,” and facing a possible water emergency next month, we are irrigating our gardens with rainfall that fell on the roof of our house.
We got 1.6 inches of rain on July 31 and Aug. 2, and though that’s not enough to fill the town’s reservoirs, it did fill up our three 50-gallon rain barrels. Rainwater drains directly into the barrels from our gutters, and there’s a spigot at the bottom of each that we use to fill up watering cans and buckets.
When I use the phrase “water emergency,” that’s not hyperbole. In September 1980, after a similarly hot and dry summer, the University of Massachusetts had to send students home because Amherst didn’t have enough water. Click here to read the details.
Amherst has more options for providing water now, but officials were concerned enough to impose voluntary water restrictions on July 25. Water use this summer has been 500,000 gallons/day higher than the historical summer average, and town officials have activated a water source that’s typically drawn on in September, when demand increases dramatically. If we don’t get substantial rain in the next four weeks, we could be in trouble.
Several times this summer, I’ve watched the radar as rainstorms have broken up while approaching Amherst, dumping rain to the north and south. It happened again Saturday, as we got a minor shower while 15 miles away there was over 1.5 inches of rain.
We’ve tried to water our garden as much as possible from our three rain barrels, but they ran dry at the end of July and we had to use a hose. We have a fourth rain barrel that isn’t yet connected to a gutter, and we fill that up from buckets placed under an unguttered section of roof.
Betsy’s been telling me that it’s best to water vegetables occasionally but thoroughly, yet I sometimes lose patience with the slow pace of watering cans and irrigate too shallowly. I have gotten better at using one watering can while another is filling up. Some crops, such as eggplants and blueberries, have suffered because of the drought, but at least we haven’t had to worry about late blight on the tomatoes. Cucumbers, which demand a lot of water, have withered.
I’ve started taking fewer and shorter (low-flow) showers, and we don’t have a lawn (see “Lawn order: Who needs it?”). We don’t flush the toilet every time we pee . We rarely wash our car. Betsy empties the water from a basement dehumidifier into a bucket that she uses for toilet flushing, and saves the running water as it heats up before washing dishes.
I first encountered the soul classic “You Don’t Miss Your Water” in the version done by Taj Mahal (a native of this region) in the late ’60s. Let’s pray for rain and hope our wells don’t run dry.
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