Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I’ve never seen it like this in the 30+ years living in southwest Missouri. The entire month of July has just passed without a trace of rain, and highs most days were above 100 degrees. Fire danger is extreme. It would be even higher if any grass were actually growing in our yard. Pastures and hay fields have withered, and many have been grazed to the ground and turned to dust. People are already comparing this to the dust bowl days of the 1930s, though it is too early to tell whether this weather is just a fluke or part of a larger trend.
Water has been an issue for years, but never as bad as this year. Even filling the washing machine at a trickle runs our well dry before it can run a single load. Becky had been doing a triage, trying to save her favorite plants, but there just isn’t enough water so they, too, are withered. Missouri is a “raparian rights” state, which means if you can drill down deep enough, the water is yours. This makes it an ideal location for the poultry industry. Just five miles from us, a Moark egg complex sucks over 250,000 gallons per day from the water table.
I am putting my portable sawmill to use, building a bath house that will store gray water for irrigation, and a rain water collection system, just in case any actually falls. We’re going to try to get everything we can out of every drop of water. And, at the risk of providing too much information, we are setting up a composting toilet.
I’ve hired a local construction crew to build the bath house, and this is their first time both with post and beam construction and working around a sawmill. While I’ve got a ways to go to get them up to speed on post & beam, they warmed right up to the idea of the sawmill. I’m pretty much cutting as they put the boards up. Although I normally run the mill solo, they are so enthusiastic, I let them help out. In a few hours, they were running the mill under my supervision. As we took a load of boards to the building site, one of them exclaimed that it took less time to mill the boards than it would have taken to drive into town and buy them. Of course the log was already on the mill ready to cut when he started. Sometimes it takes more time to cut the tree down and get it to the mill than it takes to saw it. But it sure got their attention, and they are eager work in exchange for milling lumber for their own projects.
We have plenty of trees to mill. On our tree farm we have lost dozens of trees to drought and red oak borer, a non-invasive beetle that has been part of the local ecosystem for thousands of years. Usually, the borer only affects trees that are already stressed due to drought or old age. Salvaging these trees is a challenge, since the dead trees are scattered throughout the woods.
Whether this weather is a fluke or part of a bigger trend, it is forcing us to re-think our use of water. The simple solution is drill our well a couple hundred feet deeper to tap into a larger aquifer. Even if we do, there is no guarantee the growing population of people—and chickens—won’t eventually draw that resource down below our reach, as well. I'll blog a final design and updates on how the graywater/rainwater system is working. I’d certainly welcome comments about how other people are getting along in dry areas, and water conservation measures they have found useful.