Sunny Summer Masks Threat Of Drought
Last Thursday was like last Wednesday, last Tuesday, and last Monday. They all featured beautiful summer mornings. Fluffy white clouds punctuated clear blue skies. Temperatures were in the balmy 60s in the mornings, near 80 in afternoons, with slight summer breezes for wind.
Lovely. But we need rain.
I have not yet seen “Drought!” in headlines. I do see it looming. The Little Mill Creek a quarter-mile from our house is a series of puddles marked by the dismal thrashing of trapped fish.
I have not fired up a riding mower in nearly three weeks.
When I walk across our yard, browned sections go “crunch” beneath my feet. The grass blades and clover leaves are lifeless, the roots in subsurface hibernation.
Though we have lived rurally for 15 years, this still feels new to me. In my six decades as a “townie,” whenever the water flow turned brown or stopped, we called someone whose full-time job was to keep us supplied. Out here, we can call for help and get it, maybe sooner, maybe later, sometimes at a hefty cost. But basically, it is up to us to meet our water needs.
So a near-month of sunny weather causes our thoughts to become clouded with concern.
We still have adequate garden water from a cistern that eases the stress on our well. The sunshine has given us bounty. Fresh-picked corn and tomatoes are juicy. Squash and beans are plentiful.
My wife, the garden maven, is in water-conservation mode. A metal mixing bowl sits in our kitchen sink. She catches the water that first comes out of the faucet and then totes it to soak the potted plants lined up against the back wall of our house.
Our century-old well was hand-dug, 25 feet deep. It flows dependably for my wife and myself, but it has failed. On one hot summer day a few years back, three women guests took l-o-n-g showers. Then yours truly decided to do five loads of laundry on that same day.
The well bounced back the next day, but that gave us impetus to take other measures. We do not pay monthly water bills, but there are costs to keeping us supplied. One well pump and one cistern pump have been replaced; costs were in the hundreds of dollars. We had a half-acre site carved into a bowl for a pond. We also installed the cistern. Those costs were several thousands of dollars. We rigged the cistern’s plumbing to permit us to pump its water into our house distribution system if needed, and also installed a frost-proof faucet to give us access from outside.
That faucet gives us a pathway to run a hose to the garden in summer. It also provides unfrozen water in winter, when we shut off the well and drain the plumbing inside the house to guard against burst pipes during trips. That comes in handy for the caretakers of our dogs, cats and chickens.
I kick myself for not having extended the electrical line that runs the 200 feet from our house to the cistern for another 300 feet to give us an electrical outlet near the pond.
But the pond is accessible. I can run extension cords to it and use a utility pump to fill buckets and then haul them with the four-wheeler and its utility cart. Or I can hook a hose to the pump and push water toward us that way. I could get a stronger gasoline-powered utility pump. But that would mean one more motor to winterize each year.
So, these days, as the high temperatures of July ease into the more moderate readings of approaching fall, I grumble at the gorgeous weather.
We need rain.
Those crunchy spots in the yards are widening. Apples are dropping early from our old orchard trees as they tighten their internal circulation to conserve moisture, curling leaves in the process.
I am surprised and pleased that the 55-gallon blue plastic rainwater collection barrel beside the barn still yields water for the chickens. When it is dry or frozen, I have to lug that water in five-gallon buckets for the 150 or so yards between our house and the barn. One gallon of water weighs more than eight pounds.
A five-gallon bucket puts about 50 pounds of strain on my arthritic shoulders and arms.
Rain has regularly been forecast during the past month, for two or three days each week. But the green-and-yellow splotches on the radar maps split, then splash above and below us as they cut across west-central Pennsylvania.
Perhaps not quite yet, according to the official statistics that define weather conditions.
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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com.