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Cool ideas - January 13

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Rainwater Harvesting

BSV, chrismartenson.com
Water is essential to life, for we cannot exist without it. We are running short of fresh, clean water in many parts of the USA. That is also the case in many other countries. Those who live in the northeastern quadrant of the lower 48 states are generally in good shape for now, water-wise, though there may be local issues with clean water in places. But as you travel west of the Mississippi, average annual rainfall drops off sharply, particularly in the desert southwest, which includes portions of the Chihuahua, Sonora, and Mohave Deserts.

The situation is particularly foreboding in the Colorado River Basin. There are more demands for the water than the river can reliably supply. Las Vegas is vulnerable to a water emergency, as are Phoenix and Tucson. Thirsty Los Angeles gets drinking water from far away Northern California via the California Aqueduct. As the podcast from a few weeks ago highlighted, water management and access is becoming an ever-increasing concern for many parts of the country.

Here in Texas, where I live on a ranch, we have been hard-hit by an exceptional drought. Meteorologists forecast a continuation of this drought through next summer – and believe me, last summer was absolutely brutal. Those of us with livestock got hammered, with hay selling for $120 per round bale in my area. Rural water districts imposed severe restrictions, and in some cases outdoor watering was banned entirely. Pastures turned to dirt from lack of rain. Subsurface moisture disappeared. Crops withered.

Most CM readers probably live in urban or suburban areas and may not be so interested in the difficulties faced by agricultural producers in Texas. But you will be affected in due course, when the price of beef rises as producers eventually begin to rebuild their herds. Texas farmers and ranchers have sold off much of their livestock because they cannot afford to feed the animals.

But enough of this tale of woe; let’s concentrate on constructive things we can all do to ensure a supply of safe water for drinking, cooking, and household use (washing; flushing the toilet; watering that veggie garden). It matters little where you live, for it does not take much imagination to think of circumstances where things could go wrong with the water supply that most people take for granted.

If you have taken the steps in the WSID Guide to ensure that you have a short-term emergency supply of water and a filtration method, you have your first base covered. Now it's time to look at long-term water access to cover your bases for extended droughts and water emergencies that you may have to live through.

What will you do if a day comes when you turn the tap on and nothing comes out? You finally get through to the water utility and learn that the outage might last for days. If you make a few preparations now at modest cost, you can deal with that at minimal inconvenience should it happen.

Let’s take this a step further: Suppose the population in your locality overwhelms the ability of the water utilities to meet the demand. It could happen. Planners try to think many years into the future and attempt to ensure an ample supply of potable water. But things can go wrong. For example, we are living in an era of budget austerity, and that might endure for some time. It costs fabulous sums of money to create a large-scale water delivery system – and funding is short.

Some municipal water utilities rely solely on electric pumps to deliver water through a series of pipes to the end users. Suppose the electrical power fails for an extended period. Think it can’t happen? Ever heard of Murphy’s Law? Well, Murphy was an incorrigible optimist. Of course, we all hope for the best, for that is human nature. It is wise, however, to prepare for less favorable outcomes. The good news is that (a) it’s possible, (b) it’s not difficult, and (c) it can be inexpensive.

Rainwater Harvesting
While rainwater harvesting systems can be quite inexpensive (e.g., a barrel under a downspout), they can be as complex and sophisticated as you please. The sky is the limit. You can overspend an unlimited budget if you are so inclined. From long experience, I would discourage needless complexity. The old “KISS” rule is best – Keep It Simple, Stupid. There is much wisdom and economy in that old saying.

In its most basic form, rainwater harvesting consists of a collection component (a rooftop, plastic sheeting on a hillside, or any other non-permeable surface with enough area to collect rainfall when it occurs), a channeling component (gutters and downspout, hoses, or piping), debris filtering method (to keep leaves and sediment to a minimum), and storage system (above-ground barrels or water tanks, cisterns, etc)...
(January 2012)



Flax growing returns to Manchester

Jennifer Nelson, Positive News
A once disused space in Manchester city centre is now blossoming with the green stems and bright blue flowers of a plant that could reinvigorate a local, sustainable textile industry

A field of flax is being grown on the site, in order to produce a special Manchester fabric. The project, dubbed Sow-Sew, follows the vision of architects Chris Wilkins and Rachel Witham, who won a competition to find a way to breathe new life into old brownfield land.

The initiative was set up by sustainability charity MERCi (pronounced “murky” and standing for Manchester Environmental Resource Centre initiative) in partnership with local property developers, Urban Splash.

Flax is an annual plant, which is easy to grow and has many uses that be traced back as far as the ancient Egyptians. It holds a local significance in Manchester, as Sow-Sew project worker Sophia Perkins explains: “Flax was grown in the fields round here 200 years ago. The textile industry, of which flax was a part, was a driver of the industrial revolution.”

There are few known flax growing projects in the UK, but historically the crop was cultivated here successfully. Then, throughout the industrial revolution there was a gradual drift towards manufacturing with imported cotton. Although flax growing was reinvigorated through the world wars with demand for strong fibres and self-sufficiency, it is no longer grown commercially in Britain for the use of its fibres...

...MERCi hopes to share its learning on flax growing with local clothing designers and growers, to promote this sustainable material. A series of workshops are now being rolled out to help the local community grow their own flax in gardens and allotments.
(October 10, 2011)



Librarian pedaling for books

Inger Sandal Isandal, Arizona Daily Star
No ordinary bike, this one has three wheels, adjustable shelves and will soon be getting books into the hands of people who may not have visited a library in years.

"It's a way of seeing the library in a new light," said Karen Greene, the woman behind the three-wheeled, nonmotorized bookmobile that the Pima County Public Library plans to roll out later this month.

The goal is to expose more people to books by reaching out at major community events like the Downtown Parade of Lights.

The bike also will be stocked with information about library cards and other programs. For example, a general delivery address is all that's needed for a library card to check out two items at a time and get computer access.

The Book Bike will have donated books that do not have to be returned.
(January 12, 2012)

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