Gardens and Kentucky Rain - September 14, 2011

Summer's garden season is winding down, gardens are flooding our county kitchens with buckets of tomatoes, squash, corn, peppers, cucumbers, beans, okra; more food that I can put on the table in one meal, so the refrigerator drawers are stuffed.  Counter tops and pantry shelves are packed with shining jars of garden blessings, as colorful as grandmother's crazy quilt, both destined to warm up a long winter night.

A long ago memory comes floating back, of my brothers and sisters circled around the kitchen table with homework, and mother recruiting  us to count the pops from the jar lids as they sealed.  The last counted pop got a quarter, which was good for a NeHi grape soda and moon pie at Nevitt's grocery, a rare treat for us in that post depression economy. When my own children came along I realized mother's game was a clever way to shut up the squabbling for some quiet time.

This year has been a contrast from last year, which was so dry we plowed under most of the garden in mid August, and the canning jars stayed in the box.  Rain is the farmer's life blood; Kentucky's green landscape that speaks to our deep love of home would be very different if the rains were gone. My last column in May focused on water supply problems around the world with a growing population and diminishing water supplies.  The extreme drought and heat of the western and southern states, which began last fall,  is increasing attention to large changes in fresh water use.

The Austin, Texas area has seen uncontrolled wildfires that have destroyed up to 800 homes.  The city is now offering a  rebate for removing 100 square feet of grass turf to homeowners, and offers  three free water efficient toilets per household.  San Antonio offers up to $400 in rebates to residents who reduce grass turf and plant dry landscapes of cactus and native plants. El Paso, which is one of the few Texas cities without a water crisis, began a water stabilization program in 1980.  The city offered rebates for replacing grass lawns with desert landscapes, for installing water conserving showerheads and toilets, and mandated restrictions on water use for landscapes.

In dry Colorado, any purchase of a home or land includes a hefty fee for water rights.  Development of new housing near Denver has been delayed until new restrictions are in place that mandate low water use appliances, grass only in limited strips, yards lower than street level to capture runoff, 55,000 gallon cisterns below street level, artificial turf for athletic fields, and heavy penalties for violation of water conservation practices.

Worldwide solutions to fresh water shortages include desalination, large scale rainwater collections, and recycled sewage.  El Paso's tap water is 40 % recycled sewage, Fairfax, Virginia water is 5% recycled sewage.

Here in green Kentucky, our fresh water supplies are threatened by different problems, including deforestation of mature timber stands, and river floodplains, and watershed contamination by destructive mining practices.  When you see a stream with banks bulldozed clean of any trees or ground cover, you are seeing erosion and water contamination.  We cannot afford to take our rain for granted; as increasing changes from climate warming alter weather patterns into unpredictable, different and extreme weather events.

By Martha Young


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