Recess in the Gardenhood

Wednesday evening this week, Rose and Diane, who work with me in Green Way’s gardens, agreed to let me cook for them.

We needed to talk about the coming season, how drought will effect our work load. Passionate gardeners often find ourselves with many other things in common. Our conversation ranged over several countrysides. And while we laughed, exclaimed, solved the world’s problems, and, yes, ate, it snowed.

It snowed a real snow. Moisture laden. Four inches in the three hours. They left in a quiet sifting of heavy flakes and a celebratory mood.

5inches

The official total out at the airport was 7.3 inches. The patio table on the flat corner lot captured five.

Makoto Moore, meteorologist with the national weather service in Pueblo, CO, says “We’re still knee deep in drought.” But snow on the ground lasting for several days and the clean fragrance of fallen clouds raises spirits and has everyone hoping for more.

Up in the mountains as much as 17.5 inches of powder accumulated. Good news for the river basins.

Did you know that no rivers flow into Colorado? Here, instead, are the headwaters of the Platte, the Arkansas, the Colorado, the Rio Grande, and more.

Snowpack remains at 75% of normal statewide, but with March and April typically the snowiest months, fingers are crossed that February’s treasure will kickstart a productive spring. You can almost hear as folks around the state take turns holding their breath.

Another big storm heads our way tonight. Cell phones have buzzed: blizzard warnings are posted.

Today, however, I declared a recess in the gardenhood. The sun polished the sky into a porcelain blue. Wednesday’s snow shrank and liquified, singing its way down gutters and storm grates. I strolled on down to Shooks Run just to hear the liquid music. Upstream, inside the fence of the municiple golf course, ancient western willow raised their broad and glorious heads, bright February gold twigs against high, icy bands of clouds.

Back in the office, a message from my cousin Ginny alerted me to the March issue of National Geographic. There is an article on fracking in North Dakota. It attempts to give a balanced socio-economic look at the changes fracking is making in the state. The photos by Eugene Richards convey the story beautifully. However, a quick reading yielded no information on troubles ranchers are having with their livestock. There is always more to the story.

Alright, back to recess!

Tracking the gardener.

Tracking the gardener.

Home on the Range

Graphic source: The Colorado Springs Independent.

Graphic source: The Colorado Springs Independent.

Our little neck of the prairie faces a crisis.

In case you hadn’t heard, 2012 was the hottest year in the 117 that records have been kept in Colorado, a full 109% above average.

And it didn’t rain or snow, either. Not much, anyway. A scant 8.11 inches fell on Colorado Springs for the entire year, less than half our semi-arid average. We actually haven’t seen an average year in a long time. We have entered an extreme and persistent drought, and NOAA’s predictions for 2013 give no reason to hope for improvement.

Colorado Springs Utilities reports that 2012 water usage in the city was the highest since 2001, the year before our last worst year. And that, even though households all over town have turned off their outdoor spigots, rolled out weed barrier, and spread rocks to create moonscapes.

The water that flows from our taps is surface water, starting out as mountain snow. Seventy per cent of our water is from the Colorado River basin. Snow pack in that basin stands at 40% of average. It would take very large amounts of wet spring snow to pull us up to average. An unlikely eventuality.

Currently, Colorado Springs is on voluntary outdoor watering restrictions. Residents are asked to water only once a month this winter in order to preserve their landscapes and conserve our common resource.

Mandatory restrictions for the growing season are almost guaranteed. Although the final word hasn’t been spoken, in all likelihood, we’ll be restricted to watering two days a week and charged a fee for using more than 2000 cubic feet a month. To put this in perspective, the flat corner lot — about 4500 sq ft of lawn and gardens — received from 2025 to 3584 cubic feet a month from June through September last year. I divided the garden into 3 sections, and watered each section twice a week. While nothing perished, it was far from a banner year. For most of the summer, the lawn crunched under foot.

With a few careful strategies and some changes in design, the garden will come through. There isn’t a gardener alive who hasn’t experienced set backs, bad years, and disappointments. Years like these help us become better gardeners, if we’ll learn to adapt and keep our spirits up.

What’s disturbing, is this: Ultra, a Texas-based oil and gas company has purchased 18,000 acres of mostly undeveloped land within the city limits. They have been granted two state permits for drilling exploratory wells on that land. Our city council believes that our land use regulations could be adapted to allow oil and gas drilling within the city.

We’re talking hydraulic fracturing, folks, right here in no-river city. And while Colorado Springs Utilities hasn’t yet been approached as a source for the water required to frack the earth, their number crunchers have determined they could, if they were asked.

Seriously? Our urban forest can die for lack of water, our gardens shrivel, and our lawns turn to dust, but there’s enough water to frack? Seriously? In a state where rainbarrels are illegal because every drop that falls on the land belongs to farmers and other enterprises downstream, you can even consider taking 5 to 50 million gallons of water per well and rendering it unfit for any other use?

Fracking isn’t new and it certainly isn’t isolated to Colorado Springs. However, the local issue is representative of the larger one. In a world where demands on water for life’s basic necessities are outstripping supplies, destroying water for profit sounds more like a war crime than a smart idea. And the local issue is where I feel empowered to take a stand.

The odds of standing down the oil and gas companies are stacked. They’re attempting to lull us with a spate of radio and television ads telling us fracking is as good for us as loaf of sliced bread. However, if enough good people tell our city council to just say NO, maybe we could defend our home on the range and be the seed of something bigger.

The Chinese character for crisis is formed from the characters for danger and opportunity. Gardeners face adversity and turn it into a chance to improve our skills. I’m counting on the gardener in every person to face the danger of fracking and turn it into an opportunity to move our country into a wiser relationship with water and earth.