Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Statistics Show Our County is Drying

This writer has asserted, relying on memory, that we used to have more summer rainfall in this area in the mid-eighties than we have now, and concluded that our tiered water rates are the reason, as we have been feeding the water cycle less as we save water to save money.  Grants Pass city staff have told us that we are using less every year, which has caused the city to raise rates to cover overhead, which is most of the cost of cleaning and delivering water.
An analysis of three decades of monthly summer rainfall totals for the 97526 zip code, from June 1983 to September 2012, shows that precipitation in July and August, our driest and hottest months, has fallen 0.09 inch per decade, from 0.41 inch to 0.32 inch to 0.23 inch. 
Average high rainfall for the two months, a measure of storm strength, has also fallen from 0.25 inch the first decade to 0.17 inch in the second, and 0.12 inch the third.   In the first decade, there were bigger storms on average in July and August, the middle of the irrigation season, than in June-August or July-September: 0.25 inch as opposed to 0.23 and 0.24 inches.  This reverses in the second decade: 0.17 inch in July-August as opposed to 0.22 inch with June or September included.  It proportionately drops more in the third decade, with 0.12 inch compared to 0.17 inch with June or September averaged in.
This fits well with the idea that irrigation feeds the water cycle and increases rainfall in the general area, particularly thunderstorms.  But some would blame this drop in rainfall on global warming caused by higher CO2 levels.  More heat doesn’t necessarily mean less rain, as monsoons and summer thunderstorms in particular are caused by heat sending moisture high in the air, but less rain almost certainly means more heat from lack of evaporative cooling.
Temperature records for the same three decades in July and August alone, show that the average mean mid-summer temperatures fell from the first decade to the second, from 71.4° Fahrenheit to 69.2°, a drop of 0.6 °; and it rose to 73.2°, a gain of 4°, in the third.  It looks like temperatures rose from lack of rain, but the lack was not sufficient to stop a general cooling trend in the second decade.
Since we started metering water and charging higher rates for higher use, both our water use and our mid-summer rainfall in Josephine County have fallen steadily.  Average temperatures during the same period have gone up and down over the decades, so the lack of rain is not temperature-driven, and is probably due to less irrigation in the City of Grants Pass and its surrounding areas, where many farms are no longer being irrigated because they are no longer being actively farmed.

Grants Pass Precipitation for June-September, 1983-2012

Summer Rainfall by the month, 

averaged by season and decade June-Aug July-Sept July-Aug
1983-1992 0.45 0.46 0.41
1993-2002 0.38 0.43 0.32
2003-2012 0.47 0.29 0.23

Monthly High Daily Rainfall

averaged by season and decade June-Aug July-Sept July-Aug
1983-1992 0.23 0.24 0.25
1993-2002 0.22 0.22 0.17
2003-2012 0.17 0.17 0.12

Average Temps in July, August          high         mean          low
1983-1992 102.1 71.4 43.3
1993-2002 101.5 69.2 41.3
2003-2012 102.5 73.2 48.8

Data from, 

analyzed and summarized by Rycke Brown

Gardening is easy, if you do it naturally.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Petition to the Grants Pass City Council: Change our water rate structure to promote irrigation.

A major goal of the City of Grants Pass is to “be a city that looks safe and is safe.”  Well-watered, well-maintained properties are pleasing to the eye and orderly, which looks safe.  Watered yards, plants, and misters also cool and humidify the area, and feed the water cycle through evaporation and transpiration, causing rain.
Unwatered yards are ugly even when mowed, and they too often are not mowed, because no one likes to maintain ugly.  They encourage litter, vandalism, and other crime.  They are hot and dusty in summer.  They are often a fire hazard as well.
Grants Pass once had unmetered water, and nearly everyone watered their yards and maintained them.  But now we have meters and tiered water rates that discourage water use, charging little per unit for a very low base and more per unit for greater use, in several tiers.  This has discouraged watering and gardening of residential, commercial, and public landscapes, and has likewise discouraged landscape maintenance. 
The vast majority of the cost of providing clean water is overhead in plant and people; very little of it is unit cost for cleaning and pumping.  Discouraging watering of yards has made the City raise rates several times to cover the loss of income from lower water use; the last time the city raised rates, you raised the base rate to stop making the water plant’s bad financial situation worse.
Gardening in Grants Pass has become a privilege of the middle class, the rich, and those willing to bear the cost of the water plant, which is borne by fewer people as more people stop watering their yards.  One can tell now, as we could not before, who is poor or cheap.
          Many poor people, especially our elderly poor, would like to better care for their yards, but it is hard to maintain a dry yard, even for those who know how, and even harder to make it pretty.  All of us would also like predictable, even monthly billing for water.
          THEREFORE, we, the undersigned voters of Grants Pass, respectfully request that the Grants Pass City Council change our water rate structure: Charge each household a flat rate based on the average household’s winter water use, sufficient to cover Water Department overhead; price the second tier at a lower unit cost sufficient to cover the City’s unit costs of providing water; and provide the third and top tier, presumed to be used for irrigation, cooling, and washing, at no cost.  Charge businesses an individual base rate based on each business’ average winter water use, as you do for sewer, accounting for much greater size differences and water use.

This is an advisory petition
You may sign this petition on Saturday at the Growers Market between 10:00 and 1:00 PM or contact:
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener        541-955-9040

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Clean Water Makes Cleaner Food

          On KAJO’s Tuesday talk show this week, one of the Councilors present replied to my proposal to change our water rates to promote irrigation that it is a shame that children in Africa don’t have access to clean water, while we are using it to water our yards.

          This reminds me of what we were told as children:  “Eat your dinner; there are starving people in China.”  A smart child would say, “Then send it to China.”  An American eating dinner couldn’t fill a Chinese stomach.  We can’t send any clean water that we don’t use to children in Africa.  The problem in Africa is a lack of water-cleaning equipment, such as the new “flash” distiller that the same Councilor was talking about a few minutes before, which the Navy is using to provide ship-board water.  He said that it can clean seawater faster than it can be pumped overboard.

          I get the same kind of response from Greens on Linked In: Look at all the fresh water shortages around the world!  We have to save it!

All fresh and clean water shortages are local.  Those with a lot of fresh, clean water cannot send it to those who don’t have enough and are far away.  Los Angeles has built giant pipelines to bring water to their overgrown city, but I don’t think you want to sell water to LA. 
We can, however, send it on the wind over the Cascades to the Klamath Basin, by using it for irrigation and letting it blow over the hill to them, while first making rain in Josephine and Jackson Counties.

          Still, some think that cleaned water is wasted if one throws it on plants.  The FDA and Department of Agriculture might differ.  There have been e-coli outbreaks caused by irrigating with dirty water.  The Grants Pass Water Quality Monitoring report for 2003-2005 prepared by Rogue Valley Council of Governments showed high E. coli levels for all streams except Jones Creek and the Rogue River and moderate levels in the Rogue.  By using city water on the food we grow, we avoid E. coli contamination.  This is also safer water to use in a mister or sprinkler for children to play in.  The actual cleaning of our water costs very little, but cleaned water is not wasted by using it for irrigation or cooling and cleaning our air. 

          If you want to help children in Africa, donate to a charity that builds water plants there.  We have poor children in Grants Pass that are growing up without green yards or growing their own food.  Poor families are paying more than they should for household water as well, subsidizing single seniors with much more money.  The City can give a discount to seniors who are using food stamps; the rest can pay their fair share for our water plant.

Gardening is easy, if you do it naturally.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Showing Visitors Our Ugly

High water rates have caused the least among us, and the greatest, to neglect our properties.  Sometimes it’s the whole property.  Sometimes it’s just a portion.  That portion is all too often right along the street, and the street itself.  The ugliness and neglect, though not the reason for it, are all too obvious to visitors, who are not used to looking past it to what the residents allow themselves to see.
Residential properties along major roads, like Bridge Street, have lower property values because of the traffic, and are thus inhabited by poorer people.  Many of these cannot afford to water their properties at our high marginal rates that cost this gardener over $80 per month in the summer.  Many of them are dry all summer, and even if mowed, are ugly.  But since no one likes to maintain ugly, many of them are not mowed, and fill with weeds like false dandelion.
Some people disown a portion of their property, watering and mowing the part around the house, but do not weed or mow the rest.  Some do so explicitly, inexplicably thinking that the area along the street outside their fence belongs to the city because the city has a utility easement that restricts what they can do with it, and therefore the city must maintain it. 
The city apparently doesn’t hear about this and certainly doesn’t disabuse them of the notion by telling them to clean up their weeds and litter.  That would mean that the city would have to do the same on its property margins.  The City has acquired so much property that it has trouble maintaining it.
These property margins tend to fill up with wild lettuce, heron’s bill, and mare’s tails, cheat, foxtails, and blackberries, especially after someone tries to stop the weeds with Roundup, which fertilizes the next generation of annual and broadleaf weeds while killing the present one.  The County’s Fairgrounds is a case in point, with mare’s tails, cheat,  and blackberries dominating their frontage along their parking lot on Redwood Avenue.
Streets and sidewalks have crabgrass, wild lettuce, and even star thistle and goat heads growing in the cracks because people disown the public easement.  In reality, we own or rent property to the middle of the street; the city only has an easement.  And we, as residents and/or property owners, are Johnny-on-the-spot to keep that street and sidewalk clean.
But with the greatest and the least among us disowning portions of our properties, the middle follows the example of both.  Some don’t maintain their property at all.  One man said, “I have a business to run!” while he stood there with no business and a worker standing idle.  

Gardening is easy, if you do it naturally

The World’s Greatest Gardening Scissors

There is one brand of gardening scissors that can do a lot more than pruning, a lot better than any other brand I’ve seen.  It’s Kengyu.  Look it up on the web.  I found the manufacturer the other day.  Today, I can only find secondary suppliers.

They have red and white plastic-covered loop handles, soft on the outside, and easy to hold, unlike hand pruners, which have to be actively held.  With their short, thin, sharp blades, they fit into tiny spaces.  They were made for bonsai, but they can cut anything that hand pruners can cut, more easily.  Those blades are very sharp at the tip; they need a tool belt or holster to hold them safely.  I like a tool belt, which can also hold gloves and trash.

Only in the last couple of years have I found the other great use for them: as a weeding tool.  Faced with the problem of weeding goat heads and star thistle from dry ground, I found that I could cut them below their crowns and they would not grow back, being annuals in flower.  This just happens to be the point at which they violate our nuisance code and must be weeded lest they become a nuisance.

When an annual starts to flower, it puts all of its energy into that flower stalk; all of its energy is in the crown, where all the growth comes from, and above it.  Only scissors with Kengyu’s super-hard Japanese steel and thin, narrow shape can cut roots under the crown easily.  And they still stay sharp enough for most pruning jobs after cutting roots in a lot of dirt and gravel.

They really come into their own when weeding crabgrass, which tends to root deeply in well-watered ground, rooting additionally along the stem joints as they spread out from the clump.  One can slide them under the entire crown and cut off those wiry roots, which have no food and die.

They can also be used to push down alongside small dandelions to pull more of the root as one pulls the plant.  For bigger dandelions and dock, however, one will get better results by pushing a shovel or a weeding knife next to the plant, popping the root loose without pulling out the soil, and pulling the root out.

They can also cut weeds out of cracks in pavements.  The sharp tips can reach down under the crown in most cases, and cut it off the root, where one would otherwise just pull the leaves off.

Yesterday, I used them for taking moss off my roof.  I was cleaning out the gutters for fall rains and noticed that the moss was dead and dry, easy to clean out of the gaps between the shingles with the tips of the scissors, and to brush it off the bottom edges.  It ended up taking the sharp tips off the scissors, making them safe for my grandson to use.  I rarely use the tips anyways, and this morning they were cutting goat heads out of Schroeder Dog Park just as well as ever.

Gardening is easy, if you do it naturally.