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The Old-Fashioned Watering Can

A drought is a terrible thing; daunting, scary, uncertain and damaging. To mitigate the effects of a drought, we adapt as best we can. We track every bit of water we use, limit or forego water use in various ways and try to get every last benefit from the water we do use. Often we adopt new technology, and even more occasionally we adopt very old technology. In my case, it is the latter, in the guise of an old-fashioned, bright red watering can.

During my years in Anderson Valley, from the late 1950s to the early 1980s, I can recall only one drought year: 1977. I remember crossing Rancheria Creek in September with a single step in couple of places and seeing our usually robust spring, the source of our drinking water, reduced to a trickle. 

Compared to current predictions regarding the drought of 2022, the drought of 1977 was a picnic. The Navarro River flow as of Monday, May 16, is 31.4 cubic feet per second, higher than the 7.4 cubic feet per second it flowed last year (the worst number on record for the date) but still less than half of the historic median flow for May 16. The very scant rain during the 2020-2021 rainy season means groundwater supplies were not replenished during the better, but still below average 2021-2022 rainy season. The heat of summer has yet to arrive in Anderson Valley – in my experience, usually it kicked off with a three-day heatwave in early to mid-June – but when it does, Navarro River flow, the flow of local springs and water tables throughout the region will drop in a hurry.

Unlike those Anderson Valley days, today I am in the Bay Area and water comes from the Sierra Nevada snowpack. But growing up in Anderson Valley leaves ingrained habits and one of those habits is to never waste anything. So the water I run to clear the pipes in the morning goes into buckets, to be used in the garden or the downstairs toilet, a toilet that only gets flushed once a day. Same with water run until it gets hot. I take “navy” showers, turning off the water before soaping and after rinsing. I also shower only every other day. Dishes are done twice a day and when possible a bucket catches the rinse water. I am not a saint (no chance of that!): the more water I save now, the more water I – and everyone else – will have later in the year. 

I used a hose with a nozzle in my garden for years, but found it problematic. The water hit the ground with such force it disturbs cultivated soil. The nozzle spray was so wide as to waste water on either side of the planted areas. The hose also was a pain to drag around and barely reached some corners of my garden.

I suppose I could have installed a drip system. But between the expense and labor to put one in, and the general messiness of having all those black tubes all over the yard, I opted against. 

So I bought a watering can at the local hardware store instead. Spiffy red - way out of character for me, but the only one available. And I love it. The water goes precisely where I want it to go, with no waste. The water is like rain on the soil; soft and gentle. The watering can puts my “reclaimed” water to good use. Watering takes about the same amount of time as with the hose. Last but not least, the watering can makes gardening more personal; leaning over the plants, making sure each bed of vegetables and wildflowers gets an adequate soaking, watching the bumblebees at work, and taking time to appreciate the garden as a place of beauty.

One watering can isn’t going to address the pending drought. Even several million will only have limited impact. But right now saving water is everyone’s duty here in the west and doing something is better than nothing. 

One Comment

  1. Laura Cooskey May 28, 2022

    I love to water with a watering can! That part about being able to get up close and personal with your garden is the best: it’s when my other hand is pulling weeds or squishing unwanted bugs, or snapping off yellowed leaves, etc. Plus you can get water under the foliage instead of just on top of it.
    If you have a good ear or some other way of knowing when it’s time to stop the flow, you can save the duller time involved with a watering can by having two– be filling the next one as you work with the first.

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