water supply on planet Earth is constant, the amount never varies.
However, only 3 % of the water on Earth is fresh water and much of
it is trapped in polar ice. As the population of our planet continues
to grow water issues become greater and greater.
central Texas the average rain fall is about 30 inches. In years with
rain fall below average the farm crops, and city landscapes suffer
if not irrigated. When the water use is restricted citizens become
concerned. If the drought lingers, they panic and try to beg, barrow
or steal water from others and searched for new supplies. More wells
are drilled and creeks and rivers are dammed to make lakes.
water in lakes is not the best conservation method. The evaporation
rate in central Texas averages 55 inches per year.
best place to store water is underground in our aquifers and Texas
is blessed with a few good large ones and hundreds of small sand strata
aquifers. However, how to get the water into the aquifers and sand
strata's is not well understood by the average farmer or rancher and
is a mystery to most city folks.
look at some old but vital research by the USDA. One of their studies
shows that a block of soil 3 ft long 1 ft wide and 6 inches deep will
weigh about 100 lbs. If it contains 4 to 5 % organic matter, it can
absorb a 4 to 6 inch rain an hour and will hold about 165 to 195 lbs
of water. If not used by plants the water slowly and continually goes
down and can be trapped in an aquifer. The same size block of soil
that has 1 % or less humus or organic matter will absorb only about
1 inch of rain or 35 to 40 lbs of water and the rest runs off to cause
flooding and erosion with very little reaching an aquifer.
rich in humus and organic matter is a critical part of the solution
to water shortage problems. Working on our own farm and helping neighbors
bale and haul hay during the big drought of the 50s I noticed there
was never an even hay crop in the same neighborhood although the rain
fall was the same. Bottom land and new land always made more bales
per acre than old eroded fields. Barn yard manure was the fertilizer
back then and where it was used the crops were best. I didn't know
then, but I have since discovered why.
for the homeowner:
started making compost in the mid 60s and by the mid 70s I was making
and selling compost in a big way. Where ever compost was used the
plants and lawns were always healthier and greener as we expected.
What we didn't expect was the lawns, trees and shrubs needed a lot
less irrigation. Applying ½ inch of compost to a lawn in the
fall of the year would always cut the watering needs from 30 - 50
% the following year. With some people reporting irrigation was cut
as much as 70 - 80 %. Naturally, the least irrigation needs were always
in areas with the deeper soils.
for the farmer:
went with Dr. Joe Bradford of the USDA to visit some of the no-till
farmers in non-irrigated areas of South Texas . All of those farmers
were making a crop and taking money to the bank while their neighbors
on either side were having crop failure. The success was contributed
to the previous crop litter being left on the soil surface as mulch
to trap rain water, stop erosion and slowed evaporation. And, with
the no till program the earth worms and the soil micro organism systems
were not disrupted by the plough and the humus in the soil wasn't
exposed to the air that would cause it to dissipate as CO2
. Together, this caused the soil organic content on these farms to
rise 1/10 of 1 % each year. The mulch and the extra soil humus allowed
a much greater amount of rain to soak into the soil. Home owners who
use mulch around their trees and shrubs and compost their lawns along
with the no-till farmers are doing their share to store and conserve
water. However, there is more ranch land than city yards and farm
for the Rancher:
ranchers who follow the Holistic Management cattle grazing methods,
taught by Allen Savory can do the most good for water quality, water
supply, soil biology and the carbon cycle to clean the air. I have
been on many of these ranches to see first hand the abundance of healthy
forage grasses growing through a mulch of old plant matter from previous
seasons. The covered ground trapped the rain to fill the aquifers
and cause springs to flow in the riparian areas. The cattle were in
excellent condition, I also noticed a good supply of dung beetles
digging in the cow patties and forming the manure into balls then
rolling them some distance before burying them deep into the ground.
This beetle activity allowed more water to soak in; soil to be aerated
and fertilized and it eliminate any parasites that would normally
hatch from the manure. There were very few flies bothering the animals.
The neighboring ranches being operated by the conventional methods
had a lower stocking rate, poor grass quality and bare soil with of
evidence of erosion and the cattle were bothered by more flies.
visiting one of the Holistic Managed Ranches I got permission to take
soil samples from it and the neighboring ranch. I took five samples
six paces apart on each side of the fence. On the Holistic side the
soil probe went in easily and all the samples pulled were a dark chocolate
color showing evidence of plenty humus. On the conventional side of
the fence I had a hard time getting the probe down a full six inches
and the samples pulled were a light brown color indicated very little
my early days of hay baling I have had an interest in water quantity.
I have even worked for two different well drillers. But, owning my
own farm and making and using compost and mulches is where I learned
only answer to our water problems is for the ranchers, farmers and
home owners to study and understand the design of Nature and operate
within those conservation laws.
: When the settlers first came to this country the numbers
of grazing animals were tremendous. The numbers of the American buffalo
alone was greater than all the farm animals, feed lots included, than
we have today. The buffalo grazed in close herds, this forced them
to bite from all the grass species, not just preferred grass. All
the while they were dropping a lot of urine and manure and were always
on a move. They never ate the grass down short. The prairie floor
was always covered with a healthy layer of decaying grass and animal
matter. And the forage grass remained abundant and healthy. And the
streams flowed clear and strong. That is, until the white man came.
Beck is a member of HRM of Texas and the compost guru of Texas. He
can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.