A relationship with water

Someone threw a switch on or soon after January 12th. The weather stopped being cool and wet and started being warm and dry. And as usual, things started going wrong with our irrigation set-up. Nothing new there: I have a long relationship with failing pumps, wells that silt up, pipes that block, and springs that dry up. Over the years, an observer might have reported me apparently playing a giant black plastic Alpenhorn in an attempt to unblock it, scrabbling face down in a muddy spring trying to improve its flow, or trying to clear airlocks in a black plastic pipe that has boiled the water inside it.

I love water. I revel in it. I like to drink it, cool and refreshing. So do my plants and fungi. And getting enough of it to keep them happy is a permanent struggle.

When we moved in to Limestone Hills, the only water we had was the 1,000 litre/day rural drinking water supply, and shared access to two springs on the hill behind our property. When we remodelled the garden, we installed a 25,000 litre tank just below the olive paddock, filled from one of the springs, and pumped it around 14 zones in the garden. I was left with two zones for the olives and truffle trials, while the other spring handled the main truffiere. With the climate throwing an El Nino drought at us, and then a La Nina drought, and even an inbetween drought, our supplies were tested, and found wanting. But only after I’d spent hours, days, weeks fiddling around with springs, pipes and sprays.

So we applied for permission to put a well in down by our river, and the right to take a modest amount of water out of it. The well was built, power lines laid down the hill, and a pump installed. Water flowed up the hill, into the original tank, and we relaxed. Then, in August 2000, we had 150mm of rain in a day, and the Waipara River (annual average flow, 4 cumecs – cubic metres per second) shot up to 350 cumecs, flooding the well with silt and nearly destroying the pump. We’ve been making do with that ever since. It’s not enough.

We need water for the garden (more important than my crops, according to my better half), 250 olive trees, two trial truffle plots, a dozen walnuts, a few pistachios, 1500 vines, and 220 black truffle trees. And I want enough water – enough that I don’t have to try and work out which crop needs the water most, trading one off against another. So we’re looking at the feasibility of building a large pond down by the river (one that’s flood proof, of course), which we can fill from the river over winter when there’s plenty of water flowing down my boundary. And some larger pumps, so that we can chuck lots of water up the hill and round the farm.

And then I won’t envy my organic neighbour, with his giant rain gun shooing great plumes of water 30 meters up in the air, clicking mechanically through the night, looking cool in the heat of the day. Or we might dig a swimming pool…

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