Thursday, September 6, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere

Our next stop was in Santa Barbara to visit Art Ludwig.  Art has done a lot of work in the area of water management;  diversion and storage, certainly, but treatment, as well.  Abundance of fresh water for consumption and agriculture is not something that can be taken for granted.  Even with the presence of water, say, in a convenient aquifer like the people of Missoula, Montana, enjoy is only part of the equation.  It takes energy, labor and a huge infrastructure to pump and distribute that water.  It turns out the water itself is fairly inexpensive—it’s there for the taking for whoever has the water right.  Nature sees to that in its own naturally efficient way, but our demand for vast quantities of Nature’s clean water requires an expensive delivery system.
The cool stuff that is water.

And that’s not the end of it.  After we use the water for drinking, cleaning, etc. we have the problem of dealing with the waste water.  It has to be moved away from the user, centralized and treated and then finally directed to a body of water for further dilution or to carry it away.  The waste water treatment systems used by our society have had to become more and more sophisticated as our lives have become more complicated by the use of chemicals in our households and factories, the use of ever more sophisticated pharmaceuticals that don’t easily or completely breakdown in our bodies, use of agricultural pesticides and fertilizers, etc. 

What was once simply “fresh water” and “waste water” have become fractured  into different categories that describe their relative freshness and waste quality.  We now have waste water that is grey water and some that is brown water and black water each of which requires different considerations.  

Art thinks about this problem and how water can be better managed and handled at the household level.  For example, he did some of the earliest work in thinking about how water from our showers and dish washing can be diverted as “grey water” and used to water plants and lawns.  He has done work on what to do with poop and pee that doesn’t involve huge centralized systems.  The key is making the waste-water handling and treatment easy, safe and effective enough to work on a household level.  We are not there yet, but Art is scouting the way.  Understandably, his work overlaps with permaculture’s values of reducing waste output and turning wastes into resources.

Art lives in a compound of houses and cabins that were once  rural family escapes from the LA metro area.  Many still bear the features of log construction, metal roofs and the narrow tiny driveways that are the bain of Land Whales of the world.  Art had a spot for us to park that bent back a fig tree or two but left room for the Land Whale’s door to swing open with a good ¼ inch to spare.  The weather has been mild while we were here—had it been hot, I think expansion would have used up that ¼ inch.  As it was, on backing out this morning, the fig tree struck back and snapped the Land Whale’s antenna.  The radio doesn’t work anyway so Paul didn’t hesitate to whip out his Leatherman tool and snip it off completely.

Today is another “make and mend” day so we drove down the legendary Highway 101 to Coast RV to get the Land Whale serviced before we head to San Diego and then east to Phoenix.  Larry Thompson, the owner, allowed me to talk my way in to a service date even though his calendar for the day was already full.  Guy from Montana, 21 year old Land Whale, crossing the desert in my future—it’s the sort of tale that draws out the milk of human kindness.  Since we haven’t been showering quite as regularly as any of us might like, we took the opportunity to do laundry.  I am staying with the rig while the others wash dry and fold our duds.  Later, they are going to visit some farms while I try to do some catching up on things.  Larry is short-handed today, but I think he will do his best by us.  He seemed like an upstanding guy.

Later we are going someplace further on our journey—Oceanside, I think.  That will also be a light duty day, since we are going to take the Land Whale and head east to Phoenix.  The plan is to drive it at night and avoid the heat.  While driving, I don’t get to see much anyway and Paul and Jocelyn have their heads buried in their laptops so the beauty of the desert won’t be missed.  Oh, Eivind might miss it but he has had such a great time collecting the books written by Art and the other innovators he has met on this trip, he may just bookworm his way to Phoenix.


  1. hi Geoff,
    I tried to meet you yesterday and think you were with Paul when we walked up to your group outside the library. But then you guys left pretty quick - in search of wine I think :) anyway, I had wanted to tell you in person how much I enjoy your blog. Now, I am saying it here. Thank you so much!!!

  2. Hi, Marianne,

    Thanks! Sorry to have rushed off. As the driver, I got lemonade. :(. Thanks for reading about our adventures--I am glad you like it! This has been a real experience and writing about it will help me remember it when we finally dock the Land Whale sometime next week in Montana.