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Harvesting water, reusing newspaper

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By Lee Einer

I will be teaching a continuing education course at Luna Community College soon. The topic is “water harvesting and watershed restoration.” It occurred to me, though, that since this is an esoteric subject maybe I should share with Optic readers some basic knowledge on the topic.

Most people think of “water harvesting” as something you do with rain gutters, barrels, and cisterns, or maybe with greywater from the laundry, sink or shower. Those things are water harvesting measures, its true, but they really are not the first thing you should do. Not that these measures are not important, but they ideally come t later in the process of making your land more water friendly.

What comes first is observing and analyzing your land, seeing where the water goes, and working with your land to keep the water there as long as possible. Water leaves the land due both to runoff and to evaporation. So to effectively invite the water to come to our soil and tarry there, we need to consider not only issues of slope and soil quality, but also strategies to shelter our soil from the drying effects of wind and sun. These first steps of observing our land and understanding how and why the water leaves our land, are essential in order to make the best use not only of rain which falls on the soil directly, but also any supplemental water harvested through rainwater catchment or greywater diversion.

Planting also comes towards the end of this process, for two reasons. First, trees and other plants will be part of your water conserving strategy, and will to some degree dictate what you will plant and where you plant it. Second, you should do your major planting after you have created at least some of the earthworks which will help retain your water. As one pioneer of water harvesting put it, “You must first plant the water; then you can plant the trees.”

Many of the tricks used to welcome water to your soil involve simple, small scale shovel work to create basins and berms which direct and retain rainwater and snow melt-off. These are called “earthworks.” In planning the earthworks, you need to consider where you want the plants to go, and the placement of the plants in turn should be an integral part of your water-harvesting strategy.

It is important to do all of these things before moving forward with rainwater catchment and greywater use, both because the soil is the most efficient place to store water and because you cannot make the best use of your cached water and greywater unless you first make your land a place where the water will stay.

So what’s all this about “watershed restoration?

A watershed is the area of land which feeds a given body of water, be it lake, stream, river or even ocean. Watersheds function best when they absorb water slowly and release it gradually. When watersheds, due to erosion and/or degraded soil quality, succumb to rapid runoff, the bodies of water which they feed also tend to suffer, from increased sedimentation as well as increasingly unstable water levels. At the same time, the uplands feeding the watershed suffer from erosion decreased water retention and loss of topsoil. The corrective measures overlap those used in home-scale earthworks, although there are additional strategies such as construction of check dams which are not common on the home scale.

. The classes will be on Saturday mornings in Room 101 of LCC’s Humanities Building from 9 – 11 a.m., beginning Sept. 6. Class fee is $30. To sign up, Visit Luna Community College’s admissions office, Room 118 in Luna’s Student Services building, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For enrollment info, call Tom Herrera at 454-5311.

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Beginning Aug. 25, the Optic is giving away old newspapers on business days between the hours of two and four p.m. It is part of the Optic’s new green initiative, an effort by Optic employees and management to conduct our business in an environmentally healthy fashion.

The Optic has for years printed on recycled paper, and has recycled surplus newspaper. But because recycling newspaper is itself a process which uses up energy and resources, it is typically more environmentally friendly to reuse than it is to recycle.

What can you do with an old newspaper?

Plenty.

• Sheet-mulch with them. By laying down a layer of newspaper on your soil, and then adding manure and a deep layer of conventional mulch such as straw on top, you greatly increase water retention in your soil, increase soil fertility and make it much more difficult for weeds to grow. Fall is the best time to do this.

• Line the bottoms of pet cages and bird cages with them. They will help absorb your animals wastes. and when it’s done, you can still mulch with them, even better because of the added nitrogen from your pet’s droppings.

• Papier-mache with them. If you like crafts or want to do crafts with your kids, you can tear the newspapers into strips, moisten the strips with a thin flour and water paste, and make a piata or other craft project.

• Clean windows with them. Newspapers moistened with a vinegar and water solution do a dandy job of cleaning windows, at least as good as some commercial products.

• Start fires in your wood stoves or fireplaces with them. Or you can moisten them, roll them into “logs” tie them and let them dry, at which point you can burn them in your fireplace or wood stove (remove the glossy inserts before you do this.)

• If it comes to pass that it is the end of the growing season and your tomatoes are still green, you can harvest them, wrap them in sheets of newspaper and stack them one or two layers deep in cardboard boxes. Check them regularly, they will become red and ripe in the box.

There are probably another 20 or 30 ways you can reuse old newspapers that I haven’t listed here — if you’ve got a good one, let us know! Write to me at the Las Vegas Optic, 614 Lincoln Street, Las Vegas, N.M. 87701 or e-mail me, features@lasvegasoptic.com and we can share your ideas with our readers.