As we all know, life can be hard. So too it can also be awesome. So here are things that are hard and awesome.
California Drought, What it really means.
I am not a climatologist, I am not an expert, but I have looked into the water shortage in the Central Valley since I am a resident. In fact I am a resident that uses a well, so my house's water is tied to the ground water that farmers also depend on during droughts to make their livelihood. What follows is an edited letter that I send to a friend who suggested that now that its raining its back to the normal production of fruits for the central valley.
So a drought is characterized by two things, lack of water and an abundance of time. This is a point that many people gloss over. The severity of a drought is measured in length of time usually. Because if it doesn’t rain for a year, or it rains once in a year who cares that basically the same severity of drought? The time with lower levels of rainfall is what counts. As soon as enough water is falling from the sky the drought is 'over.' The drought is officially over even if there is no real way to catch all that water falling and use it to ease the drought stricken area.
At a company where I worked we learned that rain while providing water doesn’t actually help with crops, in fact it makes things worse often at industrial farms. So if we got a similar dose of rain in the early summer it would introduce mold into the crops that we were growing. The lack of sunlight or BTU’s (depending on the fruit) means a longer wait for ready fruit. So rain is not the preferred method of irrigation its just too inconsistent.
The second thing we learned about rain is that it doesn’t actually keep the ground wet for very long. Maybe a week, if it’s a real downpour. The only thing that rain does usefully is refill reservoirs… but wait! There’s more. In order to fill a reservoir it would have to rain so much that there would literally need to be flooding. For example right now in the central valley, we have flooding. The reservoirs are full enough for controllers to open up the gates. Now they are using the canals and rivers systems that have been dry for years to release pressure. So all that water will make its way to the ocean and that will be that. The reservoirs are not really full, but they are above the levels that they seasonally should be. There is a reason that controllers are letting water run through the waterways, but to understand why we have to understand how reservoirs actually function.
Two weather phenomenons fill reservoirs, rain and snow. Rain is the most immediate option, but its not a long term solution to the long summers that the central valley experiences. Snow on the other hand circumvents the reservoir capacity. Then when spring comes it ‘slowly’ melts ….. over TIME. So the annual droughts of summer and fall are softened and water is available for farmers and cities and everyone else. This means that you need rain and cold temps in the winter every year or no drought relief. We had a 3 week of rain up here a few years ago in December but it was unseasonably warm too. No snow! The company I worked for literally had connections to web cams in Sierras so we can see how much snow is accumulating….
The central valley’s long term problem is one of resource management. The size of industrial farming and the city of Fresno ( the fastest growing city in California) is not being matched by the size of mountain growth. It never will be. The more houses with lawns or the more farms that need to pull water, either from a canal or from a well, the harder the mountains need to produce snow.
The well problem is compounded by human intervention concerning water control. Reservoirs are great and all, but the way the water tables replenish is from rivers. When you have above ground rivers going for long enough time they also foster underground waterways, and those often help bring the water table up. Rain fall does not. Turning on rivers when you need to relieve pressure from your water stores doesn't do anything for the water table. Rivers in particular would also help ease the pumping from wells that farmers would do and that would help the water table recover slightly, but the damage is semi-permanent because when you pump out an area for long enough the voids in the water table collapse so the sponge can’t hold as much water. So the water table literally wears out! Some well owners have taken to ‘fracking’ their industrial wells to reach further away from the shaft when they start to produce slowly. Its crazy.
All of this is known to engineers in industry but no one has a cost effective solution. I put a time limit on how long California will be the cornucopia of the US. I actually predicted that because of the population growth in Fresno and suburbs and the now incoming moratorium on drilling wells that most industrial plants only have 10 years. Again, no expert but this is what i have pieced together as I actually have spent many many days studying this problem.
Well Based Woes Part II
In our last section we found we had a well based problem and called a local plumber. You should read this first to get all the particulars.
The plumber works fast, and I barely have time to piece what he is doing together (he isn't explaining trust me.) First he checks the pressure tank like I did, he doesn't even bother to isolate, the pump would be continuously running if there was a leak. (he has done this deductive work before obviously) Next he puts shuts the pump off with the breaker and lets the tank drain down to about 20 PSI. He turns it on and watches the rate in which it fills. It takes a looooong time to fill. Here is where his experience pays off. So far he is confirming my fear that something is wrong with the pump; a $1000 proposition minimum. Just as I'm about to start wringing my hands he goes to his truck and finds a Amp meter. This time he repeats the test for filling and watches the amps on the pump. When the pump starts it has about 1hp load on it (its a 3/4 hp rated pump which means that its working hard), then after a few seconds of work the tone of the pump changes and the draw from the pump plunges to nearly nothing. What does it mean!!!! The next move Mr. Plumber makes is to grab a Powers electric well sounder. Okay...
The sounder performs a few tasks. First it finds the depth of the Well (maybe), then the depth of the pump, and finally the static depth of the water level. The water level is found through conductivity in the water. when the metal sensor on the end hits water in closes the circuit and a chime on the sounder goes off. Then Mr. Plumber continues lowering the sounder till he hits bottom. He isn't sure how deep the well is because he thinks things are hanging up on the the pump. So our pump at least 156 feet deep and the static waterline is 146 ft deep. Mr. Plumber knows this is not really right, but Jonathan doesn't catch on right away.
"You barely have the pump submerged!!" He exclaims, "You only have 10 feet of head on that pump so your pulling down the water level inside the well and then you have to wait till it slowly refills from the aquifer.
The power of math tells me later that I barely have 120 gallons of water available for pumping, and don't forget that as the pump pulls the water level lower its getting less help from the head pressure till the water level is equal with the pump! the best sprinkler estimates tell me that i'm using around 12 gallons a minute.... this means in 10 minutes the pump is out of water, but more importantly the pressure needed to sustain the pump at 45 PSI isn't going to happen at but half that depth. There is only 5 minutes of pump-able water on a perfectly non leaking system. Ut-oh.
Lets go through the math together. lets say the inside diameter of the pipe is 6 inches. The formula for the area of a circle is Pi(r squared) or 113 square inches. 113 inches x (8ft deep x 12 inches in a foot) = 10,848 cubic inches of water. which when divided by 12 is 904 cubit feet of water. And when divided again by 7.48 cubic feet of water per gallon is 120 gallons
Mr. Plumber suggests he is going to send his boys out here to put in another length of pipe, also to extricate his sounder which is tangled. This means the pump is going another 20 feet deeper. This means 302 gallons of water standing on top of the pump. Okay that's better. At a rate of 10 gallons per minute usage were talking about 30 minutes of water, so in reality 25 minutes of watering time because of pressure. Better. but there are problems with this too. Lets just see what the crew says when they look at the pump well and everything else.
After the crew arrives coming out to extricate the owners sounder they end up pulling the entire pump assembly up and out we have some cool photos, and some new less cool info.
The pump was purchased and installed in 1990 making ours 26 years old. Which is amazing according to the crew leader. It is also a 1 HP motor on a 10 Gallon Per Minute pump. This also means our well report was wrong when we purchased the house. Reality is that we are probably only getting 8 GPM out of the pump; which with our lawn's thirsty layout creates a problem. The crew leader lowered the pump the extra 2 feet, which he said was definitely worth the bother. So now we have 151-ish gallons of water and 10 feet of head pressure. Its not ideal but the extra 30 gallons and pressure should help.
So our theoretical sprinkler run time is 18 minutes at 8PM. Which means its more like 15 minutes. This might be doable for at least the back yard and possibly a sliver of grass in the front yard. It will not be enough for a 15,000 ft yard that requires 9,300 gallons of water a week. To achieve this rate we would have to completely empty and replenish the well 62 times to complete this watering cycle weekly, or roughly 9 times a night for a week.
Time for a new plan for our home exterior.
Trouble-Shooting a Well based Water System
There is nothing scarier than a well you own running dry. Especially if that well is the well that feeds your house with fresh water.
Since that is the scariest, and worst case scenario you have to be careful not to jump to that conclusion when troubleshooting the water system of your house. My well did not in fact run dry, but I have had problems. So lets fix them together.
What to do with a Tractor.
There are many things that I have collected in the last 10 years of my life. I have 2 sailboats, a pallet of old computers. I also have a smattering (5) cars. I know I have a problem. Rather than debating the origin of this situation I want to focus on one of the collected items. My '49 8N tractor.
Okay that's not mine, but I would like it to look that nice one day. Mine is a little bit more used.
The story about the tractor like most great stories involves my Dad, whom is hit and miss on the gifting category. He knew that I needed a tractor to deal with my 3 acres of land at my house (which we plan on now selling). There was an opportunity in Palmdale where he lives. There was this '49 8N. Now for those not versed in tractor lore. The 8N has a love/hate relationship with its owners. I'll explain but to do that we need to learn a little bit about tractor history.
Back in the late 40's Ford motor company was making tractors for farmers. Farming was a much different animal than it is now (pun intended). Small farms that provided produce locally were much more common than they are now. The industrial farms that turn out our "fresh" food now were rare and needing a 30 ton tractor to cultivate 500 acres of lettuce was a ridiculous proposal. So tractors were built differently then they are now. First, the 8N is a simple machine. It can basically be rebuilt with a dozen tools all of which one might expect to find on a farm. Evidence of this idea is that the rebuild instructions for the motor were part of the owners manual. Some of its functions were hindered by simplistic design because the targeted farmer could learn to operate a tricky PTO system easier than they could learn to repair a complicated one. I really like this mindset I wish there was someone at Ford that i could write and tell them so, but i doubt it.
Another difference is: there is an appropriate and judicious amount of horsepower. The tractor only needs 26HP. Today, this might sound like a trifling amount of power but take the word Horse-Power. The idea is that the tractor can do the same work as 26 horses... Okay that is a real number to a 40's era farmer.
26 horsepower is more than enough to get what needs to be done around a sizable farm. Can you even think of a farm so large that it would need 26 horses to feed and use to work? No? Me either. But raw power isn't all that you need in a farm tool. We also need various ways to use this power. The 8N is modest but can help in this regard too. The Power Take Off (PTO) system allows various attachments to be hooked into the tractor and for the vehicle to be used as this portable power plant. For the un-schooled power take off is not a phrase regarding how quickly the tractor launches, but rather the literal translation: take power off the tractor and send it to an accessory. Yeah when I learned that I felt very foolish. So the PTO system allows us to run external belts and shafts and do things like mow lawns etc. All in all remember the 8N was built for penny-pinching farmers, that didn't have access to the internet in a time where an entire farm could be serviced by a 26 HP tractor and a few accessories. Also this was in a time that sunscreen and unleaded gas hadn't been invented yet.
The love hate relationship with this machine revolves around design vs utilization. Given what the 8N was made for someone trying to use this on their 500 acre lettuce patch is going to be upset. The gas tank is only about 7 gallons usable, that will get you to lunch, which means you should go eat and fill up. You have to manually turn the ignition and the fuel line off or you will wreck the tractor. The lift arms are balanced so that if you try to pick up too much with them they will not lift; rather than lift an amount that could flip the tractor onto the operator. Some after market accessories make the tractor difficult to use. Front loaders, for example, put waaaay to much load on the front tires which makes them difficult to turn since power steering is difficult to repair on a farm. You get the picture.
So some owners will tell you that they are fun to look at or to till a "garden" but when it comes to getting things done: "not so much."
I say, "forget them!" This little work horse helped me turn my overgrown nightmare into a managable nightmare in 2 days.
My father as I said bought this for me. A gift after the Navy for me to start on my dream of farming. What an unbelievably awesome gesture. He brought the tractor up a few weeks later, and as we backed it out of the trailer it died. Kaput. Well not for nothing a broken tractor is a much different than a functional one. I thought i was getting a Ford 8N that gently sipped oil ( a problem I could live with till i had time to rebuild the engine). Instead I had a new project to add on to my growing list of troubles. My father was a little upset over this development and vowed to return soon and help me get it into a working state.
He did return then jumped the 6 volt electrical system with a 12 volt battery. This can be done safely, and it can be done in a way that is bad, but not the end of the world... and then there is a way to do it in such a fashion that it is easier to replace the 6 volt system with a 12 volt upgrade. He chose the later method of jumping.
I'm not going to go into how he is literally a rocket scientist, or that he worked on the F-22 and some of the most advanced machines in human history. I wont mention if ever there was a human that understood the implications of what he was doing that surely he was that person.... Fast forward a few years. Yes, years. I need to get the tractor working. It is the lynch pin in several projects that have needed doing.
I was after all an aircraft mechanic. So i should be able to render repairs if I do my research and gather the proper materials and instructions. So after a few days i have rebuild the electrical system into a 12 volt system where i can both get gas and spark, but i cannot get combustion. Those that read this and are gear heads they will see that I left out compression. Well I had that too. When you have these 3 things you should have an engine. I wont go into the frustrating details of the troubleshooting but I ended up stumped. I had to call for Dad. Luckily it was almost Father's Day.
Dad redeemed himself this trip. Ironically, even though I had followed the wiring instructions for the 12 volt conversion kit i had too much resistance on line powering the coil. If your not familiar with the parts of that statement it means that I actually was a man who read the instructions, and followed them, and the instructions were wrong. This is where following instructions vs knowing how a system actually functions becomes an important distinction. It wasn't easy by the way. There was a few hours of reading out wires and looking up what values things should have. In the end the tractor, with a satisfying roar came to life and I had spent easily the best two days with my father in probably 10 years.
Stomping Around Bellingham Washington
Bellingham, Washington. This place is great!! It is the Pacific Northwest at its finest.
As my wife and I are figuring out what we want to do with our day I find myself thinking about the outrageous chain of events that somehow led me to sitting on the patio of the Washington town watching the sailboats racing out of the local yacht club make their start and their beat to weather on a Wednesday night race. A mere 2 and a half weeks ago was my final day at work for Del Monte Foods, Hanford. Content to find another job locally in the Lemoore-Hanford area I had started looking at what was available in the middle of April. At that time an idea had crept into my head.
What if we didn't stay in California for another two years? What if we didn't wait till i finished my degree to start making preparations for a big life-changing move?