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Ethics of pumping water from a domestic well

 
Matt Stern
Posts: 38
Location: Williams, OR
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forest garden hunting woodworking
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Hi all,

The short version of my question is: do you think it is ethical to heavily use a domestic well (around 9 gpm) to keep pasture green for sheep and poultry for home scale meat/egg production?? I'd be watering 1-2 acres of grass.

I can hear the "it depends" echoing in the permie universe (permiverse?) so here are a few more details:

I live in Southern Oregon, zone 7. We receive somewhere around 40 inches of rain per year (though less this year), mostly in the winter. Summers are typically without rain, like the Mediterranean. Our water table fluctuates quite a bit over the year.

It is probably not resilient to rely so heavily on a well, but is it ethical? Is it earth care? Is it possible to determine if I am depleting the aquifer more than I am charging it? Would the build up of topsoil and carbon in the soil from cycles of irrigation and grazing offset in some way the heavier water use?

Any thoughts appreciated.

Matt
 
Adam Klaus
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gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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hi Matt-
first off, good on you for even considering that there is an ethical question here.
I guess, even independent of the water questions, there is the electricity question. pumping that much water 24/7 is going to burn a huge amount of power.

Thinking about it in terms of ethics, one perspective I like is Kant's Catagorical Imperitive. This indicates that if an act were to be universally followed by all people, would it be a good thing in total? In your case, if everyone in your situation (rainfall, geography, etc) pumped groundwater to keep their pastures green, would the outcome be a positive one?

One way around the entire quandry might be to consider building a water catchment pond. You could then irrigate from this pond through your dry summer. I know many people in a similar situation to you, in Northern California, who do just this. Your pond would enrich the local ecology while providing enough summer water to meet your basic gardening needs. Maybe not acres of lush green pasture, but certainly enough for a nice garden and some trees. Any surplus could be used to supplement your pastures as well.

Sheep do really well on dry pastures, consider the Navajo and their sheep ranching. It does take a lot of land area per animal though. But maybe if you are only trying to raise a couple lambs for your personal use, following Alan Savory's Holistic Mangaement guidelines, you could be successful on your acreage. Chickens certainly wont mind the dryness, so I think you can raise chickens regardless.

There are lots of examples around the world of successful agriculture in seasonally dry climates; imitating these examples might be a better approach than pumping groundwater to try and alter your geographic circumstances. In your environment, it is the rainy winters that are your active growing seasons, and the dry summers are the dormant seasons. This doesnt necessarily suit our cultural preferences regarding vegetable production, but it certainly can work great with pastures for sheep. I think that you could find a good balance between winter pastures, pond resevoirs, and summer gardening. Matching our farming to our environment is the primary challenge we all face. There is a good solution, good luck in discovering it!

 
Robert Ray
gardener
Posts: 1350
Location: Cascades of Oregon
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In the western US water rights might come into play. A domestic well is not an irrigation well, depending on usage it could become litigious. A water catchment pond could also be an issue. In Oregon water belongs to the state and its people. Collection for use other than domestic/household tasks could very well end up being an unpleasant learning experience without proper research on a land owners part.
http://www.oregon.gov/owrd/pages/pubs/aquabook_laws.aspx

For me it would be ethically wrong..
I have had a discussions with others that just because we can't see what's happening under our feet, I have to consider what leaves my property or doesn't. If I have a burn pile that gets out of control and crosses my property line I have some responsibility. The same holds true for septic waste or chemicals that move underground from my property or using more (water) that others depend on outside my property.
 
Bob Anders
Posts: 45
Location: Shenandoah Valley, VA
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I'm not good with ethics...

It takes some where between 27,150 and 27,170 gallons (I think it is 27,155.187 if flat, but I have seen a lot of different numbers) of water to put 1” of water on a flat acre. So your still looking at over 2 days to put down 1” per an acre.

I don't think you would be able to use that much water even if it was a “hobby farm”.
I would think plenty of people would report you if they saw you.

I would never pump that much water out of my well to water pasture. Where I’m at it would affect a few of my neighbors and the affects from lower the ground water table could take a few years or never return to what was “normal”.


I use a large stream to fill my upper pond with 2 ram pumps. We have a water permit and every year during the summer we get a few people that reports us. Every year they come out and put a meter on the outlets for a few days. The best part about them coming out is that rebuild and tune up both of my ram pumps so they can test the max flow.
 
kirk dillon
Posts: 61
Location: Maple City Michigan
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From the link provided above....

Oregon Water Laws Exempt uses of surface water include: 7. Rainwater: collection and use of rainwater from an artificial impervious surface (like a parking lot or a building’s roof).


I say collect every bit of "surface"" water that is possible. Maybe even build that new shed you've been thinking about, you know, the one with the extra large roof.
 
Daniel Morse
Posts: 251
Location: SW Michigan
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Then it is time to change the law about the runoff water.

I think watering grass of a large portion is wasteful. I do around the house if it is very dry. If anything for the dogs and kids. Also green grass does not burn and just makes it nice around the dog and kitty pool. Cuts down on dust and is helpful to the local positive bugs and such. Of course I am in Michigan where there is a pond every 1200 ft.

can the local ecosystem deal with it.

Here I feel a compost toilet if foolish. Water up, water down. The land deals very nicely. Out west where it is dry? I am on the compost toilet waggon. Here the smell, I do not car how much sawdust you use, is too much. The bio layer is very thick in the ground so no problems with an approved septic. In the west every drop counts.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Each western state has its own set of 'water rights' laws.
To people not from the region, they may sound silly, but are in place for very legitimate reasons.

One common theme they all have is that the water belongs to 'the people'.
The water in your well is not legally yours.

Most domestic wells are permitted for a stated purpose, which is for household use.
Watering a garden may be considered household use.
Watering agriculture (including pasture) is not considered household use.
There are limits of how much you may use. I have seen 5,000 gallon/day limits.
I know of people fined for using too much water from their wells.

Please investigate your state's laws.
When judges hand out huge fines, they don't accept "ignorance of the law" as an excuse.

 
Daniel Morse
Posts: 251
Location: SW Michigan
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Yes, I do know this. I did live in the desert of SOCAL and other formerly non populated areas of the west, long ago. Thanks for the reminder.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Posts: 1605
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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"Is it possible to determine if I am depleting the aquifer more than I am charging it? Would the build up of topsoil and carbon in the soil from cycles of irrigation and grazing offset in some way the heavier water use?"

Hi Matt, Seems like if you are asking these questions, you might be interested in reading "Cows Save the Planet" by Judith Schwartz, published earlier this year. I enjoyed it, learned a lot, and they do talk about the relationship between soil development & health, and cycles of droughts and floods, global warming, and the status of the water table. While the book won't answer your question directly, it will broaden your knowledge base re these very things.

You may be able to get a copy through the library. One copy was given to me, and another one I got very cheap at abe books, so I can lend it around and not lose my own copy. IMO, "everyone" should read this book, and for those of us whose hearts are in stewarding the land, this book is excellent gives current research current results. Provides hard science numbers for those water and graze cycles, and those effects! For me it was hugely encouraging!

Thekla
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