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Living without water

By Kathy Floyd

The drought is over! Hallelujah, praise the Lord!

Only a month ago, the blue corrugated plastic “Pray for Rain” signs, sometimes the only spot of color in a flowerbed or yard, leaned to one side or another because the dry dirt crumbled around the stake. Now, if they’re still standing after all the storms, they lean even more, or have fallen face down in the rain-soaked earth.

Those signs have been part of the landscape in Wichita Falls for the past four years as we prayed and pleaded and looked to the sky for relief from the drought. Radio stations played a daily rain song. Pastoral groups held public prayer meetings. No church service was complete without at least one person praying, “Lord, if it be your will, please bless us with rain.” Area cities paid thousands of dollars to seed clouds in the hopes that they would billow up and spill water out over us.

Time after time when thunderheads built up in the sky, we would keep watch on radar only to see the promising moisture shrivel up before it reached the city or the watershed. Or the colored blobs would part like the Red Sea under Moses’s command and bypass us, or slide around one side or another. Moisture avoided Wichita as if there were a bubble over us that kept clouds away.

When this winter let go and fresh buds should have been on the tips of trees and shrubs, many branches stayed brown and dry, lost to the past four years of so little moisture. The dryness didn’t just apply to the foliage. It oppressed all our spirits. We needed that rain not only to wash the dirt off the leaves but to refresh our attitudes.

We had a good rain in late April, early enough to bring life back to some of the brown buds. My rose bush that two months ago had only a handful of flowers is now covered with blooms. But it still wasn’t enough to help our lakes.

Since 2010, Wichita Falls had been classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor as in some stage of drought. In May of 2014, the combined levels of our two water supply lakes dropped below 25 percent full. On May 4 of this year, they were still only at 22.5 percent full. The drought officially ended May 28, 2015. In less than a month, North Texas received enough rain, more than 20 inches in some places, to take us out of the “exceptional” drought stage, the most severe stage the monitor registers, to no drought.

Both Lake Kickapoo and Lake Arrowhead are 100 percent full for the first time in more than 20 years. Citizens were out shooting video and photos of water going over the spillways as if it were a major tourist attraction.

The cycle of drought and flood is a global occurrence, not confined to us here in North Texas. With each swing of the pendulum do we learn how to minimize the damage caused by extremes? What do we do in the in-between?

The water shortage changed the way most of us thought of water. No longer do we believe that the stream that comes out of the faucet is endless. Especially during the summer, we tried to catch every spare drop that fell from the sky or out of the spouts. Think of the water that goes down the drain as you wait for the shower to warm up, or the trickle that comes from the spout when the shower is on.

My 84-year-old father carried buckets of water from the bathtub to water his shrubs until he broke his leg. He rigged his washing machine to drain into a trash can to capture “gray” water for his trees. My dad wasn’t the only one to make those changes. Home improvement stores made special displays of gadgets to retrofit washing machines to reroute the used water. Various styles of rain barrels are now acceptable outdoor décor.

Many homeowners in wealthy parts of town drilled their own well so they could water their grass. Signs of “Well water in use” were almost as plentiful as the “Pray for Rain” signs.
I forgot what true green looked like. Imagine playing with a photo in Photoshop, sliding the hue and saturation controls to where the photo is washed out, with little color, to deeper vi-brant colors. When I look at my neighborhood, that’s what I see, a before picture with brittle, straw-colored grass for a ground covering, changing to the lush emerald carpets we have now. I have to double check my location in parts of the city because landmarks don’t look the same surrounded by fuller, greener trees and bushes. Even the sky seems more blue.

My husband died in March of last year. He did not get to see the water pool around his two pecan trees or hear the thunder from the storms that broke the dry spell. Living with grief in the time of drought forever linked the two for me because since last March I’ve prayed for com-fort from the grief and relief from the drought. As we tried to survive with our water supply dwindling, I tried to survive without the person that kept me going for almost 31 years.

Mike is buried in the Charlie Cemetery, a pretty cemetery in the tiny town of Charlie on the Red River just northeast of Wichita Falls. Crooked old headstones dating back to the late 1800s are scattered in with more modern stones with laser-carved pictures. Arborvitae dot the land, providing shade for a precious few of the lots.

My aunt Billie and uncle Pete are the caretakers of the cemetery and can tell you who’s buried where and who is kin to whom. I don’t doubt that Pete’s boots have left prints on every inch of the cemetery. He’s 94 and still does most of the mowing. He battles goatheads, fire ants and gophers, winning a victory over by the Hull family lots with the ants but losing one to gophers up by the Garners.

On the afternoon that my dad, brother-in-law and I went to pick out my husband’s lot, Pete took a steel rod and stepped out across the uneven ground, watching his balance as he head-ed toward the grave of one Fanny Hamilton. He held his right upper arm close to his side, with the thin L-shaped rod held out in his right hand. As he walked toward Fanny’s grave, the long section of the rod pointing straight out in front of him swung to the left until it was parallel with the layout of Fanny’s grave. For Mr. Hamilton, the rod swung to the right. My brother-in-law thought it was a joke until he held the rod himself. My dad walked away from the Hamiltons to another group of graves, with the same results. The rod swung one way for the men and the opposite for the women. I took the rod in my hand and without any prompting from me, the rod swung toward the west, toward Fanny’s head.

Pete walked that cemetery countless times through the years with his divining rod looking for unmarked graves. I never knew he was a grave dowser.

During these past few drought years, some enterprising people bought land out of town and drilled wells to pump water and haul to customers in town. Just as Pete searches for signs of what used to be life with his dowsing rod, I wondered if drillers still used dowsers to find the water underground that we needed so badly to keep our lives going.

In this in-between, maybe we need a divining rod to point us in the right direction. We need to learn how to treat water as something other than a liquid that comes from a bottomless pit into our houses.

The Wichita Falls water situation made the national news last year in July when we went to the Direct Potable Reuse project. That’s the fancy name for recycling our sewer water into drinking water. Now that the drought is over for now, no decision has been made about its continuance.

In the Old Testament, Pharoah dreamed of seven lean cows devouring seven fat cows. Then he dreamed of seven blighted ears of grain eating seven healthy ears. Joseph interpreted Pharoah’s dreams of seven years of feast and seven years of famine, and grain was stored during the plentiful years to carry people through the bad times.

The Wichita Falls City Council already has voted to ease water restrictions that affected car washes, watering yards and swimming pools. Some restrictions are still in place such as no using a hose to rinse down your driveway, watering allowed only during certain times a day, and no car washes except at a car wash business. I’ve already seen an increase in shiny, clean cars.

By Kathy Floyd
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