SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

An Idea That's All Wet!
By Dave Kiffer


June 14, 2008

Ketchikan, Alaska - It may come as a surprise, but we have a lot of "farmers" here in Our Fair Salmon City!

jpg Triangulate This, NAVSTAR! By Dave Kiffer

No, I don't mean there are huge plots of corn and wheat and whatever springing up all over the place.

It would be nice if there was.

I love fresh stuff popping out of the ground - well, anything fresh besides skunk cabbage.

But since we have about six inches of topsoil on our granite Rock of Revilla, it doesn't make much sense to try to plow the Back Forty.

Not that we haven't had "farms" in the area.

Long ago, the Stenslands (on Gravina) and the Bishops (on the mainland near the Unuk) had farms that provided Ketchikanders with the occasional fresh fruit or vegetable and once upon a time we actually had some fresh dairy milk thanks to the Anderes and Pittinger families.

But those halcyon days are gone.

Or are they?

It seems that just about a third the residents of the community - the third that lives away from the city or borough water lines - are real live "harvesters" according to the federal government and a lot of other deep thinkers.

They - drum roll please - "harvest" water.

Okay, okay don't laugh. I know it sounds silly.

But doesn't a lot of what comes out of the great national brain trust usually sound a little silly?

And nothing sounds sillier than an old idea (rain catchment systems) with a new "brand."

So now we have the twenty-first century concept of "water harvesting."

It's the new thing and the feds and quite a lot of state governments in the arid west are looking to encourage more of it.

They - quite rightly - want to encourage folks to think of ways to stretch what is becoming a seriously evaporating resource. Not here of course. But in places where water is becoming as precious as unleaded supreme.

If you google "water harvesting" on the internet you get a zillion website hits about this "fast growing" trend (if it wasn't "fast growing" I don't suppose it would be much of a trend).

Literally, it is "raining" water harvesting tips out there.

There are all sorts of ideas about how to "boost your catchment" and "increase your water retention" (obviously bloating is not in an issue!).

There are dozens of designs for "gray water" systems that recycle just about everything except the potty water to be used for watering lawns and washing cars - because washing one's car seems to be an American birthright along with life and liberty.

Of course, the most obvious idea - move somewhere it rains more often if you want more water- is not a viable option.

The folks who promote "water harvesting" are bound and determined to encourage people to continue to live in the middle of the desert where the weather is always sunny and "dry."

Much like the air conditioner industry - and the Bureau of Reclamation that encourages it - the idea is the make it possible for people to live where nature has already decreed they ought not to live in the first place.

But enough about those folks who hate the fact that 360 sunny days a year leads to a startling lack of water.

What about us up here in the temperate rain forest? How about our "water harvesting?"

Water is pouring off my gutters as I write this. But I am attached to the city water umbilical cord. This is a good thing.

How can that be, you ask, in a time when city water is "plagued" with haliocetic acid among other fun things?

Well, last week, when we were toward the end of a 10 day "drought" I was already hearing the grumbling from my friends who live off the water "grid."

"The sun is nice, but my tank is getting low," was a common refrain.

"We're cutting back on showers," was another.

Fortunately, as of this moment, the water is once again being "harvested" off local roofs again and - ostensibly - people out north are showering again. Thank Ningursu! (Babylonian god of rain).

Good for them.

But - once again - how can we take advantage of this latest trend? The obvious way would be harness our own run-off and ship to the folks that are desperately trying to "harvest" their own.

And maybe someday there will be a water pipeline or large water tankers filling up in Ward Cove.

Yet right now, bottled water is now approaching $1.50 for about 20 ounces. For those of you car drivers playing along at home (because you can't afford to drive anywhere) that would be like y'all paying just under $10 a gallon for gas.

You gotta think that someday our water is going to be worth a fortune to a thirsty world.

In the meantime though, since the federal government is enthusiastically belly flopping into the "water harvesting" pool, it's time that we get similar treatment to those "harvesters" in the Midwest that have been paid to not grow crops in the past.

The feds paid us $25 million a few years back to not cut down trees. I think it's reasonable to assume they could send a similar check our way to not "harvest" water.

The last thing we want to do is "flood" the market and wash away the bottled water industry.

Not to mention drowning the nascent "water harvesting" industry which clearly couldn't survive the deluge if we put all of our run-off on the market.

So if someone in Rancho Del Heatstroke wants to use their bathwater to wash their car, it's fine with me.

I'd be happy to not harvest some of this liquid sunshine.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2008

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