A bell that tolls for all of us—with different tunes

Lake Superior image courtesy of Shutterstock
Lake Superior image courtesy of Shutterstock

The drought news from the West and Southwest combined with watching Interstellar over the weekend has me thinking about water and the lack thereof.

We don’t have a drought threat here in Western New York, but, just as the article I linked to above says, “Nothing about water is easy.”  Given the spring thaws and storm-related flooding that regularly occurs here, and even more in coastal areas, one might presume that the Northeast suffers from too much water. It’s actually just a different side of the problem of water mismanagement. Water is allowed to flow unrestrictedly into storm drains, tasking aging sewer systems so that lakes and rivers receive contaminates. Run-off from farms flows freely into the same lakes and rivers, adding excess fertilizer to the other pollutants. As a result, in spite of the fact that we are surrounded by magnificent inland seas, we can’t benefit as we should.

It’s better than it was. The Great Lakes aren’t dying anymore, but they still need protection and continuing remediation, and the communities that exist around them need to fix their water systems (which is finally happening in Buffalo) and restrict harmful run-off.

It’s another reason that everyone should think twice about the chemicals they’re letting flow down the drain and through the ground.  We don’t use any fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides on our property, but drainage is still an issue. Tree roots help, but there’s still water being wasted and we’ve been adjusting the paving gradations to help. (Much of my garden is kind of an inadvertent rain garden.)

Still, there are sacrifices I am reluctant to make—containers use up a lot of water, but there are container plants that are more drought resistant.  And there’s never been a good place to put a rain barrel, but it’s time to bite the bullet. The stories from the West are scary, but they’re also calls to action—for everybody.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. So true. I find I am thinking about what I am doing each time I turn on the faucet. And trying to make the best use of the water I do use. Many of my containers are being watered with leftover cooking water, veg washing water etc. And most of my containers now hold succulents.

  2. A plant in a pot may take less water than a plant in the ground. You have to water it more often, but not so much at a time.

  3. My local water utility, Des Moines Water Works, is suing several upstream water districts for excessive nitrates. Twice last summer our water also exceeded recommended safe levels for trihalomethanes, a by-product of chlirination and excessive suspended sediments. The EPA is also eyeing Iowa for its contribution to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.
    We need start acting as if we actually realize that there’s always someone downstream.

  4. Thank you for this important message. Here in the Northern Rockies I’m considering pricey 75 gallon rain barrels, which will probably only fill completely a couple times each year. I’m trying to focus on the gratification of knowing I will catch more run off rather than the price. I think this is another vital aspect of local sustainability projects.

  5. Elizabeth, here in the Finger Lakes, one of the big problems is fertilizer runoff from lakefront property owners. Everyone insists on having the perfect green lawn at the expense of the lakes – there are huge algae blooms every summer – also on Lake Ontario. And then we have the issue of tracking, although that’s been held at bay for a while, at least. We may have abundant water here in New York, but a lot of people seem to feel that it’s OK to trash it. I also have to wonder periodically if the drought out west will lead someone to sell them Great Lakes water. That would really make things interesting….

  6. I live in Southern California. We have a new way of showering. We capture the cold water that would normally run down the drain in a bucket. It usually takes about a gallon of wasted water before it turns warm. We then use that water to water our veggies and plants in our containers. We have all drought-resistant plants and succulents in our yards that can go several days without water. We have three people in the house and each take a shower everyday before work or after working out. That adds us to 3 gallons of water per day or over a thousand gallons a year!

  7. I’m currently living on the West Coast and have been prepping for about 3 months now. Sadly it’s only now that I realize how little I have prepared for the water shortage that will befall us.


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