wells and water restrictions

our house, the village and Alaric Mountain

our house, the village and Alaric Mountain

We live in an arid landscape. This is our village huddled at the foot of the biggest of the Corbieres Hills. It has just a small stream running through it, but many wells. Our house is the big building at the bottom.

After the reading and the talking and the thinking – one has to act. Put the Peak Oil theory aside and get going. So I have begun to make an inventory of what we have here on our property, and what is out there around the village. However, the list soon span out of control : water, fuel, power, shelter, tools and equipment, protection and defense. I needed to slow down and concentrate on what was immediately practical.

As it happened, the matter was decided for me : just a few weeks ago the Mairie announced over the village tannoy system [I don’t know if all villages still have one – this remnant of the Nazi Occupation] that a restriction on water-use was now in force throughout the departement of the Aude. No hose-pipes to be used around house or garden, from 8 to 8. We not only needed to get up early to water the kitchen-garden, we needed to have a reserve in case this hot dry summer continued and the ban became total. I had better take stock of our water supply.

We have a house-well that is six metres below ground-level and when recently measured was just two metres deep (it’s usually 3) – but it’s clean and cool. At the time it provided for the needs of the family that built this place in 1860. We have used it occasionally – four years ago when water ran low in the region and I drained it when topping up the swimming-pool – and I imagine it would keep the two of us going for domestic use the year round. But it is inadequate for a serious potager (kitchen-garden).

There is another well – same stone construction, same depth – at the bottom of the garden. But this one has always been closed over. It is foul and sulferous-smelling, and is probably too close to the run-off from the wine-makers when they wash out their vats. It once must have filled this bassin , which is now ornamental ( though the koi and the frog who live there would call it Home ).

bassin at the bottom of the garden

bassin at the bottom of the garden

frog in le bassin

frog in le bassin

In the garden of the house next-door is a modern well [un forage] dug at great expense by a neighbour who only occasionally visits his holiday-home. I should add that he grew up in the village, remembers the Germans, and like every good Frenchman always only desired a house to retire to – after a career as an oil-man in Paris – in his own village. He was out there in his garden today – fit at nearly 80 – pottering about his quarter-acre of largely unproductive trees and ornamental shrubs. He has offered us the use of his water, should we ever need it.

Then there’s the pool itself – a luxury in the eyes of many, but a business necessity if you’re running a holiday guest-house/art centre. It’s big by some standards, at 12 x 5 m.

poster for artholiday.com

poster for artholiday.com

It’s a constant problem to maintain and the costs are high in chemicals and electricity and my pool-boy-hours. I’d be glad to see it with its kerb-stones removed, filled with oxygenating plants and capable of supporting small insect life and large ducks. For the present it remains a sterile but necessary business asset. It may also play a crucial role as a ‘battery’ storing wind-generated electrical heat, to be used in conjunction with a heat pump. The subject of wind-power (in which the region is bountifully provided ) will be dealt with in a later post.

So one of my projects this summer has been to refurbish le grand bassin hidden away in the clump of trees that was once le parc, and is now the Jungle. (More about formal French parcs and English wildlife gardens in a later post)

Richard tiling le grand bassin

Richard tiling le grand bassin

The water for this pre-World War 2 proto-swimming pool (built by the previous owner for his children) arrived via a lead pipe from the sweet-water well in his neighbour’s potager . It may well flow again.

Here I am tiling the top row with tiles we painted and fired for a mosaic that didn’t happen. It will give the bassin a non-lavatorial look. The tiles below will all get covered with pond-weed. The odd lines of tile were from a previous attempt to make this thing hold water. 90% of these tiles are redundant – I just don’t know which 10% actually cover the serious cracks.

This part of Le Languedoc has erratic weather: pushed by the Mediterranean and pulled by the Atlantic weather systems, we are caught between drought and flood. But we do have two growing seasons, spring and autumn and a heatwave in the middle when almost everything grinds to a halt (except the courgettes, aubergines and tomatoes).

All we need is water.

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