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An irrigation system and the river that doesn't run through it

My plants are parched. Leaves are curling up. Stems are becoming brittle. Tree trunks are cracking under the assault of the sun's blistering heat.

As I tote the heavy yellow watering can across my half-acre property in the early morning and late-night hours, plaintive pleas haunt my weary footsteps.

"Water! (gasp) Please, lady. Just a sip. (cough) I'm dyin' here." It's my lawn. I'm afraid it's a goner.

You may be thinking I reside on a rocky, barren hilltop. Not so. My yard is literally on the banks of the Rogue River, just outside the town of the same name. And it has river irrigation rights.

I should have more water than my little parcel can handle. So why am I stuck dry farming?

Simply put, because my well sucks. And my pump doesn't.

It was tough-decision time when temperatures hit the triple-digits. There simply isn't enough time in my day to water everything one drizzle at a time.

Do I try to save the decades-old roses? How about the old trees? New saplings? Veggie garden?

The grass is a mottled mess, large swaths of tan blades surround waning splotches of faded green. The adjacent flower border is a long, narrow graveyard of fallen blooms.

"So what else is new?" sniffs the ghost of blossoms past.

Can't say I blame her. This summer's disaster followed its typical decade-long tradition. Just as it got stinkin' hot — right around Rooster Crow weekend — my irrigation system cocked up its shriveled little toes.

How hard can it be to suck water from a huge river and get it to my parched plants? Yet my dream of lush floral blooms, a verdant lawn and an abundant kitchen garden has yet to come to fruition in the 10 years I've owned the place.

Several professionals have come and gone. Jet pumps have been purchased, only to have their pesky innards explode. Seals, bearings and impellers have been replaced. Don't get me started on the number of times my house well has been drained dry in an effort to save the garden.

Three years ago my funds and my patience dried up along with my irrigation system. The Englishman, my beau, was pressed into service. The man has bailed my 1940s cottage and me out of a host of dramas — including heat pump freeze-ups, air conditioning meltdowns and one large flood.

Perhaps I am a clueless disaster-magnet — not cut out for country living.

"You should sell this place and move into a new home," he says. "One that comes with a homeowners warranty and city water."

Clambering down slippery, rock-strewn banks to unclog the pump's foot valve, The Englishman removes a bit of river slime. Unfortunately, that fix results in only enough water to spin a single rainbird twice before dribbling to a halt.

"It's your old hose," he says. "It's sucking air and needs to be replaced."

Hmm. The irrigation hose is the one piece of the system never before replaced. Could this remedy the problem once and for all?

After carefully measuring the length, diameter and design of the old hose, The Englishman spends several solo hours toiling away installing a brand-new length of thick corrugated rubber while yours truly taps away in an air-conditioned newsroom. But he can't test the system because my house well runs dry when he attempts to prime the pump.

I try my hand at priming the pump that evening. Twenty pounds of pressure sends two more circles of water drizzling from the rainbird. Then nothing.


Wishing to spare The Englishman further frustration, I call a new pump service. A young buck takes one look at my irrigation system and agrees the problem is the hose.

It's the wrong size, he says. All along the pump has been sucking on too narrow of a straw. An evil called cavitation has broken the impeller. Again.

New parts are ordered. A repair date is set a week hence.

"This will be expensive," I say.

"This should fix it for good," responds the buck.

The Englishman and my plants remain skeptical. But the watering can and I have hope.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.