Gray water rule makes a little sense

By Ned Cantwell

I’m sorry, Taos.
Look, I know you are a unique little city, a center of the arts, bastion of intellectual freedom.
You are one of New Mexico’s gems. Your architecture is intriguing, your artistic colony outstanding. Your newspaper is a perennial award winner. Even your name has a mellow ring to it. Can you imagine having achieved such prestige had you been called, say, “Muleshoe?”
So why is it you are typecast in my mind? When I think of Taos do I think of a cultural frontier that attracts visitors from around the world? No, I think of hippies. I think of communes where little kids run around unattended while their parents smoke pot.
I think of “Easy Rider.” I think of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper muttering stoned dialogue while bathing with nubile young things in your clear mountain stream, even though the mountain stream in that scene may have been located outside of Burbank, for all I know.
You can understand, then, my reaction when I read about a Taos lady who is heavily involved in “rainwater catchment.” Sure, I’m thinking, I’ll bet she wears long dresses, lot of beads, and sits cross-legged staring into space. Bet her name is Moonchild.
But wait a minute here. This is not a lady living in the past who spends her days humming anti-war ballads. Lynette Seward is actually living the future to which most of us better log on if we don’t intend to dry up and blow away.
Lynette and her Greater World subdivision neighbors are using the water nature provides.
She has lived in her 1,200-square-foot home since October and has yet to purchase a drop of water. Instead, she catches rainwater off her roof in two 1,200-gallon tanks.
After filtering, the rainwater is used for showering, washing dishes and clothes, for indoor gardens, then to flush the toilet, and, finally, to water outdoor plants.
Sound farfetched? Not at all. New Mexico is as thirsty as Nick Nolte coming off a three-day drunk. In Santa Fe, the city is providing at cost 2,500 rain barrels for “catchment,” a term that certainly will become common in years to come.
Albuquerque offers a $500 rebate to city water customers who harvest gray water. The New Mexico Legislature passed a bill encouraging the use of gray water. I found that laughable only in that it is one more instance of double-speak. The water is not “gray,” it is “dirty.” Dirty or not, though, the water can be treated and used.
If you think these last several years of scant rainfall have been abnormal, think again. The period from 1970 to 1990 was the wettest in three centuries. Translation: the drought we are experiencing now is normal, and we can expect more of the same.
Water strategists are putting a lot of cards into play. Certainly, the 200 million acre feet of salty water underneath Alamogordo has everyone’s attention. Still, you don’t need love beads to realize it makes little sense for rainwater to run down the pavement to oblivion.

Ned Cantwell of Ruidoso is a retired newspaper publisher and member of the New Mexico Press Association Hall of Fame. E-mail him at: