Spevak: One man’s small, humbling attempt to conserve water

john.spevak@gmail.comFebruary 7, 2014 

I began to do something every Californian will need to do more of in 2014: conserve water. My first small step, in the midst of a severe drought year, was fixing a leaking lawn sprinkler.

I realize this indeed is a small beginning, but I needed to start somewhere. And for me, a mechanically challenged person, this small step required significant effort, frustration and even embarrassment before eventual success.

Normally I wouldn’t have thought about turning on my sprinklers until March, but with no rain in December or January, my front lawn was not only getting brown, it was getting crispy.

I was afraid that without some water soon I might lose it (the lawn and my composure). So one day earlier this month I tackled the sprinkler.

Since the ground was hard, digging around the four-inch plastic sprinkler was not an easy task. I gradually discovered that the sprinkler, snug against the corner sidewalk, was encircled by thin but strong tree roots.

Using a small shovel and pruning clippers, try as I might, I couldn’t clear the roots away from the sprinkler. At times like this I have to remind myself that trees, while providing shade and beauty, also sometimes cause frustration. I love them, but they can drive me crazy.

Since the sprinkler head has a screw top, it occurred to me that maybe I wouldn’t have to replace the entire sprinkler. I unscrewed the top and pulled out the inner parts and found the crack.

I headed down to a local store and checked out the irrigation section. I found a 4-inch sprinkler made by Orbit and took it apart. Dagnabbit, I said to myself. This has an entirely different inside mechanism. I decided to buy the sprinkler anyway, along with an extra 4-inch Rain Bird.

I went home, knowing I would have to keep digging and cutting. I went back to work, with increased intensity. I dug and clipped and dug some more. After about an hour of knuckles scraped and harsh words uttered, I still had no luck.

“I give up,” I said out loud to no one in particular. I took out my cell phone and called a local landscaping company, one that had helped me before with irrigation problems. Ronny answered my call. He understood my predicament. He would send Mike, one of his workers in the area, right over.

When Mike arrived, I told him the problem. He looked at gouged earth and root-encircled sprinkler, a situation he’d seen many times before. There was no special tool or technique, he said, for getting the sprinkler out from around the tree roots. It would just take more physical labor.

Then he asked, “Have you tried unscrewing the top and replacing the inner parts?”

“Yep,” I said, “Sure have. See, this Orbit internal mechanism doesn’t fit this sprinkler.”

Then Mike noticed the second new sprinkler I had bought. “Have you tried the Rain Bird?” he asked. “The sprinkler in the ground is a Rain Bird.”

He unscrewed the top of the new Rain Bird. The inner parts, sure enough, fit inside the sprinkler in the ground exactly. He screwed the top back on. I turned on the system, and the sprinkler worked perfectly.

“Man,” I said to Mike, “I sure feel dumb, calling you here to fix something I could have easily done myself – if I had just used my head. What do I owe you?”

“Nothing,” said Mike. “I was only here five minutes, and I was in the neighborhood anyway.”

As Mike drove off, I checked to see if he had left a silver bullet behind, but I realized Mike wasn’t wearing a mask and his truck wasn’t named Silver.

My sprinkler continues to work well, although I don’t use it very much since I’m trying to conserve more water. I’ve used it enough, however, to keep the lawn from dying.

I’m sure I’ll have more challenges ahead in this year of increased water conservation. The other day I noticed a bathroom sink faucet with a drip.

I will attack the faucet repair with the same vigor I attacked the sprinkler. I hope my hands – and my mind – will be more efficient and successful.

But given my level of mechanical aptitude, I doubt it.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 30 years, are encouraged and can be sent to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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