Flooding in the Desert

The rainy afternoon had put me in a contemplative mood. I thought I’d make some tea, grab a cozy quilt out of the closet, and curl up with my new puppy. A quiet afternoon with a good book and a warm puppy is the perfect antidote to a rainy day.

As I was waiting for the water to boil, I took a quick stroll through the house. I was a new owner, a first-time homebuyer, and I was insanely in love with my house. I just couldn’t get enough of the wood floors, the crown molding, all of the details that make an old house such a joy to own.

But as I looked down the stairs to the basement, I saw a small puddle by the basement door. “Silly puppy,” I thought to myself. “He found a door to pee by.” So I headed down the stairs with a paper towel and some disinfectant.

Thinking some pee had seeped underneath the door, I opened it.

And that’s the moment I discovered that home ownership isn’t as glamorous as I had originally thought. As I looked at my new carpeted basement, I saw similar small puddles all over the floor-some 15, at first count.

It was Friday night. And I am not handy.

Water, water everywhere

That first night, I bought three wet/dry vacuums and worked a zone defense: suck all the water out of the bathroom, then the guest room, then the main room, then repeat. When it was 2 a.m. and I had made no progress at all, I had my first good cry, curled up with my quilt.

I wish I could say I was wise enough to know when I was beaten. But I’m not. I spent all weekend sucking up water that just came right back in. And I had the surreal vision of pulling up water with the vacuum while watching my puppy, not 2 feet away, peeing on the same carpet. “Why scold him?” I thought. “I’ll just get that spot next.”

An intervention

I considered calling in sick on Monday. After all, I was keeping up with my little puddles, so what was the harm? “I’m young! I can do it!” I thought.

Thankfully, my friends intervened and called in a plumber-a friendly, wiry man with the uncanny ability to say things that kept me from sleeping at night.

“What you have here is a groundwater leak,” he said, “and I’m sorry about that, because they’re the hardest type of flooding to cure.”

“Flooding?” I said. “These are just a few puddles, not a flood. And besides, how can it flood here? We’re in the middle of the desert!”

“Oh, you’re having a mild groundwater year,” he said. “Next year could be worse than this.”


“What do you mean, ‘What?’ Did you think that since you live in the desert, you’re free from flooding? ” he said.

Clearly, I wasn’t getting anywhere with this line of questioning, so I went in a different direction. “Can you fix it?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he said. “I can put you in a pump, and maybe that’ll slow it down next year.”

“Next year?” I squeaked. “Why not this year?”

“Putting in a pump now will be like bailing out a swimming pool with a teaspoon,” he said. “Eventually, you’ll get to the dry bottom, but it’ll take so damn long that it’ll be better just to wait this year out.”

“How long will I wait?” I asked.

“Oh, a month, maybe two.”

I don’t remember anything after that.

The work begins

Because I insisted, he put in a sump pump for me beneath the basement stairs. I found it comforting to hear it cycle on and off. The reassuring click and whump soothed me to sleep, especially when it was raining.

And true to form, it wasn’t a quick fix. Areas nearest the pump dried out almost immediately, but some of the puddles farthest from the pump took a month or so to completely dry out.

I spent the following summer in a flurry of patching, sealing and painting. I had the pump put in deeper, and I tested it every week. Vigilance was my middle name.


And now, I can look back on all of it with amusement. After all, I fixed the problem with the help of my expert, and (best of all), I no longer own the house.

And I must say that while owning my home was a wonderful experience, renting is equally lovely. Now, when things break, I just call the landlord.

“Problem with the stove,” I say. “Better come have a look-see.” And that’s the extent of my involvement. Instead of breaking out the heavy machinery, I take up my teacup, my quilt, my book and my puppy and wait for the answer to come to me.

It’s lovely.

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