Water Rights and Wrongs: Musings
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Local resident, Dave Reagan, muses about water and the lack of water.
We have no water on our land.
That is to say, beginning sometime in May, or June, or these days, April, the small, seasonal feeder creeks all dry up. So from that point on through summer and until the first significant storm of fall, we get nothing.
And yet – we have half-a-dozen fruit trees, rose garden, roof-top garden, and a small medicinal plot. We take regular showers and baths and have filtered drinking water that would be the envy of nearly every city in the country.
We know how much we have stored and that’s how much we use.
How much water do we have? Five tanks. 2500 gallons each. About one per month.
When we tell this to people who live in the area, mostly we get blank responses, like they can’t even fathom it. Sometimes people will think they misheard. Mostly we get sympathy. With maybe just a tinge of guilt, eyes looking down and away.
I remember a few summers back having a water-use conversation at the New Harris store. At that time I had only three tanks and when I said this, someone said that was all he had as well, meaning that he had three tanks that he just kept refilling every week or so. I had to tell him again that no, no, no, that was really all I had. Total. For the whole summer. The look I got back made me feel like I had been speaking in Mandarin. Absolute incomprehension. Blink blink.
This was when I had been regularly commuting out that way for a number of building projects (small “cabins” that no one ever lived in, “barns” that never held horses, that sort of thing…) from a woman who lived just down the hill from the store. Janice S. Or more generally, to those who live out there, Crazy Janice.
Janice was one of the original homesteaders. I’m inclined to say hippy homesteader, as those two were fairly synonymous back then, but by the end of her years her life in no way resembled anything like the freelovetreehugginglong-hairedtye-dye stereotype that really wasn’t her ever anyway, not really. The Janice I knew was a tough, hard-working, big-hearted, bad-ass, Italian, fuck you if you even look at me the wrong way woman-of-the-hills. And as such, as you can guess, didn’t exactly get along with her neighbors. Especially when she drilled yet another well right on the property line.
How much water do we really need? Janice apparently needed all of it. She had all the money she could possibly spend and yet she had to go even bigger. And she was a fighter. I think at that point in her life she was doing it mostly to piss off her neighbors.
Last year we, too, pissed off our neighbors when we needed water to fill our tanks. Ordinarily we pulled from a spot higher up on our property, but if you remember, the rains had all but stopped mid-winter, and then stopped completely in mid-April. So we got caught off guard and had to pump at a lower point on our property, where two small streams came together further down, just along the road. The pump hadn’t been running for more than six hours when the calls started coming in.
If janice had lived here she would have just stood by the road and raised her index fingers at the neighbors driving by. Afterall, it was within our rights to be pumping there. (though now we are all finding out otherwise)
But I knew that mostly they just cared about the river. Not a bad thing. So when I fielded all the phone calls that spring I listened respectfully, gave appreciation for the concern that all of us should be having, and then gave them my explanation as to why I felt that what we were doing was entirely appropriate. We were filling our entire summer water storage from a small seasonal creek in the spring. What I didn’t ask, and should have, but will do so now, is this – what makes our pumping off a seasonal creek that runs dry in May somehow more wrong than the hundreds of thousands of gallons that the rest of our neighbors take right on into November from the year-round creek and “spring” that would otherwise be making its way down to the parched banks of the Eel? Just because they have the legal “right” to it, could it also not be at least just a little bit wrong these days?
I’d like to say that what we are currently experiencing is only a temporary “crisis” that people are already well on the way to addressing. Though they are certainly less numerable than the dirt trucks climbing the hill, those carrying storage tanks are a common sight these days. And as I talk with neighbors and friends, more and more of them are taking their plants out of pots and putting them in the ground, mulching, setting up grey water systems, and occassionally, though still rarely, simply planting less.
There is a water crisis, for sure, but by the good fortune of a small population in a water rich area even in these drought years, we can pretty easily deal with it. Conservation, storage, reducing or banning clearcutting in favor of more sustainable selective harvest plans will all go along way to help alleviate the problem. And yes, probably regulation on grows with an added requirement for most, if not all of the water to be stored prior to planting. That’s not really that hard. And the benefits when we do? Full rivers to swim and fish in, and perhaps best of all, no more feuds.
Or at least, not about water.
(end note: since writing the first draft of this last winter we have since purchased two more tanks, partially for fire protection, and will buy one more next year to bring our total up to 20,000 gallons. Also, I’m not preaching that this is all anyone needs. We have no kids, for one, and if in fact we had more water, we would certainly use it: larger vegetable gardens, an orchard, and more available for fire. And, if I weren’t working as a carpenter, I suppose it would likely be true, more plants.)