Mountain Musings

Every drop counts — all the time, not just this time

Special to The CambrianOctober 9, 2013 

An old hand-water pump is a reminder of the effort it can take to bring the precious liquid to the surface.


Currently, here at an altitude of 2,200 feet, in these Santa Lucia Mountains, the backcountry of Cambria, water is scarce. No surprise there, since Cambrians have been calling their water shortage an emergency, if not a crisis. When gravity plays a part in where water comes from, it only makes sense that when those households near sea level are almost out of water, those of us at higher elevations are “hurtin’ for certain.”

For several months now, every spring on this property, as well as a spring that a generous neighbor allows us to use, has gone completely dry — not a drop. While it is normal for the springs to go dry sometime during the summer, this year it happened much earlier than in previous years. Therefore, water stored in tanks is also at a dangerously low level.

Dangerously — as in — oh woe is me, I can’t water my apple trees, flush the toilet as often, or leave the water running throughout a shower? No. I can deal with conservation. Think wildfire. Many days it’s 100 degrees up here where there is an abundance of fuel for fire — the danger is extreme.

Most people understand when it rains and snow melts, water flows into lakes, rivers, creeks and underground aquifers. What we don’t really comprehend is our daily usage. According to the EPA, the average usage is 100-125 gallons per Californian per day. Other agencies quote even higher amounts. Can you picture two 55-gallon drums? Barrel racers run around barrels that size. That is a lot of water each day.

So, what happens when these mountain springs go dry? Well, we pump water from a 300-hundred-foot-deep well, which also produces a greatly diminished quantity. At one gallon per minute, with average usage, I’d have to run the pump house generator for two hours every day for just me. That’s approximately $10 per day or $300 per month per person.

And that’s not even factoring in maintenance and repairs, as well as time. Both water and power are a do-it-yourself deal up here.

Every drop of water takes effort. That’s why we use it wisely, not frivolously — all year, every year.

The action plan is to check for and fix leaks. Barely turn on the faucets and showerhead; not full blast. Turn the water off while brushing teeth and scrubbing in the shower. Collect cold water as it heats under showerhead and sink, and then use that water for plants. Low-flow toilet (as simple as adding a brick inside the tank) and so on.

Life sustaining, we can’t live without water. Let’s appreciate it, conserve it, and teach others, especially our guests, to do the same. More so than gold, water is precious.

Michele Oksen’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email the resident of Cambria’s mountain community in the Santa Lucia range at

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