About the Colony

Water wars a never-ending battle

Special to The TribuneFebruary 24, 2014 

Lon Allan


I’ve always known that the availability of water was not absolute.

My dad perpetually had a small “farm” while he worked other jobs, and I recall his admonition to me to make sure we didn’t waste water when we irrigated our grapes.

In those days (1950s) we plowed three furrows between the vines and simply flooded them with water. You had to be vigilant to make sure the water didn’t break out of the furrow and run — wasted — onto the nearby roads and elsewhere. At his direction you simply continued to walk the vineyard on the day you were running water.

Driving between the central San Joaquin Valley and Cal Poly in the late 1950s, I came across a roadside monument just outside Hanford that marked the site of the Mussel Slough Tragedy.

A clash between settlers of the area and the Southern Pacific Railroad resulted in seven people being killed in a gunfight that erupted on May 1, 1880. The “slough” in question ran between the King’s River and Tulare Lake. I learned to water ski on the King’s River. The Tulare Lake is gone.

Among other issues, Mussel Slough was a fight over water rights between the large corporate railroad and the farmers.

Someone said the real price of water isn’t known until there isn’t any.

California has long fought with the issue of getting water where it is needed.

We ship water from Northern California all the way south in an open ditch we all have driven across many times (such as between here and Bakersfield). In the 1920s Dad worked on the pipeline that carries Colorado River water through the hills surrounding Palm Springs into Southern California. Both sources are in jeopardy.

With no rainfall here and virtually no snow in the mountains, the pond is drying up.

Like it or not, we are all going to have to become very careful with how we use water, especially seeing that this is one of the driest years since the 1880s — the year of the Mussel Slough incident. Last Friday I washed my whole truck with a spray bottle and rag.

Whether it is Lady Gaga using water for a music video or news of more commercial and residential construction here on the Central Coast, there will be folks lining up on both sides of the issue because of water needs.

I’m going to favor individual landowners and agriculture over large corporate developments here.

California’s drought will be the stuff of network news this summer on an equal level to reports of eastern storms and hurricanes last year.

Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach him at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.

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