When the availability of water dwindles to a trickle, what comes to mind is the quote that’s often attributed to Mark Twain, “Whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting.” What a nightmare.
As of today, in these Santa Lucia Mountains near Rocky Butte, so far this year’s total rainfall is about 17 inches. Last year’s total was over 90 inches. Normally, this retired ranch would have free-flowing spring water filling the storage tanks until June. This is the first time in over 35 years that we’ve had to pump well water in winter.
From the ridge top, visual verification of the area’s water shortage appears at Lake Nacimiento. Currently, at 44 percent of capacity, there’s a lot of bare shoreline.
On this property, we’re always ultra conservative with water. There’s no livestock, no lawns or permanent pastures and the fruit and nut trees are dry farmed. So what do we do to prepare for an even greater shortage?
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First, the goal is to develop a mini tank farm. Several steel tanks will collect and store the spring water that is gravity fed into them during wet winters. We started with one tank for minimal daily use and one for emergencies.
Meanwhile, we continue to research composting toilets. Honestly, I can’t believe we haven’t done this already. It seems absurd that Americans flush away billions of gallons of precious potable water.
Experienced users of composting toilets informed me that some models are easier to install and operate than others. Users also claim that, if managed correctly, there’s no bad odor. At any rate, up here, on land where water is especially limited, we think it’s a step in the right direction.
As for the future of water in our state, if you, like me, didn’t get the wake-up call when it came out, the National Geographic documentary Water & Power, A California Heist (2017) might widen your eyes. It did mine. There’s mention of the 1994 “Monterey Amendments,” a deal that reportedly includes privatization of major underground reservoirs.
The film highlights multibillionaires and huge corporations that are reputedly buying up small family farms, land that’s above vital aquifers, strategic locations suitable for potential and existing water banks. In this production, the San Joaquin Valley, Kern County and Paso Robles take center stage. There, reportedly, some large-scale agricultural operations are not only growing well-marketed produce du jour, they’re redefining the term cover crops.
Cover crops, in an old-school farm culture, means crops that are grown for the purpose of soil enrichment. Cover crops in the context of some thirsty corporate vineyards and orchards seems to mean crops grown in order to conceal and advance ulterior motives.
Are our northeastern county neighbors at risk of sinking into a depression due to their water situation? It’s possible. The aforementioned documentary and several reputable online publications suggest it’s already happening.
Is it all just a bad dream? Wakey, wakey.
From over the ridge and off the grid, Michele Oksen writes Mountain Musings for The Cambrian. the second Thursday of each month. Her column is special to The Cambrian. Contact her at email@example.com.