Over the Hill

Are long, heavy rains and a full Salinas River a thing of Paso’s past?

Even after storms in January 2016, no live stream flowed in the Salinas River through San Miguel.
Even after storms in January 2016, no live stream flowed in the Salinas River through San Miguel. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

About 7:30 Wednesday morning, I opened my window blinds and saw heavy rain falling, instead of the usual light stuff we’ve been getting lately.

The rain splashed in our birdbath, and our birdbath runneth over (with apologies to Psalm 23:5).

Our catbath also runneth over. I have a catbath because on hot summer days, our birdbath would attract thirsty neighborhood cats. They stretched up, put their front paws on the birdbath and lapped up water. They also often tipped the birdbath off its pedestal. It fell to the ground, dumping its water.

So I took a big saucer from a big flower pot, and I use it as a catbath. I put it on the ground next to the birdbath and keep it full of water. Since I installed the catbath my birdbath hardly ever gets tipped over.

The rain also pelted my old plastic roof gutters, but they never runneth over, as they have too many leaky connections. This week’s rain did, however, wash them out pretty well.

Fixing the gutters never seemed urgent during the past four or five years because rain was scant. But the hard rain Wednesday morning made me reconsider. If the coming days bring more hard rains, I might start thinking about new aluminum gutters.

About 8 o’clock Wednesday morning, my rain gauge showed a half inch of rain had fallen overnight. But then at 6:30 Wednesday evening, it showed the additional rain that fell all day measured just one-fifth of an inch.

For me, that puts most of Wednesday’s rain one step above mist. Are the North County’s long, heavy rainstorms gone forever? Is this climate change?

The Salinas River bed in the North County gets more and more clogged every year with growing trees and brush. The Salinas flowed for several weeks last winter but was nowhere near bank-to-bank full.

Will the Salinas in the North County ever be a real river again? Or will it become little more than a narrow seasonal creek, with its sandy bed used by off-road vehicles for most of the year?

In January of 1969, I saw the Salinas become a roaring, flooding savage. It forced nearby residents to flee their homes. It uprooted big oak trees and carried them downstream. It collapsed a span of the San Miguel Bridge.

In Paso Robles, it piled floating trees and debris against the then-new 13th Street Bridge. Officials feared it might collapse that concrete bridge, which then had only two lanes. They hired a crane with a steel-jawed clamshell bucket to lift the trees and trash over the bridge and drop them on the other side.

I doubt the Salinas River will ever again pose such a strong threat of rampages and harm against its surrounding population.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.