I moved to California in the fall of 1975, and within a year, we were in a two-year drought. I looked online to see how many droughts we have experienced in CA since 1975, and the answer is 6. The length, in years varied from that 2-year drought, 1976-’77, to a 7-year drought, scanning 2011 through 2017. The 3-year drought of 2020-2022 just ended. It’s clear that drought has become a part of CA life.
Wildfires, on the other hand, appear to be increasing in number and intensity. According to a LA Times article published Aug. 24, 2021, in 2020 CA recorded its largest fire season ever, and 5 of the10 largest fires recorded in state history occurred in 2020. Locally we had the McKinney fire last summer causing my family and I to evacuate for 4 days. It was a traumatic experience, partly because we had a number of animals to move to safer ground. It was an experience I don’t wish on anybody. Luckily, fire fighters got control of the fire before it reached Yreka. Tragically, not everyone fared as well as my family and I did.
While living in Colusa County, about an hour north of Sacramento, our well went dry, two years in a row. The first time was traumatic, unforeseen. It was a shock to wake up one morning and find that no water came out of the faucet. That meant we could not flush our toilets, shower or wash our clothes. One of the owners of the hardware store where I worked drove me out to a neighbors’ property, about a half mile from my home, to show me how he was dealing with his well that had gone dry. My neighbor had a water storage tank connected to a 12v RV pump, which was connected to a 12v battery, which in turn was connected to a battery charger, to keep the battery charged. It worked.
I was able to adapt his system to our above ground swimming pool. I ran garden hoses from the pool to our back deck, connected a RV pump to the hose and did the same as my neighbor, using a 12v battery and a charger. I was thankful we had the pool, which, at times, drove me crazy trying to keep algae out of the pool. Now it was a lifeline. The owners of the hardware store let me use their water truck, which held a thousand gallons of water. The manager of the city wells gave me permission to fill the water truck, which I did every Saturday morning, and then drove to our house and pumped the water into the pool. Some time after Christmas, the water table rose to the point where we could use our well again.
Our well went dry the following year, about the same time of year, late July. The county started delivering water storage tanks to homes whose well had gone dry, including our property. A farmer had put an ag well in about a ¼ mile from our property and he paid to have a water line put in that ran from his well to our property, and I was able to keep the storage tank topped off using water from the ag well. Much easier to do compared to my swimming pool setup. This experience is another story altogether.
I ran across a video created by Channel 10 out of Sacramento that was posted on Siskiyou News, that focused on the Karuk practice of “cultural burning”, a practice going back generations. It seems that although that practice was made illegal for some time, something similar is being used now by the forest service. Starting May 1, prescribed burning is beginning in the Klamath Forest, starting in the Salman-Scott River Ranger District, then to include the Goosenest Ranger District, which includes 3 different burn projects, and also burns in the Happy Camp-Oak Knoll Ranger District.
It’s hard to ignore the wisdom gained from generations of experience by members of the Karuk tribe, practicing what they call cultural burning. I believe experience is a key component of wisdom. Wisdom should be at the forefront of our decision making when it comes to wildfires and water. My experience with our well going dry showed me the importance of water storage. I am concerned that removing the dams on the Klamath River will have a negative impact on our ability to store water during good years to be used during the drought years. The issue in Colusa County was ground water and a lowering water table. Farmers got most of their water for irrigation from the canal system, which is controlled by the local water district. As Lake Shasta’s water level dropped, the district allocated less water to the farmers, who then turned more to ag wells to protect their crops. What will be the effect on groundwater levels in Siskiyou County if the dams and reservoirs on the Klamath River are removed?
Last August a farmer pumped water from the Shasta River to put in his pond used for his cattle. The drought was on its 3rd year. Will it be worse if the reservoirs are gone? What happens if we have another 5–6-year drought? If whoever is using water from the reservoirs, and the reservoirs are gone, where will they turn for water? Groundwater from wells? What will be the effect on the Klamath River in a long-term drought and there are no reservoirs to release water into the river? What will this do to the fish population?
I don’t know what the answers are to my questions. I think we need to move forward with caution and wisdom. Water crosses all cultural lines, and is not a luxury, but a necessity. We cannot survive without water.
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