To start the New Year there are as usual, many things on our minds. The most pertinent is what to say when asked about the drought? Of course. It can be paralyzing: the thought of extended drought is one of the game changers that no one is truly prepared for. We can talk, talk, talk, but the experience of not enough water to take care of responsibilities is not common, nor is it anticipated, through the miracle of modern water transportation and regulation. Very tough, very scary. The secondary effects are already felt, and I believe that it is the secondary effects that will affect us the most. One year of drought, total drought, that we just went through is a noticeable thing in our lives, something to discuss, to worry about, to tell the grandkids about in 50 years”¦. “the year it didn’t rain”. We’re coming up on 8 months with only a spatter here. The well is good, the electricity supply is dependable, the crops are alive, the seeds are coming, the crew is waiting, and all this is the same after the driest year on record. The deer are very hungry, and probably will not be increasing herd size, the coyotes cry every night, the stars are bright, and the north wind comes regularly to knock things around. No fog, few clouds, and as slowly as water is normally used in midwinter, the deeper root zones are drying out. So we water in the middle of the night, in the middle of the winter, betting that filling the root zones now will insure a crop for the coming year. It’s a good bet, it’s been done before.
This is the story I like to believe. There isn’t much irrigated land near us, most of it is fallow or dryland farmed, meaning wait for the winter rains. Our well enters a large, relatively untapped aquifer flowing down from the north, leaving the Sacramento River at Colusa, plunging into the earth 100, 200, 300 ft eventually passing under a capstone layer at close to 1000 ft below the earth’s surface 10 to 20 miles north of us, and rising again closer to the surface as it comes closer to our farm. I like to believe that the water that comes from our wellhead has not seen the light of day in the last 10,000 years. Any one irrigating to the immediate north of us has to drill way deep to get water, and several have gone broke trying to pay the electrical costs to irrigate thirsty crops. Anyone irrigating more than a mile to the south of us runs into another aquifer, one that is fed by Cache Creek water, is much shallower and is full of heavy mineral salts, such as boron. Sometime, a long time ago, our aquifer was connected to that one. But an earthquake shifted the land and our aquifer, in spite of being within 5 miles of Cache Creek, lost continuity with that river water, and instead became a dead end for Sacramento River Water, water from the slopes of Mount Shasta and Lassen, from the Northern Sierra Nevada, the East slope of the Coast Range and the South slope of Trinity Range. It all stops here. That is the story I like to believe as we head into the unknown future, that is why I feel as if this land can continue to produce food for people through a drought.
I don’t have such a pretty story to believe in with regard to the secondary effects of not enough water. Living things attached to a place die without water, leaving a changed landscape in their place. Water is not the only force for erosion. Wind is a potent force, as anyone from the Midwest has indelibly printed into their being. Without healing cover for the land, the effects of any form of impact, sun, wind, people, animals, are more powerful. I have experienced personally the psychological effects of suddenly losing water. Even though I knew it was coming back with the purchase of a new pump, or the fixing of a tank or pipeline, the sense of being without water was strongly and surprisingly disorienting. I could feel the land drying out, and it made me itchy and uncomfortable. It left me with the real, but vague and hard to pin down, sense that things weren’t right. It is not really definable, but having this essential ingredient of life taken away without time to adapt is different than I expected. So it is at this time, when the loss of water is not to me personally, or to this farm, but to the region that is home to all of us. The secondary effect is that I am uneasy about the future, all is not right in my world. From past experience, I have more concern about my reaction to the lack of water than about the lack itself. Not to diminish the great difficulties and real suffering possible, but I think that it is our action and reaction, physically and emotionally, that will be the drought that we tell our grandkids about.