This piece is not about the Koch brothers and the other super-billionaires whose wealth comes from extracting fossil fuels from the earth. You know, the guys who say: “Isn’t it wonderful? You poke holes in the planet and all this oil and gas comes gushing out!”
Nope. This isn’t about those deniers. This is about us, you and me.
Let me explain. Yesterday I was talking with my sister who is helping me get this web site up and running again. The conversation moved to my telling her that we’ve been without water here at Harmony Park for almost two weeks. To be clear, we still have water for drinking and all the other inside-the-house needs. That comes from our well which pumps out a more than adequate 15 gallons per minute. But to grow our hay we need several hundred gallons per minute. Irrigation water is no longer available to us. The source for that water is way up high on Mt. Hood which looms majestically on the western horizon. Problem is, this time of the year it should still be all white and bright. But it’s not. Today it’s mostly the slate gray color of the Saab 900 I drove in 1980. That’s because the glaciers we used to ski on all through the summer in those days are mostly gone. Two months ago the “water master” (how’s that for a climate change era monniker) told us there would be no more water for crops. For Jennifer and me, that’s not such a big deal. We only have 9 acres in grass hay, enough to feed Lily, my granddaughter’s horse and a few tons to sell and make my cherished new title of “farmer” somewhat a reality. But it’s a very big deal to the farmers who grow hundreds of acres of alfalfa and grass hay nearby.
My purpose in writing this piece is to say how very important personal experience is in taking us from merely knowing about a tough issue to actually working to do something about it. It’s only been in the last 6 or 8 months that I’ve felt motivated to actually try to do something about what I’ve now come to think of as THE most important human rights/justice issue we face today. The issue is not international bankers who were “too big to fail” in 2007 and have become “too big to jail” today. And it’s not the fact that the Constitution is being re-written by the Supreme court. It’s not even that the legislative and executive branches in D.C. are bought and paid for by the 1%. Those are, of course, extremely important and threatening issues. But until and unless we get our hearts and minds around the fact that we are now very close to the point where our planet will not survive, none of these other issues matters!
Back to my sister. She said to me, in a very kind way of course “neener, neener.” No she didn’t really say neener, neener. But she did say that the area she farms in the Yakima Valley in Washington has “senior” water rights so they’re really doing OK. Well dearest sister, as the sibling of a radical justice dude, stuff happens. What I told her was that for the last 9 years since we moved here, I have been saying similar things about how we’re protected here by our water rights. But I don’t talk that way any more. Since our water was cut off two weeks ago I’ve learned that the senior in senior water rights is dependent on who you know and how many hundreds of acres you farm. We have “senior” rights here also. Our 40 acre piece is the home site of the original 160 acre homestead in this area–1880 something–but, funny thing, water rights go away when there is no water. For example, the original water rights in California (those lands that border the Sacramento River) were being cut off as of two weeks ago. It’s taken four years for the senior senior rights holders in California to be cut off and boy are they upset. A year ago lesser beings–cotton and rice farmers whose land was not contiguous with either the Sacramento or San Joachin rivers–were cut off. Their rights were not as senior as they thought. Just in the last month though, even the rice and almond growers who farm right alongside the river are being told to pull their big pumps out of the river, find a comfortable chair and watch the water flow by. That way salmon in the Delta can continue to swim upstream to spawn and folks in Los Angeles can continue to play golf on green grass instead of brown dirt.
And now here in Oregon, just as it’s been in California for 4 years, it’s become an us vs. the “salmon and sturgeon lover environmentalists.” And the “pinko commie city dwellers” on the other side of the mountain have not learned yet that without water for the farmers they starve. “They think food comes from the grocery store” is the way one 5th generation wheat farmer put it to me the other day. I don’t quite say things the way the guys born and raised here do. But I sure do understand why they do.
Fact is, California is drying up. And this year for the first time, the big glaciers on Mt. Hood that supply all the rivers and streams to Portland and to this side of the mountain are basically gone and it seems there is no massive faucet at the top of the mountain to turn on. So hopefully the point I’m trying to make is clear. I didn’t really begin to take the Climate Change issue seriously until a couple of years ago when it became clear that our source of water here was no longer a given. And, honestly, I didn’t think of it as a justice issue worthy of this web site until I literally was without water. But our planet cannot endure much longer, people like me who just can’t be bothered unless it affects them personally. Like most of us, I’m not an uncaring or ignorant guy. But I am very typical of most Americans. We can do better. We must do better.
This just in! I tried writing this piece yesterday but I just didn’t have the heart to post it. Now today the world seems much brighter because the water master said we could take enough water for fire suppression and garden needs. That means one day a week I can use lawn sprinklers to wet down the very dry vegetation within 30 feet of the house which provides what they call a “defensible space” in case of wildfire. Happily that means I get to water the $200 worth of native plants I dutifully planted in April. Native plants are “drought resistant” dontcha know?
The hard realization here, of course, is that next year or certainly 10 or maybe 20 years from now, there will likely be no wonderfully welcome call from the god of water saying “go ahead and water for fire suppression.” Bottom line, it would be nice if we had time for everyone to feel what it’s like to be without water. Problem is, we don’t!