Water being fundamental to life has surely brought out the best in “we the people” and the absolute worst in “we the people”. I find myself in a very unique position as caretaker of 20,000 acres of California grassland situated at the head of the Little Cholame Creek, a tributary to the Salinas River.
So the issue for me to solve is? How best do I use the water that falls as rain and that which is already stored in the ground so that when the time of my passing arrives this ranch that has been so generous to myself and my wife and family will be in good health.
Hopefully this land will be better off because of the care and protection that everybody who has lived and worked here and given their best and to those who have found peace and wonder while visiting this exquisite place will feel secure knowing that the V6 Ranch will always wear Mother Nature’s clothes. Zera and I first recorded the deed to this most beautiful and productive place. The year was 1961.
About a year ago I wrote about one rain drops journey traversing the V6 using some Gravity and Capillary Action to keep him on the move. I imagine that he’s probably in the Pacific Ocean by now. But this year is different as our state and federal government regulators become evermore aggressive in their zeal to control every ounce of the “wet stuff” that exists in our U.S.A. The problem as I see it, is my use of water is unique as is everybody else’s use of water unique. The problem that comes to the surface is when you try to treat everybody as equals, which is impossible because we are all uniquely different. So what we need is equal opportunity to solve our water problems with a good deal of flexibility built in.
But tradition dictates that lawmakers are elected to solve problems using only the law or regulations, with penalties firmly attached, to solve all matter of presumable bad decisions made by “we the people”. Anybody who questions the wisdom of their handy work, even though the law or regulation flies in the face of common sense from every angle, has no place to air his or her grievance. Oh yea, I could write my congressman, then what!
I want to state my case as to how I can best partner with water so that we both prosper and as I prosper so do, “we the people.” There is one universal truth that Mother Nature always utilizes when dealing with water. She “slows it down” because to speed it up, water becomes very destructive. She uses a variety of ways depending on Topography, soil type, climate, the 3 states of water and the list goes on and on. The water that I can effect the most travels on the surface. In the 1940s, Australian water guru P.A. Yeomans whose book “Water for Every Farm” is still an important read as to how we land owners should try to eliminate surface runoff. This is where one size fits all doesn’t work because there are no two mountains, hills or Valleys or streams or rivers that are the same.
What’s needed is some mutual trust, that in my case I have lived on the same ranch for 56 years, and in those years one becomes a very keen observer of how Mother Nature carries out her duties. I have a comprehensive plan that can benefit the land, the people, the wildlife and our planet. The V6 is mountainous so it lends itself well to the building of small Stock water ponds that can replace the beaver pond that before the European invasion they had made millions of ponds. In fact Beaver ponds took up 8% of the North American landscape.
Why are small Stock ponds so important to everybody? It’s because they are the main building block to “slowing down water” thus allowing big winter rain events to be captured, then metered out slowly and all the while leaving “Top Soil” behind. This water is clean and clear for livestock and wildlife to drink. But some will be lost to evaporation and some to leakage (a good thing).
Next we need a well designed water distribution system. What follows are 3 values that I will be able to accomplish with my range water plan. First, I will be able to do a better job of grazing by presenting to the livestock and wildlife ( cattle, horses, deer, feral pigs ) a greater variety of things to eat. Second, when you create a lot more places for everything to get a drink you make it safer for wildlife because they don’t all have to congregate at just a handful of watering troughs which makes it easier for the predators to fill their bellies. Third, better grazing means leaving the land almost empty of bare ground and full of covered land.
When the ground is shaded at all times soil temperatures go down and so does evaporation. Rainfall readily percolates into under ground aquifers because the grass, brush and trees are in place to dissipate the energy from each drop of rain, leaving it to do its main job, which is to participate in the chemical reaction better known as Photosynthesis.
Now I must address “reality.” None of this can happen if I don’t pay the bills. So to stay in the game I need to constantly reinvent myself because irrelevance will surely take you to the sidelines. There you have two choices, i) change, “a good thing” and ii) no change, “you’re out of here”. This is where Government laws and regulations can strangle a “best laid plan” because governments tend to move at Glacier speed and their bureaucracies don’t move at all. So what’s a person to do? Sometimes as the old saying goes “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” which is not a very good way to run a business. Leaving our 2 biggest tools to manage land constructively and sustainably. The building of small retainer ponds and the controlled use of fire both talked about as being useful by some thoughtful members of government but most live with me in Never Never land where the best laid plans are put out to pasture.
P.S. Monterey County is about 2,100,000 acres in size. If land owners in our Salinas Valley and surrounding mountains using small ponds, good grazing practices and production crops and cover crops to keep the valley floor insulated from evaporation. If they were to sequester just 2″ of rainfall that might have gone to the Pacific Ocean would amount to 350,000 acre feet the entire capacity of Lake Nacimento.