My mom and aunt always scolded me, “You can’t stop progress”, when I would complain about our town changing. I was 19 and in college so I knew a lot about the way things should be. Since I was a liberal I whined.
Mom and Aunt Mary grew up on a dairy during the Depression. Their lives were simple, but rich. Complaining was left for real reasons. It was not accepted lightly. My noise about increasing traffic and crowding was not tolerated.
Since those years Highway 12 has widened to four lanes. The near lane is twenty feet from the middle of the living room. When the nearby stoplight turns green it sounds like a motor speedway just outside the front door. There is no garden out there – no lawn with an apple tree. Instead there are four traffic lans and a concrete median strip.
This valley was quite rural when I grew up. It was one ridge over from town. Grandpa donated the land for the firehouse. He forgave debt during the FDR years and even signed over small plots of land to friends.
The family grocery and feed store were also swallowed by the Highway 12 widening. They are gone now. That’s progress. When I visit my aunt and uncle I hear sounds coming up from the prune orchard. I see invisible sadness in their faces. The sounds aren’t axes chopping Chekhov’s cherry orchard. They are nail guns.
I worked along the river, mostly in the cool water cutting tules, from 7AM to noon. Wonderful workout. Song sparrows sang to us from the bull rushes and common nighthawks flew overhead calling their nasal ‘peeeent’. There was help from the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, the Inyo County Water Department and the Bishop Paiute Tribe clearing choke points on approximately 1/4 mile of channel. We might have all 1.5 miles of channel cleared to the Keeler Bridge by winter. We need to cultivate paddlers, birders and fishers. They become constituents.
The Lower Owens River was rewatered on December 6, 2006. The ‘agreed to’ date promised by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was June of 2003. Oh well, “Litigation is cheaper than water”, I’ve been told across the table more than once. Frustration with delay is what you experience. Sometimes a stick in the eye.
Established flows are 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) for the year round base flow with up to 200 cfs for the mimicked spring runoff flow seen in average years. This is an artificial river system; it lacks the natural functions of 2000 cfs flows to scour tules and spread willow and cottonwood seed up onto the benches. Cattails and bull rush crowd the channel and at times choke it off. It is an unnatural system that requires human intervention in order to reach ecological goals. Nothing new, this is what exists on virtually every watershed in California.
So I slide into the water this morning to cut cattails and bull rush with a rice knife designed thousands of years ago. Have faith in the ergonomics.. I will provide the artificial intervention necessary. I will scour the tules that melting snow once cut away each spring. It is a hot day, but the water is cool and the work with others who care about this river is enjoyable. “It’s not always meetings”, I tell people who profess the defense of Mother Nature. “Sometimes you need to go out and get dirty”, I share. Stewardship. “Where are all of these champions today? Working, not working, disengaged? A Nature deficit? A reality deficit?
Personally, I am committed to the 62 miles of the rewatered Lower Owens River. I need no motivation. I spent decades in meetings, settlement conferences and court rooms. This river, with all of its imperfections, is far better than the dry channel, filled with scattered tumbleweed and dust. “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good”, someone said – old advice, good advice.
My daughter Phoebe and Jake celebrating the first water in the river in 83 years.