Thursday, October 14, 2010

Water Rights and Wrongs: What's a New Farmer to Do?

The 20 or so 2-liter soda and Gatorade bottles and one 5-gallon camping container are nearly empty again. That means I'm going to need to drive all the way to town to our rented apartment and fill them up, lug them back into my truck and drive back home again. 10 miles of driving, and the gas to do that. At least an hour of time.

It seems silly when the stream on our land is flowing beautifully. All I should have to do is head over the bank with a bucket or two and carry it back up.

But of course there are the cooties and the rules.

The "Cooties"

In the process of getting onto our land, we figured we should have our stream water tested. After all, I know there are all kinds of nasty bacteria that hang out in water. Last thing I need is to end up with some icky bug and need to go to the hospital. I can't afford a hospital. I can't afford a day where I can't do the work of making our trailers and farm ready for winter.

Quantum calls up a water testing lab to find out how much it'll be. "For which test?" the lady says, "we have over 200 different tests that we can do." Two hundred? It boggles the brain. "Really, we just want to know if our water is safe to drink," Quantum says. She asks a few questions about our land, mentions the Latin names of a few types of bacteria, then suggests that we should just boil our water and not worry about testing it.

While I appreciate the savings, I'd sorta like to know what kind of cooties are hanging out in our water, if any. I'm daunted by the idea of needing to boil every cup and gallon of water that we're going to drink or otherwise use for the rest of our lives on this land. The idea of doing that is worse than the hard work it'll take to haul it out of the stream. Not to mention the energy cost of heating it.

Then there's the question of whether I need to boil the water for all our critters.  For my kitties and dog, I'd prefer they're drinking water that's as purified as whatever we're drinking ourselves. But for the yaks? After all, these girls suck down a few gallons each every day. Besides, deer and bobcats and who knows what other critters drink from the stream all the time. Cattle grazed here for years. Do I really need to boil water for the yaks?

But for right now, with Yonkers only just in recovery from pneumonia, I guess its best to use the cleanest water I can get.

When I had my Cactus War and moved a majority of cacti away from the puppy's tender feet, I of course had to water the poor buggers. For that I wasn't willing to use water I'd carted all the way from town. So I went down to the stream with a bucket. Well not only did I catch a mess of algae, but I also got some sort of wiggly thing in my bucket. Maybe it was a dragonfly nymph? So now I have to consider not only boiling the water, but filtering it as well. I know protein in your diet is good, but ... maybe not that - after all I'm trying to make water, not SOUP!

A buddy of mine has helpfully sent me the URLs for a couple water filtration/purification systems. Some of them are even solar powered. Unfortunately they also cost money. So not happening just yet.

The Rules

Until you move to Colorado or some other semi-desert state, you've probably never heard of anything called Water Rights. Out here they're absolutely wacky about this stuff. And the laws regarding how it works are such a disaster that most folks hire water rights lawyers just to unravel the whole mess for them.

Now the funny thing, is that the spring from which this creek starts, is directly on our land. So I own my land, but according to the deed and the idiots who make the laws, I don't own the water on my land. Make sense? No, not to me either.

Here's how crazy the government and rules lawyers get about this: Some people have been told they can't even catch rainwater. That's right, RAIN water. Water that falls from the damned sky. Water whose molecules could have originated in the Pacific Ocean or Canada or Bangladesh for all we know.

According to our realtor, we can't put a pump in our stream. (Nothing that I know of stops me from building a small container, hand-carrying water into it, and then pumping that water up the hill to our trailer, but I'm not going to push things by suggesting it to the Powers That Be.)  We can't change the stream in any way. Can't dam it (not that we'd want to) can't deepen it. Can't use it to irrigate our land (at least not if we pump it from the stream).

On the other hand there's no problem with us grazing yaks on the land and letting them drink the water.

Meanwhile, this isn't just my problem, but a problem for land owners all over the state.

From what I'm told, many "old" families have bought land, sold off the land without the water rights, and basically screwed over the new landowners, often selling them back the water on their own land. And this has been going on for years. Sounds a bit sleazy and a lot confusing to me.

Granted I'm a bit biased, but I think this situation is ridiculous. Maybe I'd think differently if I was someone who'd inherited the water rights to everyone else's land. However I'd like to think that wouldn't be my attitude.

To me, things like clean water and clean air are a basic human right. And a basic animal right, for that matter. The idea of selling water, like the idea of selling air horrifies me. But no doubt, unless we make a change, the world is headed that way.

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