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The Snowman Cometh – Great For Lakes, Not For Groundwater

Thank you, dear readers, for the outpouring of love and support after my last column. Not one of you responded with “What? You can’t stop covering the Supervisors! How will we know who to be mad at?” All I got was understanding and gratitude. And a little MISunderstanding, too. Some folks thought I was stopping the column altogether. Surprise!

This has been an odd week – no way around it. The weather was unusual, to say the least. (“Aw, jeez – she’s going to write about the weather now? Has it come to this?”) How often do we get snow on the valley floor and major dumpage up here in the hills?

We’re used to snow in Manton, but Mr. Standish and I believe that was the most we’ve ever had in our 29 years here. At our elevation, around 2,200 feet, we normally get 4-6” or less. Up the hill they deal with a lot more on the reg, but we like our arrangement with the snow gods. We go sledding on our hill until the snow plow ruins it, then it melts in a day or two and life goes on.

Not last week. We got over a foot of the devil’s dandruff – no wait, sorry – that’s cocaine. Pick your own euphemistic name for it – there was too much. The green corrugated fiberglass porch roof caved in and left waist high mounds when snow slid off the metal house roof two stories above and bludgeoned it.

Everything becomes a chore when there’s that much snow, but it was beautiful and we had a roof, food, and firewood. We never lost power or internet, so it sort of felt like we were back in Covid lockdown. How many days since I showered? Who cares? Open a bottle of wine.

Then this past Tuesday, just when the roads were getting safe, we got 3-4 inches of hail in 45 minutes. The metal roof sounded like a jackhammer and thunder shook the house. It looked like a bean bag chair exploded outside. The hail froze on the roads overnight and we were stuck again.

Our neighbors’ car slid off the road making the turn at the corner down the hill. This being Manton, they just left it there until they could get traction the next day. If that had been my old neighborhood in the Bronx, it would have been stripped down to the chassis within an hour. Nobody wants to work anymore.

Now it looks like we’ll be getting a repeat over the next few days. All we can say is BRING IT ON. The hatches are battened, the fridge is full, and I will certainly not feel guilty about growing as many pumpkins as I please this year.

I haven’t grown pumpkins the past couple of years because they need a lot of water and it seemed wasteful during a drought. Sure, technically they’re edible, but I eat maybe one or two a year. Donny One Ball gets the rest. I couldn’t sleep at night if I thought I was depriving a neighbor of drinking water just so I could surround myself with colorful gourds.

Part of the 2020 harvest.

But this year, with surface water in abundance, I will plant every inch possible with pumpkins of assorted sizes, shapes and colors. Plus the usual tomatoes, peppers, zukes, etc… We are lucky to have a well and be on an irrigation ditch. Well water is for inside the house only, and the ditch waters everything outside.

All this precipitation and snowpack is doing wonders for the lakes, rivers, and creeks – surface water – but isn’t helping replenish those deep aquifers that have been overdrafted for so long. This year, growers will be able to get surface water deliveries, meaning they won’t have to pump as much out of the ground. But it takes water years, decades, and eons to percolate through porous and non-porous layers to recharge those lower levels.

That’s where the big ag wells draw from. Until we stop pumping out more than goes back in, we will continue to have a problem. This blessed rain and snow is buying us a little time to get a real plan together. What will that look like? I don’t know, but I don’t expect the status quo to continue ad infinitum.

Newbie District 4 Supervisor Matt Hansen held a Town Hall in Paskenta Thursday evening to discuss water issues and the well registry. 80 people showed up in person. The population of Paskenta is around 110, so that’s pretty damn good. Then at Tuesday’s Supes meeting (no, I didn’t attend), Hansen requested an agenda item for an ag well moratorium to come before the board.

The last time a well moratorium came before the board was Oct. 5, 2021, when former D4 Supe Bob Williams requested one after a meeting in Rancho Tehama where the people demanded it. Tehama Groundwater Commission Chairman Clay Parker assured everyone that the GC was working on one, wink wink, so the board tabled their own indefinitely. We all know how that worked out.

Since then, the well registry has been tossed into the mix as a red herring, with the population freaking out over it and rightly so. It’s simple record keeping that the county should have been doing all along but wasn’t, so now we get to pay to have one created.

What we need to remember is that the registry has nothing to do with groundwater sustainability. It will not tell us how much water is actually being pulled out of the ground without restriction.

And with that, like so many struggling addicts, I have apparently fallen off the No-Supes wagon. Hah. No cold turkey for me, I guess. One week at a time.

If you appreciate Liz Merry’s reporting and commentary, please consider contributing to A News Cafe. Thank you!

Liz Merry

Liz Merry was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, then transplanted to the Jersey Shore. She moved to Chico in 1984 and married her comedy partner, Aaron Standish, in 1990. They have lived in Manton since 1994.

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