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Who Uses What? Research & The River (Part 3)

But first an "instructive" anecdote about a personal experience with the river, its flow and availability: In the 1970s I planted and managed a five-acre overhead sprinkler irrigated vineyard, Gewuerztraminer, on the old Nunn/Maddux ranch flat across the Navarro from where Lazy Creek meets the River. May 10, 1977, was the coldest Valley frost season early evening I've seen so far. The back side of a front coming through earlier that day with an inch of hail at 11 AM and wind til sundown, the temperature at 6 PM at my house in Navarro was 40 degrees F, yes. I knew my vines with no frost protection would be doomed by next dawn.

But I still had the frost protection duty at the Gewuerz vineyard. The frost alarm system in those days was pretty low tech. Deron Edmeades had some kind of alarm near his pond pump. When it went off around 10 PM at 35 degrees, earliest frost night I still have ever seen, he phoned me, I jumped in the old '53 Jimmy and drove to the vineyard, managed to turn on the 15 horse electric pump with its intake pipe right in the river.

The Navarro was so low that second year of drought I could drive over to Monty Bloyd road, down it almost to Maddux's "summer house," park so as not to wake the tenants, Dr. Apfel, scramble down the bank into Lazy Creek, walk down its barely running water course, then cross the river, mostly gravel with a thirty foot wide ribbon of water halfway between my ankles and knees, and up the bank to fire up the pump.

Again the gods smiled on their humble worshipper: after I checked the sprinkler heads for failure, I clambered sleepily down the riverbank again, trying not to think about my crop at home, and wonder of wonders, on this fullmoon night a magical but thin ribbon of ground fog was forming about fifteen feet above the water and in both directions as far as I could see. An hour later at home after warming before the fire, I went out into the front yard for an end-of-day urination to find the whole valley floor at Ingram Ranch and Salmela deep in groundfog, and our crops were saved.

That summer, as the river dwindled away to ankle deep, the small "hole" where the intake hose for the managed vineyard irrigation system also disappeared. No problem, American ingenuity Anderson Valley version was at hand. I got a back hoe, possibly Smoky, and we dug a temporary "sump" for the pump intake directly in the gravel near the previous hole, about twelve feet square and maybe eight feet deep. And, you know, down in the gravel about two feet below grade, I don't really remember, was the river flowing along, and our man-made "sump" was twice as big as what nature had provided in a normal year. We had water for irrigation all summer, consumption for 5 acres about 250 gallons per minute.

This article follows earlier ones describing the highlights of the University of California Agricultural Extension Service Mendocino County Office's Survey "Meeting Mendocino County Agricultural Water Needs in the Navarro River Watershed."

This week's inquiry attempts to identify the other major kinds of water usage in the Valley beside irrigated agriculture the community needs to acquire information about in order to understand the extent of its water resource available to residents and businesspeople today and in the future.

In the previous stories I declined to report on the Survey's introductory comments. Please read slowly... "water availability for all rural and urban users in Mendocino County, and the Navarro River Watershed specifically, is a...contentious and acute issue." I mention this point now only to remind myself and readers that because it IS acute, indeed daily in our thoughts and fears due to the weather patterns of the last two years, I prefer substituting the words "important" and "complex" for "contentious,", and encourage us all to approach an active understanding of the issue with as much care and thoughtfulness as we can muster. I argue we all need a better understanding of how the watershed "works,", of its resources availability and usage, before we aspire to the controversy stage about these matters.

The list of other major Anderson Valley water user types beside irrigation supported farmers I enumerate below is of my own making. I don't consider it complete or the comments accompanying its features authoritative. Instead I am launching a reconnaissance intended to encourage more thorough contributions from others in the community knowing more than I do about these matters.

Types Of Major Users List

First a comment about the terms we use to describe how much water the local community appears to use daily or annually. The Watershed Report uses in its title the word "NEEDS" to describe what it surveys in the document, agricultural irrigation in the Valley. This reporter is uncomfortable with the word because to him it suggests either an entitlement status or a categorical necessity for whatever consumption any water user is making. I don't think about availability that way myself, don't believe any water consuming interest in the community should, and prefer to choose a more neutral term to describe what I and my neighbors, singly or collectively imbibe. Words like "USAGE" or "CONSUMPTION" are preferable to "NEEDS" for me.

INDUSTRIAL USAGE — Most important in this category would be annual consumption by the local wineries, a major, arguably the largest user in the Valley for "industrial" purposes. I don't know the total annual wine production data, but believe that a useful measurement rule of thumb is that each gallon of wine produced requires at least three gallons of water to get fruit crushed, wine fermented, aged, bottled, packaged and onto pallets for distribution. Smaller wineries with less room for size and scale efficiencies, cleaning tanks, barrels, hoses and so on can use a lot more water/gallon of wine produced, possibly more than twice as much in some cases.

Brewery and sawmill production should also be included as contributors to water consumption by the industrial activity category. I don't believe small craft activities like woodworking, pottery, at the size these businesses are currently practiced in Anderson Valley, should be included in the list but could stand corrected on the proposition.

COMMERCIAL USAGE, obviously another important consumer of the watershed resource. Commercial includes stores, restaurants, tasting rooms, repair facilities and any other kind of retail outlet requiring water to operate a day-to-day customer facing business.

RESIDENTIAL USAGE I believe the final water consumer requiring identification as a major user. This particular consumer's habits are also hardest to quantify partly due to privacy issues, partly to changes in population, water development and consumption habits over recent generations of life in Anderson Valley. I don't, for example, remember much use of swimming pools, hot tubs, decorative garden irrigation, washing machines, high velocity showers, etc., when I first lived down in Navarro back in 1971. Down in the "Deepend," Navarro the 'water wars" involved the three horizontal caves above the town originally dug to provide water to run the sawmill. In the seventies eight homes and the Store used the water via a homemade distribution system still operating today. There was a "water commissioner" who turned the main valve from the wells off and on each night and morning to assure no broken toilet emptied the ten thousand gallon storage tank. And as he walked through the village each evening dragged along by his dog "Bigger" he muttered things like... "Bill Witherell is irrigating his tomatoes again, there'll be no water in Navarra this summer."

The Residential Usage category is a likely candidate for the kind of research I describe in my previous article, gathering and analyzing a sample of the whole Watershed's human population consumption habits. I could imagine, for example, gathering complete information on as many different size households and gardens from around the Valley as is possible, then estimating statistically how accurately this data describes the usage pattern for the whole community.

PUBLIC SERVICES. Schools, Churches, medical facilitities, bar bathrooms, etc.. Not a major user, I would propose. Our beloved Fair Grounds with its large and comforting habitat of buildings and open space is likely, for example a significant annual water consumer.

MARIJUANA CULTIVATION. Without being particularly informed about this farming practice in Anderson Valley, I'll nevertheless opine growing in the Watershed area isn't consequential enough to justify concern about its annual agricultural consumption rate. Unless someone is persuasively better informed to contradict, I propose we treat it as not significant enough in scale to be more than a distraction from the main investigative tasks I've described above, and not worth worrying about.


The purpose of this article is to repeat my supposition that the UC AES Study of the Navarro River Watershed is in form and method of analysis a reliable source of information about annual water availability and consumption, and to endorse it as a model for pursuing information about the rest of the important water uses in the Valley. Today's story also supplements the AES Study of one type of major water consumer with my own tentative list of other important watershed consumers described by type. I do not claim the list is complete or even accurate. I look at it as part of an appeal to the reader to think that assembling this kind of information for the informed use of the Anderson Valley community is both a valuable asset for its understanding of and support for the preservation and sustainment of the watershed in the present and future. The next article will address ways the community can begin involving itself in pursuing some goals to that objective.


I asked some interested friends and neighbors to review an article draft for the accuracy and interpretive credibility of my reporting on the watershed Survey. Their comments have improved both element of it, but I am solely responsible for the way I describe and analyze the Survey and the Watershed.

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