Water Use Is Personal For San Diego Writer
We talk about water in California. It's difficult to imagine giving a fresh perspective on it. Our guest has done that with her book, "The Man Who Thought He Owned Water". On the brink with American farms, city and food. Not only is this a story of her family's experience with shrinking water supplies in Colorado, she brings it home with a compelling message of how we can become climate activist by becoming more aware of water in our own neighborhoods. She will talk about her book on Sunday, September 11th at Chino Farms in Rancho Santa Fe and she is in studio with us now. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for having me. Your great-great-grandfather, been eating, was Colorado's fourth governor in the 1880s. He was done by some as the father of irrigation. Why was that? There are very few people there in those days and it was by the consequence that he became governor. Because he made a huge impact in agriculture. They needed to raise food for the miners mostly. And he dug ditches and worked hard and convince settlors to come and form their too, with consequences of course. Yes, consequences. There are always consequences when managing water. Letts/ahead of 100 years to your father who decided to buy a farm outside of Denver in the 1970s. There was a nearby aquifer that he used to irrigate his farm. He quickly ran into problems. Tell us about the night he went out and found somebody on his land with the gun. This was during the day. It was a neighbor who was experiencing water scarcity nearby. He came onto the property. P and pop said, what he doing? The man shoulder his gun and said, I'm diverting water. Dad said, get off the property. He said, make me. When my father told me this it was like, the old West, right? This was in the 70s. Of course water has only become scarcer since then. This, infects, is a life-and-death issue. It turned out to be such in this case, right? It did. For two men. Not my father. It was devastating to him. He wasn't trying to deprive others. Would happen to the neighbor? Did he get the water? No. My father sued and the neighbor took a long time. It took years and years. The neighbor ended up killing himself. I think that is really just indicative of what a deeply important problem this is. Not only for Colorado but in California. You have the problems running in your bloodstream and you're still helping to manage the farm, right? What has changed about -- since your father bought the farm? I think what's happened is that as a become scarcer there are more people involved because they can make money and also because it's necessary. So, for instance, that coming onto people's property is happening with wild catching in California where people show up when a property and suck all the water out of the, not all of it but a lot of water out of the aquifer and sell it because they can pick and then there are lawyers and brokers. The farmers are farming. They are busy. They are not operating defensively which is why I'm advocating for us to involve ourselves with farmers more. They are making our food. How should we involve ourselves with farmer to make this problem better? First of all by realizing that a single almond takes a gallon. Everything we eat takes a great deal of water, not just almonds. There -- agriculture is not perfect. It's easy to say farmers are doing this or that. We need to look at our own behavior and what we eat in terms of proximity. Getting it from nearby places and getting it from our country. And helping that land itself continue to be productive. So that it does not become dry and to certified and contribute to climate. Are there some water management techniques that are being used in your farm and possibly here in California too that are new practices we should be following? Before our groundwater was curtailed we were growing corn. Which is a water intensive crop. Now with less water we regrouped and are growing winter wheat and Alfalfa in an area that is low. That is connected to weather terrain and Alfalfa does not need chemical inputs. At least not at our farm. And some corn. And be planted native grasses for pastureland. Just to bring this home. What can people living in San Diego who don't own a farm, is there anything we can do by becoming more aware of what happens to the water that falls on our land? I can share with happened with me and paying attention to it. It's really watching where the water that falls in proximity to us goes. Doesn't hit asphalt and go directly to the ocean? Is it hitting soil where it can grow food for us or shelter for animals for biodiversity? What is it doing? And when you start to watch then we can get involved with ways to fix that. In fact, here in San Diego, that is a city full of canyons. That is something that we could all be watching more. Tershia d'Elgin, thank you for joining us today. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure. She is the author of "The Man Who Thought He Owned Water". She will speak about her book at the Chino Farms in Rancho Santa Fe on Sunday September 11th.
Tershia d'Elgin's family knows water. Her great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Eaton, was a Colorado homesteader in the mid-1800s, creating irrigation systems for barren land. He eventually became the state's fourth governor in the 1880s, and by championing irrigation technology, was known as the "father of irrigation."
About 100 years later, d'Elgin's father started a farm outside of Denver and knew securing water rights would be crucial to his success. He had rights to pump water from a nearby aquifer and bought shares in private irrigation ditches. But he quickly, and repeatedly, ran into trouble getting enough water to run the farm, including a run-in on his property with a neighbor equipped with a shovel and a gun.
"Lots of people fantasize about a country life, but few grasp the desperate and complex water issues that challenge the American-grown food on which we all depend," d'Elgin wrote in a family history centering on her father, called "The Man Who Thought He Owned Water." "Is it common for trespassers to divert water at gunpoint?"
d'Elgin has since taken up water conservation issues, serving as director of projects for H20 Futures, a company that promotes fresh- and sea water irrigation. She joins KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday with more on her family's struggles with water.