Water being fundamental to life has surely brought out the best in “we the people” and the absolute worst in “we the people”. I find myself in a very unique position as caretaker of 20,000 acres of California grassland situated at the head of the Little Cholame Creek, a tributary to the Salinas River.
Bob my right hand dog was born on the V6 Ranch on a cold blustery day in the year 2004 February 9 making him 14 years old. Now some people say that to determine a dogs age you multiple by 6 years and some people say by 7. Anyway it makes Bob and old friend a couple of years older than I. I’ve written about Bob in his youth. When the distances he would travel to go “girling” was the talk of the Canine community and to my irritation, I traveled a good many miles at times to retrieve my wayward partner from neighboring ranches. But Bob was always ready to give his all when it came time to round up the cattle on the ranch. There was no bovine too mean or ornery that the Lion Hearted wouldn’t grab a hold of until the critter said “uncle”.
Bob’s now 84 or 98 or somewhere in between for which only Bob knows. So let me tell you of Bob’s exploits these past 12 months about how he is “growing old gracefully”. Helping with the cattle work has become a duty that I can no longer dictate but rather Bob will join up if it’s cool enough and no more than 3 or 4 miles distance.
But accidents have plagued him this past year which have slowed him down but not to a stand still. Last November I was cleaning a pathway to put in new pipe line for a watering trough when I noticed that Bob was sitting in the shade of a tree and not trying to catch a mouse or Pack Rat as my tractor uncovered their homes. This was not like the Bob of 1 hour ago but I just put it off to “getting old”. Next morning Bobs left hind leg was badly swollen and he was unable to stand. So I brought him some water and a Hot Dog for a snack, sounds like an oxymoron to me. It was also time now, for me, to use my self taught Veterinary skills. My first thought was that Bob was kicked by a horse but upon closer examination I noticed 2 little blood specks that said Rattlesnake bite. This bite has taken several months to heal, leaving a permanent limp to his left rear leg that now works at 50% of normal. He has taken this in stride as he still wears his happy face every morning when I let him out of his kennel.
It’s now 4/12/18 and Bob has just finished his morning hike with me, but the day before yesterday was a different story. Zee my wife had saddled her horse and went to check on some cattle on what we call the Middle Ridge Pasture. All 6 of our dogs left with her, knowing that there were some cattle to move, lay just around the corner but it was not to be as the cattle were no where in site. Heading for home Zee passes a water trough which the dogs made good use of, all but Bob. Zee thinking Bob was sauntering at his own pace said to herself “ he knows the way home“.
I always feed the dogs at night and Bob is not always waiting to be fed so I left his gate open and food in his dish. Wednesday morning I was in a hurry and didn’t notice that Bobs food was not eaten. I was home for lunch and Zee asked me if I had seen Bob. I said “no” and went about my work. Zee was uncomfortable about Bobs where a-bouts. So saddling her horse again, she mounted and began “back tracking” to the watering trough where she had a hunch that Bob might be. Sure enough there he was, but he was a straddle the trough. His hind legs were on the outside of the trough but they didn’t quite hit the ground and the front half with legs just long enough to keep his nose out for breathing while in some real cold water. He couldn’t go forward or backward as his weak hind leg was of no use. I can’t imagine what kind of fortitude it took to straddle a one quarter inch edge of steel watering trough cutting into his body right behind his rib cage for 24 hours in cold water. It would have been so easy to let ones nose slide under the water and say Good Bye. But not Bob. Zee got off her horse and pulled him out where he collapsed to the ground. Zee headed for home and got our Foreman to take his pickup and rescue the Lion. When I arrived home Bob was laid out on his side still wet and very cold. We quickly dried him with a towel and then wrapped him in a blanket. I felt that if he was going to survive he would have to eat something tasty. What do all dogs love to eat? Steak, that’s what, and boy did he. 3 feedings of steak later and a good nights sleep was the cure. Thursday morningBob awoke a little bit wobbly but solidly with the living and with a grateful look on his face he said” Never yell whoa in a bad place”
What a definition for courage and growing old gracefully.
So the issue for me to solve is? How best do I use the water that falls as rain and that which is already stored in the ground so that when the time of my passing arrives this ranch that has been so generous to myself and my wife and family will be in good health.
Hopefully this land will be better off because of the care and protection that everybody who has lived and worked here and given their best and to those who have found peace and wonder while visiting this exquisite place will feel secure knowing that the V6 Ranch will always wear Mother Nature’s clothes. Zera and I first recorded the deed to this most beautiful and productive place. The year was 1961.
About a year ago I wrote about one rain drops journey traversing the V6 using some Gravity and Capillary Action to keep him on the move. I imagine that he’s probably in the Pacific Ocean by now. But this year is different as our state and federal government regulators become evermore aggressive in their zeal to control every ounce of the “wet stuff” that exists in our U.S.A. The problem as I see it, is my use of water is unique as is everybody else’s use of water unique. The problem that comes to the surface is when you try to treat everybody as equals, which is impossible because we are all uniquely different. So what we need is equal opportunity to solve our water problems with a good deal of flexibility built in.
But tradition dictates that lawmakers are elected to solve problems using only the law or regulations, with penalties firmly attached, to solve all matter of presumable bad decisions made by “we the people”. Anybody who questions the wisdom of their handy work, even though the law or regulation flies in the face of common sense from every angle, has no place to air his or her grievance. Oh yea, I could write my congressman, then what!
I want to state my case as to how I can best partner with water so that we both prosper and as I prosper so do, “we the people.” There is one universal truth that Mother Nature always utilizes when dealing with water. She “slows it down” because to speed it up, water becomes very destructive. She uses a variety of ways depending on Topography, soil type, climate, the 3 states of water and the list goes on and on. The water that I can effect the most travels on the surface. In the 1940s, Australian water guru P.A. Yeomans whose book “Water for Every Farm” is still an important read as to how we land owners should try to eliminate surface runoff. This is where one size fits all doesn’t work because there are no two mountains, hills or Valleys or streams or rivers that are the same.
What’s needed is some mutual trust, that in my case I have lived on the same ranch for 56 years, and in those years one becomes a very keen observer of how Mother Nature carries out her duties. I have a comprehensive plan that can benefit the land, the people, the wildlife and our planet. The V6 is mountainous so it lends itself well to the building of small Stock water ponds that can replace the beaver pond that before the European invasion they had made millions of ponds. In fact Beaver ponds took up 8% of the North American landscape.
Why are small Stock ponds so important to everybody? It’s because they are the main building block to “slowing down water” thus allowing big winter rain events to be captured, then metered out slowly and all the while leaving “Top Soil” behind. This water is clean and clear for livestock and wildlife to drink. But some will be lost to evaporation and some to leakage (a good thing).
Next we need a well designed water distribution system. What follows are 3 values that I will be able to accomplish with my range water plan. First, I will be able to do a better job of grazing by presenting to the livestock and wildlife ( cattle, horses, deer, feral pigs ) a greater variety of things to eat. Second, when you create a lot more places for everything to get a drink you make it safer for wildlife because they don’t all have to congregate at just a handful of watering troughs which makes it easier for the predators to fill their bellies. Third, better grazing means leaving the land almost empty of bare ground and full of covered land.
When the ground is shaded at all times soil temperatures go down and so does evaporation. Rainfall readily percolates into under ground aquifers because the grass, brush and trees are in place to dissipate the energy from each drop of rain, leaving it to do its main job, which is to participate in the chemical reaction better known as Photosynthesis.
Now I must address “reality.” None of this can happen if I don’t pay the bills. So to stay in the game I need to constantly reinvent myself because irrelevance will surely take you to the sidelines. There you have two choices, i) change, “a good thing” and ii) no change, “you’re out of here”. This is where Government laws and regulations can strangle a “best laid plan” because governments tend to move at Glacier speed and their bureaucracies don’t move at all. So what’s a person to do? Sometimes as the old saying goes “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” which is not a very good way to run a business. Leaving our 2 biggest tools to manage land constructively and sustainably. The building of small retainer ponds and the controlled use of fire both talked about as being useful by some thoughtful members of government but most live with me in Never Never land where the best laid plans are put out to pasture.
P.S. Monterey County is about 2,100,000 acres in size. If land owners in our Salinas Valley and surrounding mountains using small ponds, good grazing practices and production crops and cover crops to keep the valley floor insulated from evaporation. If they were to sequester just 2″ of rainfall that might have gone to the Pacific Ocean would amount to 350,000 acre feet the entire capacity of Lake Nacimento.