Water, Wealth, and Poverty

Here’s what water looks like up in the hills:

Wild Saskatoons in Full Fruit, Scotch Creek, Washington

Saskatoons were once a major human food source in this area. Notice how the fruit ripens over a period of weeks. If a flock of birds or a giggle of humans and bears comes by to clean the bush off, there’s still fruit for a second and a third flock or giggle.

In the grasslands, water flows through life. Early ranchers understood this well, and established their ranches in valley bottoms, where grass was fed by seasonal creeks and underground flows. The result was something like this:

Bottomland Ranch, Scotch Creek Basin

Typically, the hot hills were grazed in the spring and the valley bottom through the rest of the year. Little has changed here, except that the failure caused by horrific winters in the late 19th century led to the development of irrigation systems and the putting aside of hay.

The changeover from natural water to irrigated water came at a cost. In 1901, when the reservoir upstream at Conconully was in the final planning stages, this basin was the site of a murder, over water. In 1903, it was proposed as a reservoir, to complete the Conconully system of reservoirs. The environmental cost of the changeover from natural water to engineered water, however, continues. Here’s a shot of our saskatoon bush, in its new environment, the one in which water is so misunderstood that engineered artifacts are cast away into it, as if it were a useless part of the universe and a great receptacle for trash…

Road Erosion and Garbage Dump in an Old Green Water Channel

Sigh.

Look at that ranch again. It’s the same story…

 

 

Sacred Rocks on the Old Sinlahekin Trail..

…divorced from their story by engineered water.

 

This is a U.S. National Wildlife Preserve now, meant to preserve habitat for sharp-tailed grouse. The preservation of ancient ways of human land use appears to me to be equally important. Perhaps it’s time to return to their original state the fields that proved inappropriate to continued irrigation, so that a better history can be built from that part of the land. I believe that’s what wealth means.

Tomorrow: the North Okanagan connection with this story.

 

 

 

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