Cool, clear water topic of lifeboat conversation |

Cool, clear water topic of lifeboat conversation

If ever a movie made me long for water, it was Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat.”

The entire black and white movie takes place on a life raft occupied by eight people who survive the sinking of a freighter by a German U-boat. They pick up an unlikely passenger, the captain of the U-boat, which was also sunk.

More than wanting to be rescued, the members of this unlikely group of comrades long for water.

Like the Sons of the Pioneers sang, “Cool, clear water.”

Some folks liken the earth to a lifeboat. They use the analogy that we’re floating over the water with limited resources and we’ve got to decide who we throw overboard – the poor, the elderly, the uneducated, the infirm – so that a few survive.

I disagree. I subscribe more to the theory that we are all on the same spaceship. Every person is valuable and can make a contribution that is key to our survival. We’ve got to make sure that everyone gets what he or she needs in order to survive, so that everyone is around to make that contribution when called upon.

One thing’s for certain. None of us will survive unless we have a healthy supply of potable water.

My granddaddy, Fred Paddock, was a water man. He worked in the desert state of New Mexico and the semi-arid state of Colorado on ways to preserve water. He was good at it, too, and wound up with an office in the state Capitol.

At least once he made the statement that other water folks often make, that the wars of the future will be fought over water.

Try and take a landowner’s senior water rights from his land and you’ll get a taste of how vicious those wars will be.

Granddaddy’s gone now, but I’d sure like to visit with him today, if only in a dream, and ask him what he thinks about the current water situation.

In the 1986 book, “Cadillac Desert – The American West and its Disappearing Water,” author Marc Reisner calls the West, “a country of illusion,” and calls the legislators and land management authorities who control the water “those who refuse to learn.”

To say that the West has enough water to support current and future development definitely opens the floodgates for debate.

Three years ago, I offered a reporter a book on conserving water.

“When we’ve been in a drought for 20 years, maybe I’ll be interested,” he said.

I think his response is typical. Most people simply don’t understand the value of water, how dependent we are on it, and how fast our resources can dry up.

Even here in the mountains, where many of the nation’s waterways are born, we are beginning to know what it means to be thirsty. We need rain, we need snow, and we get sunshine. Down in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where potatoes rule, they’re starting to pray for water of the biblical kind: 40 days and 40 nights of rain.

Water is scarce here, and it becomes more scarce as the tributaries that carry the water from the Rocky Mountains finger sparsely out across the land. The creek closest to my home, Three Mile Creek, won’t flow much past a trickle this spring.

As a former raft guide, I pay particular attention to river flows. In a normal year, the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers start to rise this time of year. But, according to the state’s water data (, the water level on the Fork has remained steady, even during the warm weather we recently had, at between 600 and 800 cubic feet per second. While those levels are great for fishing, the Fork isn’t much fun to raft after it falls below about 1,800 cfs.

Add the April 22 Roaring Fork flow of 610 cfs to the Colorado, and it’s running at a meager 1,910 cfs, down from a 34-year average flow on this date of 3,029 cfs.

But cfs and 34-year averages are for water experts to sort through. What all this means for us is a grim future where water is concerned. We can blame development, we can blame the government, but the fact is that we’re low on water, and it’s only spring.

This year, we’ll worry that rafters aren’t getting the thrilling rides that come with high water runoff. We’ll deal with hungry bears who can’t find enough of a natural food source and have to rely on our trash for a springtime feast. We’ll dig into our pockets a little deeper so we can drill our wells a little deeper.

We don’t have to worry yet, like the pour souls in “Lifeboat,” where our next sip of water will come from.

In “Crossing the Next Meridian,” Charles Wilkinson suggests that “Western communities can either take charge of the future by adopting some form of conscious management and direction …,” or lose the qualities that make the West so wonderful “within a very few decades.”

After a couple more low water years, I suspect, we’ll pay a bit more attention to the powers that control our water, because no one wants to die for lack of water.

Tamie Meck is a staff writer for the Post Independent. Her column appears every Tuesday.

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