In a Sow’s Ear |

In a Sow’s Ear

Gwen Petersen
Big Timber, Mont.

Sometimes my city friends and acquaintances have hinted that I live in the boondocks where nothing ever happens. Not so. Recently, there’s been excitement galore over water.

Much of the “western” United States is high-desert country. There happens to be a lot of the stuff ” great for raising domestic livestock, supporting wild game, affording sport-fishing in its rivers and streams and providing swell scenic backgrounds for cowboy movies. As everybody knows, all activities and critters ” be they people or animals ” require water to sustain life. But whose life is the question.

In Africa people are killing each other ” over water. The affluent do not want the peons watering cattle. Water is precious. There’s not enough to go around.

Here in the high plains, water is measured out to farmers and ranchers in inches out of creeks and rivers and irrigation ditches. In dry years, it’s sometimes necessary to hire a “ditch rider” to check how much water is used per ranch or farm, per field, per inch. The Greedy Gus’s can cause problems that sometimes lead to nasty water wars. A few years back, such a war put one of the participants in the hospital with a concussion caused by a blow to the head from an irrigating shovel. His opponent sustained a broken leg. The shovels survived intact.

The latest conflict over agua (I’m learning Spanish) in my neighborhood is turning ugly. A pair of city individuals from the West Coast (I won’t mention the particular state, but it rhymes with Gevernia) purchased their dream properties ” a hundred acres each ” adjacent to one another on the banks of a free-flowing creek. They then proceeded to “improve” their holdings. They avoided local help and hired construction workers from another county to build stuff. They built. And built. They were on a roll. Why stop now? Why not improve on Paradise?

So they hired backhoe operators and construction engineers (not local) and what-all designers and proceeded to create a pond apiece on their property. Ponds. That means water. These ponds are a whole lot bigger than a kids’ plastic pool. They’re big enough to stock whale-sized fish or float boats the size of steamers or host an Olympic swimming meet. So, don’t you wonder where they found enough water to create their private pools?

You guessed it. That lovely liquid came from the creek, the same creek that supplies the irrigation ditch from which ranchers and farmers with legal use of the water irrigate their crops. The creek bed downstream has gone dry. The irrigation ditch ditto.

The two Gevernians claim they bought the land on the creek and therefore they have a right to the water. No, they don’t have to get permission. No, it doesn’t matter that cattle on land downstream have no drinking water. Let the locals dig wells. No, the Gevernians don’t have to pay attention to antiquated laws.

So, it isn’t true that nothing ever happens here in the boondocks. Things are heating up hotter than the hood of a car in hundred degree temperature or a ticked off middle years woman going through the Change. Lawsuits are in the works. Blood pressures are going up; sales of ulcer medications are on the rise; emotions are all spelled !@#$%&!! Nobody’s happy except the lawyers.

One hopes the war won’t turn into an Africa-type solution, but the excitement is escalating. Watch this space for future developments on this slice-of-life Out West.