Tales from a drought

Last week I dug through The Record’s old clips from the ’76-77 drought, hoping to get a little flavor for what life was like at the time.

And I stumbled on this May 13 piece about A.B. “Chub” Coyle. Twice a week, ol’ Chub would drive from his Lincoln Street home down to the channel, where he would use a makeshift shallow-water pump to fill a 200-gallon tank in the back of his pickup.

He used the water to keep his vegetable garden healthy.

“Everything is greener than it ever was,” he told the newspaper. “I think the channel water is better for the garden and flowers because it doesn’t have any chlorine.”

He said hauling the water was a cheaper form of exercise than going to the gym.

The newspaper dutifully noted that Chub lacked appropriative or riparian water rights, but he responded by saying that water managers doubtless “have more important things to do.”

Other interesting tidbits:

• Notoriously dry though ’77 was, Northern California actually experienced some rare May snowstorms. Two passes were closed and some fishermen were trapped.

• Hoover Elementary students came up with some cute ideas to help the city save water, and submitted them to the City Council. “If you have three brothers in the family,” fourth-grader Roy Craig said, “then when you take a bath, don’t let the water out. Keep it for your other brother, and then your other brother, and then for the other brother.” Would hate to be the youngest in that family.

• The City Council actually took some heat for being slow to adopt aggressive water conservation policies. It was Manteca, in fact, that set the example for the county, saving 37.5 percent more water in the first six months of ’77 compared with ’76. Stockton saved about 20 percent.

• So much water was ultimately saved, that the California Water Service Co. turned around and said it needed to increase rates, which was about as popular as you’d expect.

• State officials relaxed water-quality standards in the Delta (sound familiar?).

• Officials at Lake Camanche closed down the lake’s north-shore recreation facilities — not because there was no water to play on or fish to catch, but because droughts are bad for a reservoir’s PR image. No one wanted to drive up there and stare at a shrinking puddle.

• The Amador County Fairgrounds were painted green for the county fair. Nine hundred gallons of “nontoxic” paint were used.

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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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