The Coastal Post - March, 1997

Where Does Your Water Come From?


One of the most convenient of all our modern conveniences is water flowing into our houses. Can you imagine how inconvenient it would be to get your water some other way? Many cultures still use the bucket from the well technique. In Marin, however, the thought of not having hot and cold running water is absurd. Water is something we all take for granted, but water is life-without it we would surely perish.

Do you know where Marin gets its water? Have you ever walked up the Marin watershed and seen the actual dams that make this luxury possible? Can you name the creeks that have given their lives so that you can wash dishes and flush your toilet?

To live without gasoline would be a serious hardship. To live without gasoline and electricity would be even more difficult. But the worst of all possibilities would be to try to live without water. Everything else seems trivial in comparison.

The fact is that Marin County is no different than the rest of California. Marin is dependent on a series of dams that are all built on one watershed. This watershed was once a natural wonder to silver salmon and steelhead, as it stretched uninhibited for miles and miles through forests and valleys unmolested by man.

With the building of the first dam, the silver salmon's fate was sealed. Never more would their population of millions return to spawn where they had spawned for all time. There were no fish ladders designed to give the fish access to their spawning area. The results we see today is that silver salmon are on the endangered species list. Did you know that one of the hidden costs of having running water in your home was the possible extinction of silver salmon in Marin?

The king salmon, once so abundant that it was thought possible to cross the Sacramento river on their backs, have suffered the same fate. If it wasn't for the hatchery program run by the Fish and Game, they too would be all but gone.

Why were the dams built without fish ladders? Did it simply cost too much, or did nobody care about the fish? Whatever the excuse, the fact remains that the dams that dam virtually every river in California are all gravestones for the salmon.

Dams are not forever. All dams are destined to fill in with silt. Gradually the capacity of the lake behind the dam diminishes, and in time the dam is useless. Then what? Build another dam below the one that filled in and flood more forests and meadows? The dams are filling in now, but we probably won't feel the pressure in our lifetime. This is another one of those abstract problems that we are leaving for our children to solve, similar in a way to using up all the oil on the planet.

Some Marin residents would love to see silver salmon return to the Marin watershed. But sadly all their efforts will be minimal if some modifications are not made to the dams. Not only are all spawning fish stopped at the base of the first dam, but any fish that try to return to the sea from the lake are killed on the ride down the spillway.

The next time you feel like taking a short hike, stop at the bridge south of Lagunitas on Sir Francis Drake and walk up to the base of Kent Lake spillway. This is the first of several dams along the same creek, and this is where most of Marin gets it water.

If you do walk up to take a look, imagine yourself as a salmon trying to go up, or as a little fish trying to get to the sea.

Modern technology has solved some amazing problems. Man can walk in space, and Marin County should be able to restore silver salmon to its own back yard.