Sophie Says: Gifts of the creek

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A Winters Express opinion column

Gramps says
The American west is dependent on water stored in underground aquifers, behind manmade dams and in the form of snow packs. How this water is managed and mismanaged is well documented in a book written by Marc Reisner titled, “Cadillac Desert.” Water politics are discussed at length, especially those pertaining to the distribution of water from the Colorado River.

Of special interest to Californians are the stories of the ‘water steal’ of the Owens Valley, subsidence of aquifers in the San Joaquin Valley and the California Aqueduct. The aqueduct pumps water over the 3,400 foot summit of the Tehachapi Range thus adding credence to the old saying, “In the American West, water flows uphill toward money.”

Our own Monticello Dam is one of tens of thousands of dams constructed nationwide during the frantic race between the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation to find locations for as many of these structures as there were places to put them. Congress justified the expense as providing a benefit to small farmers who could buy subsidized water for less than $10 per acre foot.

To put that in perspective, in 1977 it cost $50 per acre foot to pump water from a well. Many large farms became wealthy by figuring out ways to qualify for subsidized water. As irrigation would never pay for the cost of a dam, the Bureau of Reclamation depended on electric power generation as the main source of revenue for many of the dams.

Neither cities nor farmers in Yolo County are entitled to receive water from Lake Berryessa. So where is the benefit to our county? It lies within about seven of the 80 miles of Putah Creek. Those seven miles are tail water released from the base of the dam where the water is coldest. The water is released year round and native trout thrive in the cold water.

Fly fishermen love it so much they are willing to thrash through thickets of trees, brush and thorny blackberries to get to it and wade on uneven, mossy and slippery rocks. It is a difficult and challenging stream to fish. The water has an opaque greenish hue that looks ‘fishy.’

The trout are native and have a unique dark look to them, the stripe being a purplish red. They are wary and are most often caught using tiny nymphs and midges. On this last Thursday, I met a fly fisherman from Colorado on the stream. He was using a No. 18 midge but said this was large as he used No. 20 and No. 22 sizes in Colorado. At my age I would need a magnifying glass to see those tiny flies, let alone tie on a leader. He landed an 18-inch-fish that day, which is common on the creek.

The stream has an attitude. From the road some pools look placid. Don’t be fooled. I’ve seen rubber rafts ripped open end-to-end and more than one canoe broken in half. It’s the narrow, fast water closed in by trees and brush that you that will get you. Her real temper flares when the Berryessa Glory Hole spills over. When that happens you best be a bystander on high ground.

Sophie Says
Forgive me Gramps but I know a Labrador that has more sense than a fly fisherman.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I don’t like to get wet.

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