Water–The New Gold in the Bitterroot Valley

For many years, my mining engineer husband has maintained that water will be the new gold in world economy. Of course, nothing brings an issue closer to home than having it affect you personally. We belong to a small irrigation association here in the Valley. Last summer he went out to get the sprinklers going, but there was no water.

He called the head of our association who, with another member, hiked up to the headgate only to discover that a lot of hard work that several members had put in at the diversion point a few weeks before was destroyed. To quote, “Some person or persons had meticulously undone all the work that had been done by our group and had dismantled the diversion dam and removed and hidden the tarp! The pole that we use to stabilize the tarp had also been removed, rocks had been rearranged, and some had been placed to block inflow into our diversion channel.” The missing materials were found, carefully hidden under brush.

For the first time in over 25 years, someone felt his need so outweighed his neighbors’ water rights that he was entitled to destroy their work. Hours of hard work later the dirty deed was undone. They rebuilt the rock dam and repositioned the tarp and supporting pole. Finally, water ran into our channel.

Not too long after, there was no water. First, my husband thought maybe we had come to the end of lake water. Then, he decided to call a few neighbors to find out if they had water. Nope. The association president said she and her husband would hike up to the diversion point. What they discovered was a repeat of the earlier occurrence. But, not only did the culprits remove the diversion dam, they also stole the irrigation tarp. Again, to quote the president, “This is not casual vandalism. The purpose is clearly to prevent water from flowing into our diversion channel. . . . I learned that another diversion on Mill Creek was damaged by someone in the last few weeks. . . . It is, of course, against the law to tamper with an irrigation system.”

There’s hardly anything more despicable than violating a trust which must exist among people who share a resource. Common decency dictates share and share-alike. Let’s hope this year restores our faith in human nature.

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