Guest Column: Policies protect our way of life |

Guest Column: Policies protect our way of life

by Valida A. McMichael

If the ranch way of life were made illegal tomorrow, then your green fields would be covered with sagebrush in a few short seasons. Your water rates in urban areas would increase. Your cost of urban sewage treatment would increase. The EPA is changing the standard requirements for arsenic levels in municipal water delivered into your homes. In order to meet these requirements, the local governments will need the aquifers and deep wells. The process will be very expensive. The state will only let us take out as much water as we put into the ground. Yes, the folks in town would all have to be metered. Living in a desert is impossible without water. In this state, it takes water to make affordable water. You can thank the next rancher you meet. The rancher makes the major contributions to recharging the aquifer. The rancher uses his irrigation system backward during the floods to drain the water away from the urban areas. Will this happen if the ranch becomes a trophy dude ranch? Or will these land management events happen if it is returned to nature? Will this happen with subdivision? No, no, no!

What I’m saying about our interdependence with the farms and ranches in our county is really important. It will also be very costly were we to lose the working, irrigated wet lands, Alpine decree and flood plain ranchlands. The farms were here long before we arrived, but can we afford to live here without the farms? If we want to create a Santa Clara Valley of the East, then all we need do is repeat their mistakes. Do we want to be another Owens Valley?

In order the implement the land use element and the conservation element of the master plan, we must follow the solutions laid out in the elements. Purchase of development rights will save the quality of life we identify as so important in Douglas County. Agribusinesses across the country have either turned into strip malls, subdivisions (i.e., sprawl) or large international conglomerates that have little loyalty to the local community, state or nation. In communities that don’t care and don’t provide support to the ranches, which gives them protection from asphalt jungles, ask in a short period of time, “Where have all the flowers gone?” We still have time and the opportunity to protect our county, but that is not the question. Do we have the will power to put our money where our mouth is? This is not the government doing it to us, this is each voter asking themselves what kind of world do I want to live in? I can poor-mouth myself to probate court, but did I make a difference? Is it worth paying for something on behalf of the future generations that will follow me?

This is not a welfare program for farm families, but perhaps we would be happier if we were forced to support them on welfare when the farms fail. Then we could look down our noses at those who work with their hands to make this a better world. These folks are not land rich but land poor. It takes a lot of land to support cattle or sheep. It takes a lot of water to turn sagebrush into something edible. An irrigation ditch built and maintained by generations of farm families has saved the towns for decades against floods from the twin forks of a river, vulnerable to the warm temperatures miles away and high up in the mountains, where it may rain instead of snow. These ranching families own nothing to the people of Carson Valley who make their living off the assets the ranches have created for generations with sweat equity. When subdivisions are built around a ranch it does not make it better for the ranch; it makes it better for the IRS.

The ranchers want their way of life just like the folks who want to live on the golf course or the lake, the folks who want the convenience of town life or the young family starting out in their first subdivision home. We each have our dream, and, so far, in Douglas county, it is still possible. The look of rural, the feel of community, the smell of freedom is what it is all about. We have it all, but can we keep it?

The open space plan required by state statute in order to use public funds to purchase developmental rights (PDR) will take the commitment of all of us. Many people question if we can afford the quarter-cent sales tax. I question how much it will cost me if we don’t pass the increase. The sales tax increase will save me money because I won’t have to pay to recharge the aquifer by importing water. If we have irrigated ranches, then we can recharge the aquifer and the state will let us pump the water we need. I won’t have to pay for expensive flood control and drainage. God has already provided the passive flood control in the Carson Valley. I know you engineers are good, but you’re not that good – besides you cost money. I won’t have to pay for effluent treatment in order to put it back into the river (Thanks, EPA!) if there are irrigated farmlands on which to use the effluent. I won’t waste my federal tax dollars on grant money to Douglas to rebuild the roads and bridges across the Valley every time it floods, and I won’t have to see FEMA’s cost escalate because we allowed residential to build in the flood plain. Yes, I know they can bring in landfill to build up out of the last flood depth, which is great as long as I don’t care about being a good neighbor and what happens to people downstream from me. I know, some think there is no effect to the displacement of water. Well, they never tried to put one more slice of peach in the canning jar without removing some of the juice. In addition, I guess you are not worried about the Genoa earthquake fault on the other side of the Valley turning high water tableland with landfill to Jell-O during a 6.0 event. You will, of course, understand if I don’t come visit you.

If my family were to spend $1,600 a month in the county, it will cost us $4 a month, or I could shop in Reno, Carson City or California and help pay for their open space programs. Perhaps I won’t mind traveling there to enjoy what they can still save.

Some believe this is a growth control for the county, but I prefer to see it as smart growth. Go to the library or get on the Internet if you wish to acquire more information on the smart growth topic. This is an area where landowner, developer, real estate and local government work to define where, when, why and how growth is cost effective and desirable for everyone without putting anyone’s life or property in harm’s way. I believe the leaders of Douglas County should realize that smart growth is profitable and also makes good use of resources. Personally, I feel that smart growth of the future should be in the bench lands that surround our Valley, not the mountains! Bench lands that are out of alluvial fans, water shed streams and river flood plains. The fact that so many people have been taken advantage of when they moved here is no reason to continue exploiting their ignorance of deserts, rivers, alluvial fans and cloudbursts. Let’s all encourage education of our needs for good, productive water management. This is not a problem for the feds or one we can blame on them. This is our issue, our time, our place and our history. Let’s be proud of what we have done in 20 years.