I figured that if I didn’t take Jorge—my contractor/neighbor—up on his invitation to go fishing with him, I’d never hear the end of it. So, with great reluctance, I agreed to throw on my woolies and meet him by my mailbox well before the cows and roosters in the area began to get restless. Maybe, I told myself, the fish will be so impressed by this show of enthusiasm that they will line up to take my bait . . . but I knew better. After all, in the thousand or so hours I’d spent in the company of hook, line, and sinker, I’ve never—repeat that, never—caught a fish. Indeed, I’ve come up with 100 specimen of weed, trash of every type imaginable, and even a snake or two that happened to get snagged by mistake, but not once have I brought home anything resembling a fish. The only redeeming feature in this venture into the masochistic world of damp and cold was the opportunity to spend time with Jorge . . . a pleasure by any standard. Besides, I wanted to impress him with our magazine, Stormwater.
“Stormwater,” he growled after we had settled down to await the arrival of our quota of scaly prey. “Just another one of those unfunded mandates the enviros are trying to ram down our throats.” Nine times out of 10, when Jorge shares his opinion with me I accept it at face value, but this was one of those rare cases where I felt the need to pursue the subject . . . especially under the present circumstances in which we were taking part in his favorite pastime.
Whose Water Are We Talking About?
“How about the fishing, Jorge,” I opened up the discussion, “is it as good as it was when you were a boy?” Admittedly it was a loaded question, but one that I was pretty certain would get some heat in the boat in a hurry. “Of course not,” he replied, going on to cite examples of the degraded conditions. “But there are a lot more people fishing these days.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “and a lot more people doing a lot more other things.” And that’s really the rub. Everything we do—no matter how good or how necessary—has consequences that may not be obvious at the time. Fishing, it turns out, provides a pretty good illustration of some of the unanticipated impacts we have on things we care about. Even if we haven’t experienced firsthand the severe depletion of salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve all heard about the situation and recognize the contribution of logging and development activities to the problem. School-trained environmentalists seem fond of such high-sounding terms as “loss of habitat” as if by their use, these abstractions will somehow lead us to solutions that can be mandated and implemented by governmental fiat. But as any fisherman who has seen a favorite stream or pond literally choked to death by silt and algae knows, there’s nothing mysterious about the process nor does the solution lie in the hands of self-appointed saviors, no matter how often or how sincerely they wring them.
“Yeah, but they’re the ones who are doing all the yelling and the demanding and passing all the regulations,” Jorge pointed out with uncharacteristic bitterness. Maybe it was at least partly to do with the fact that we had been sitting for almost an hour without so much as a nibble. “Who put them in charge?”
“Well maybe you and I did,” I suggested. We’re the ones closest to the situation . . . the ones involved in the disturbance and the ones who are actually in a position to do something about the solution. “When you and your crew carve a road or cut in pads for a subdivision, do you know where the dirt goes? In fact, how much of the dirt from the job you did for the Forest Service last year end up in this lake?” The look on his face told me I’d gone too far.
“Look,” he said between tightly clinched teeth, “we did everything the permit said . . . and more. The detention pond they designed for the runoff was too small, so we enlarged it just to make sure that mud wouldn’t get flushed down into Matillaja Creek.”
“What about next year or the year after when the pond silts in and can’t catch all the runoff? What happens then?”
“Well,” Jorge said after a pause, “someone will just have to go up there and clean the sucker out, I guess.”
“Who’s going to pay for it,” I asked. “Anybody bother putting a line item for long-term maintenance into the change order?”
“Not that I know of,” he admitted, much of the steam gone from his anger. “I get your point.”
Thankfully for the sake of our friendship the words had barely escaped him when his line snapped taut. “Hot doggies,” he whooped, turning to the task at hand. “Crank up the barbecue.” By the time the first shaft of sunlight hit us, thoughts of stormwater and silt were but a dim memory. Jorge had caught both our limits, and my perfect record remained solidly intact.