No one knows the need for water better than a gardener.
Sojourner Smith is a master gardener who has been close to the earth since she was a child on Washington's Kitsap Peninsula. She gardened with her mother and collected "brush" with her - salal and ferns - for florists. Her mother taught her how to harvest so that the "crop" would be improved the next year.
At 14 Smith moved to Vashon Island and after a stint working in the Amazon in her young adult years, she returned to the island and fed seven children out of the vegetable garden that she tended there. For the past 15 years, Smith has worked her land on the Willapa Bay side of the Long Beach Peninsula.
Smith stands under an enormous 60-year-old linden that Phil Stamp planted as an eight-year-old with his grandmother on their family homestead in Nahcotta. Smith has created a garden in the understory of that linden that looks as if were made by fairies. It is magical and thriving.
"This is what you can do," she says, pointing not to her garden but to the huge linden tree with foliage that spreads out like a green hoop-skirt 40 feet around. "This tree grew in 60 years. I'm convinced that our trees will save us. Whether it's the tsunami or carbon in the atmosphere."
Stamp's linden tree was a small bush that was given to him by Charles Nelson, the original owner of the Nelson B & B at the intersections of Bay Street and Sandridge Road. During the summer, after catching "pogies" - a type of big, boney perch - Stamp would bury fish at the base of the linden to fertilize it. The tree struggled along until the 50s or 60s when it suddenly took off.
"There's hard-pan about three feet under the surface sand in most places on the peninsula. I guess when the tree's roots broke through that hardpan and got down to our aquifer that's when it really started to grow."
Third-generation oysterman Brian Kemmer puts water on the top of his list of concerns. "On the Peninsula, we have an island aquifer. It's shaped like a bubble, narrower at the bottom and wider at the top. It's a 'lens' of freshwater surrounded by salt water."
University of Washington scientist Alan Trimble adds: "What people don't realize is that what charges the aquifer is rain water going directly into the ground. We don't have snow here on the Peninsula, we don't have rivers. Every time we put in a new house, a new road, a new parking lot, that is water that is not recharging our aquifer. And if the sea level comes up and makes the peninsula smaller, that will reduce the area that catches water. If our aquifer is vanquished, no one is going to put in a pipeline for us."
Standing under Stamp's linden and the lush understory that Smith has created there, it is difficult to imagine that residents could run out of water. But Smith knows. "We're so careless with our water. I carried water in buckets in the Amazon so I know its value."
Washington State University Extension professor Kim Patten sees conflicts over water looming. "The wine industry on the east side is contingent on irrigation." he says. "We may see water wars between the cities of Yakima and Seattle. Ag will probably not win that war, and fisheries have been at the bottom of the totem pole for a long time."
The increased price for water is apparent. The newly-former North Beach Water Co. recently raised water rates more than 60 percent for north-end residents. Water connection fees in Ilwaco are upwards of $7,000. There are many concerns with the quality of the water in Surfside; new homes are going up there every week.
Anyone who needs water to make a living on the Peninsula has noticed the changes.
"Water is becoming more and more precious in my garden," says Smith. "For one thing, I can't afford it. But any real change comes through economics; that's how we work in this country."
` Another issue is the projected rise in the sea level. Much of the world's ice pack is melting. Glaciers are receding. Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth" anticipates that the sea level could rise 18 to 20 feet in the coming decades.
ShoreBank Pacific scientist Sayce thinks Gore's estimate may be too conservative. "If we can't get global warming under control, the sea level will rise. It all depends on how much ice melts. If half of Greenland melts, that will add 20 feet. All of Greenland, 40 feet. If we lose all of Antarctica, 100 feet. The total could be as high as 280 feet.
"The south end of the Peninsula will be overtopped by a 25- to 27-foot rise. The north end is a bit higher, maybe 40 feet. But if the sea level rises as we expect, the Willapa Hills and the Olympics will turn into a couple of big islands or archipelagos."
Patten emphasizes the need for leadership. "We should be planning down the road for 50 years, maybe 100 years. It's political, but it should be one of the cards on the table. Like the tsunami card, the global warming card needs to be on the table."
Sayce talks about the warmer future pragmatically: "Which of a couple futures are we going to see? We can burn all the fossil fuel and abruptly run out and return to an ice age. Or destabilize the climate mechanisms of the last two million years, which will throw us into an era much much warmer than anything humans have ever experienced. What are we going to do?"
Sojourner Smith notices the changes every day, "There used to be more butterflies in the garden," she says, looking up at the power lines, "and where are all the swallows?"