Posted by: Through the Eyes of Women | August 18, 2013

8/19/13 Host Corinne Frugoni Interviews Tasha McKee About Current and Impending Water Shortages and Solutions


“Water shortage has become a global problem necessitating a change in how we perceive and use water.  When resources are abundant we tend to use more than we need.  Today’s water scarcity challenges us to recognize the preciousness of water and learn how to steward this resource for the benefit of people and all other living things.” So writes Tasha McKee in her introduction to her 2004 report entitled “Options and Obstacles: Living with Low Water Flows in the Mattole Headwaters.”

The community of the Upper Mattole is experiencing water shortages locally.  Starting in 1997, the Mattole Headwaters have been impacted by extreme low flows in the late summer and early fall months. In 2002 and 2004 some families living in the area ran out of water completely, and many others faced varying degrees of water insecurity.  Thousands of juvenile salmon died in the headwaters as the river dried up.

Tasha McKee is the executive director of Sanctuary Forest, a community-based non-profit land and water trust.  This organization actively works with landowners to protect, conserve, and restore land and water in the Mattole River watershed. Sanctuary Forest holds conservation easements on private lands and also offers many programs and services to assist landowners and the community in stewarding and protecting natural resources for future generations.

Sanctuary Forest, along with other local organizations, concerned citizens and some governmental regulatory agencies is addressing the problem of water shortage using three main approaches: water storage, stream flow monitoring and public education. The centerpiece of Sanctuary Forest’s program is the “tanks and forbearance” program for landowners in critical reaches of the Mattole headwaters.  This innovative, voluntary partnership helps these landowners get the water storage capacity they need in order to give up pumping from the river during the critical dry season — and keeps that water flowing when the river needs it most.

In past years Tasha visited the Alwar district of the Rajasthan state of India.  This area was once a verdant rain forest but due to large scale logging, surface runoff increased every year resulting in depletion of groundwater recharge. The complete transfer of water management from community to government created a cycle of neglect and scorn for time-tested traditions and a dependency-syndrome among the village community. The synergy between humankind and nature that was the legacy of centuries of tradition was destroyed in a matter of decades. Drought became a recurring and grim reality in the region (Kishore, 2003, depletion of groundwater recharge.)

While in India, Tasha was able to observe the revival of the traditional water harvesting systems called johads which are simple, usually semicircular mud barriers built across hill slopes that catch rainwater leading to improvement of percolation and groundwater recharge.  The water is collected in a johad during the monsoon and is used for irrigation, drinking, livestock and other domestic purposes.

What do the Alwar district in India and the Mattole Headwaters in Southern Humboldt, California have in common?  A commitment of concerned local residents, educated and empowered to create a broad based coalition that looks to the past for guidance, researches the present and guides the future use of water to prevent the devastating consequences of misuse and overuse.

View of a johad in Thathawata village


For more information go to or you can call 707 986-1087.


To listen to Corrine’s Conversation with Tasha McKee click the following link:    

To download this show go to the Entries RSS link at the right in the META menu.

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