Our RE system is more a testimony to a lifelong interest in energy alternatives and experimentation—always looking for the ideal system—than it is to rational, market-driven decision-making. We enjoy experimenting, trying everything, discarding many things, and continuing with what works best for our household. We have funded this passion with two full-time jobs over the years, and find that the investment provides delightful dividends in knowledge and independence.
[Note: This article is updated from the original
published article; to reflect more recent
upgrades to the hydro-electric system.]
David—In 1975, I was working on a logging crew up a steep logging road in the Pacific Crest range of northern California, near the town of Orleans. As the crew traveled the rough old road, we bounced over rocks and dodged logging trucks. On the way home, we’d often stop at a reliable spring, where we would drink some water and wash off the worst of the dust before loading back up in the “crummy” to continue making our way down the hill.
There was a bit of private property along the way—below that spring and above a river—that had some potential as a homestead site. I found the owner and bought 80 acres in 1976 for $20,000. It was cheap because the potential building sites were all above the two seasonal springs on the place, and water would always be an issue. But I kept thinking about that deep, reliable spring on the old road, and I started clearing a little bit of land for a building site, in between jobs and when I was laid off for the winter.
In 1976, by the time I wanted to develop that spring as a water source for my place, the Forest Service had abandoned the rocky old road in favor of a paved route that more closely hugged the ridge. They ripped up the old roadbed as best they could, which meant that it was available to lay my water line from the spring to my place. Though it was full of rocks and went through some really nasty bedrock, it had a fairly steady slope.
I got some friends together, put some beer on ice, and with my 1946 bulldozer, plowed a trench along the old road, rocks and all. We laid 5,000 feet of 11/2-inch PVC pipe in that trench from the spring all the way down to a saddle. The waterline then dropped fast across my property, barely buried, until it reached our building site.
Penny—Getting permits to use this water was not easy. David had started this process for the first domestic water right before I met him. In fact, I met David in 1979 when he was applying for a minor change to his special-use permit to cross National Forest with his waterline. I was fresh out of the Peace Corps and new to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). I came out to review the waterline, revised the special use permit—and married David about 18 months later.
Soon after we were married, I worked to develop a water right for a hydroelectric system to capture the winter high flows from the spring. Later, I pursued a separate irrigation water right for our “lower flat” area. We also ended up with an official number from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as exempt from licensing for our hydroelectric project. Because I worked for the USFS, some extra effort was required to become a co-owner in the property and the water line because of conflict of interest issues surrounding the Special Use Permit to cross National Forest. We now file papers annually with FERC and pay for all three water rights with the State of California. We periodically pay the USFS for the privilege of crossing National Forest to convey essential water to our homestead. These fees add up to about $500 per year for the privilege of owning and maintaining our own water and power systems.