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It seems odd that you can live on a peninsula surrounded by water yet run out of the stuff every year just at the busiest tourist time. But, it happened every year in Mendocino when I was running the Sea Gull Restaurant. It’s still the situation today but worse because there are more tourists and they are even less water savvy than they were then. People who live in cities simply don’t understand about wells and septic tanks.

It was Thanksgiving weekend, it was pouring down rain, my father-in-law was out in the sheep field behind his house in his boots trying to clear out the septic lines because the sewage was backed up to the house. In the kitchen my mother-in-law couldn’t wash the dishes because no water came out of the tap.

The same thing happened at the Sea Gull Restaurant in town.

“We’re out of water,” we told the customers as they walked in the front door.

“Out of water? How is that possible? It’s raining cats and dogs outside.”

We had to explain to the customers that it takes time for the rainwater to seep down into the aquifer and replenish our well. We were indeed LOW on water. Not entirely out, not yet, but we would be unless everyone cooperated and conserved. Those little signs on the back of the toilets and on the tables were for real.


Sea Gull Cellar Bar Napkin Art, Deb artist

Sea Gull Cellar Bar Napkin Art, Deb artist


Someone came up with what seemed like a good idea at the time. Lock the bathrooms. Customers could request a key at the front desk. Given that so many people walked into the restaurant just to use the toilets, this idea could be a game changer, it could save gallons and gallons of water.

Unfortunately the public did not take kindly to the idea. Graffiti appeared on the walls of the bathrooms. Not those amusing bathroom poems (“here I sit all broken-hearted”) but threats and nasty comments about the managers and the owners. Yes, I was heartbroken.

Okay, so we made a mistake. Mistakes are easy enough to correct, right? I asked one of our janitors, Bill Vargas, if he could paint.

“You mean, like, art?” he asked innocently enough.

“No, no. Can you paint the walls and ceiling of the bathrooms to remove the graffiti and clean them up a bit?”

“Oh. Sure boss. I can do that.”


Sea Gull Cellar Bar Napkin Art, artist John Chamberlin

Sea Gull Cellar Bar Napkin Art, artist John Chamberlin


Three hours later I was summoned to the front desk by my manager, Marlene. She was in a panic.

“Go take a look at the bathrooms IF you can see them.”

“What do you mean IF I can see them?” Marlene could solve any problem. I knew this was serious. Were they flooded? Were they befouled by the remnants of some of our patrons (or worse, employees) who used them to sniff cocaine? (I won’t give names but you know who you are.) Did some stoned chick from wherever she lived leave her papoose in the bathroom wrapped in an authentic mandala blanket? What possible problem could be beyond Marlene’s corrective abilities?

When I walked into the men’s room I was immediately submerged in inky darkness. Power outage? When my eyes adjusted, I stepped back beyond befuddled. That scrawny little janitor had painted the room alright. Totally in black. The ceiling, the walls, even the vanity, the sink, and the fixtures, black as the ace of spades. It was my first experience with gothic fashion and apparently I was not ready for the next big thing. It took us several coats of paint over several days to put things back to “normal.”

Lock the bathrooms? Hell no! Any bum off the street could use them for all I cared after that.


Sea Gull Cellar Bar Napkin Art, Sandy artist

Sea Gull Cellar Bar Napkin Art, Sandy artist


We got through the inevitable dry spells every year in two ways. Like everyone else in town, we bought water from Skip. Skip Jones was an electrician by trade. He was known all over town for saving everyone’s ass when they were in over their head. He was the one whose house I ran to when the old Sea Gull was on fire. He frequented the Coffee Shop and solved any number of problems at the restaurant. When the water shortage became an annual event, Skip bought a water truck and sold potable water all over town to those who had storage facilities.  There were lots of water towers around town and many were still used for water storage.


Edmeades Wine Label signed by artist Bill Zacha

Edmeades Wine Label signed by artist Bill Zacha


The second tactic was based on my own ingenious (if illegal) idea. My uncle, Joe Schirber, was manager of Water Reclamation District 108 where I grew up in the Sacramento Valley.  So, i know a bit about water matters.  I created a snake pit of hoses in the back garden and pulled water from every well I could find nearby to fill the tank on top of our water tower. When people are streaming in the door with money to spend, you find a way to accommodate them.

Water is one of those things that makes or breaks friendships. It involves you with your neighbors whether you want to be involved or not. Long after the water shortage when the wells were all full again I was shocked one day to discover that our water tank was empty. I thought it might be a problem with the pump but the well was empty too. Impossible! How could this happen? We only served water on request in the restaurant even though the seasonal drought was over. We were very conservative. Everyone around us had water. It made no sense. Our well was one of the best in town.


Sea Gull Cellar Bar Napkin Art, artist unknown

Sea Gull Cellar Bar Napkin Art, artist unknown


After doing everything I could think of without success, I called in the local Sherlock Holmes, Eddie Devorak from Mendosas. Turns out one of the residents of the Mendosa Apartments had moved out a few weeks earlier. They forgot to turn off the water in the bathtub. Since no one had been in the apartment since, the water ran and ran. Slowly but surely all the water from my well was sucked across the street to the well for the Mendosa Apartments, pumped up and splashed into the tub in that vacant apartment and emptied through Mendocino’s modern sewer apparatus from the Mendosa Apartments to the crumbling cliffs along the Headlands. This was before the MCCSD and their posse of town water watchdogs.


Sea Gull Cellar Bar Napkin Art, Roy Hoggard artist

Sea Gull Cellar Bar Napkin Art, Roy Hoggard artist


Water is a serious matter. It was in Mendocino at the time of the Sea Gull and it is now. While there have been no interstate wars fought directly over water for thousands of years according to geographer Aaron Wolf, the future will almost certainly be different. For one thing, as the number of humans explodes at an increasing rate, our impact on the earth can no longer be ignored.

The earth’s surface is sinking as water is pumped out from below at a record rate. Highways, bridges, aqueducts, and even houses are all cattywampus. Even Siri and GPS are having trouble keeping up with the changes.

World population will rise from 7.4 billion today to 10 billion by 2050 and, over the same period, global water demand will increase 55 per cent. Agriculture, which already accounts for more than 70 per cent of global freshwater usage, is forecast to increase another 60 per cent, while industrial water demand is expected to increase between 50 and 70 per cent, according to the World Bank. [Source]

Seawater is rising with global warming while freshwater is disappearing. Trump is building a wall to protect his golf course in Ireland from flooding at the same time he is complaining about the low-flow showerheads ruining his hair.

As early as 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. Climate change will intensify the devastation. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, each one degree celsius mean temperature increase could lead to 20 per cent reduction in renewable water resources. [Source]

Pollution of existing water sources is both a result and a cause of the growing water problem, think Flint, Michigan. [Source]

And, as fresh water becomes as valuable as oil, we can’t dismiss the increased potential for water terrorism around the world.

None of this should be a surprise according to the Bible.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.   Ecclesiastes 1.9


Historical accounts detail skirmishes over boundary canals as far back as 2450 B.C., from laws regarding water theft in the Code of Hammurabi to the biblical account of Moses parting the Red Sea. The history of the world could very well be told in its desire to possess, and acquire, more water. [Source]

So, next time you turn on the tap, duck for cover just in case a stream of mud-infused metallic waste comes spewing out. Or, paint your bathroom black to disguise the whole disgusting mess. Think positive. No matter what emerges from the faucet, at least something still comes out. Your not out of water. Not yet.