Water War Hero
Bill Woodworth, advocate of conservation and personal responsibility, dies at 87.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Bill “Woody” Woodworth always believed that the real problem with the Peninsula isn’t a water shortage, it’s water storage.
Woodworth, a Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board member from 1978-83, a retired Air Force meteorologist, and a major proponent of micro-solutions to water problems, died Oct. 10 at the age of 87.
He was also active in planning the reuse of Fort Ord.
At a time when Monterey Peninsula water politics have never been so fiercely debated, the passing of Woodworth seems an important reminder that Californians all have a responsibility to use water wisely. A fiercely intelligent and colorful advocate of conservation, Woodworth promoted residential and municipal cisterns, reuse and small scale impoundment, rather than reliance on major dams and far-flung infrastructure.
“We’re throwing away good water,” Woodworth told the Weekly in 2000. “We’re flushing toilets with drinking water, and it just doesn’t make any sense. We could be using cisterns as neighborhoods or as individuals.”
Woodworth had scrapbooks and folders dating back to the late ‘70s filled with the letters and proposals he’d drafted and sent to various state and local agencies encouraging governmental support for more aggressive rainfall storage. In the introduction to one such letter, in December, 1978, he estimated that the Peninsula (not including Fort Ord) lost about 22,000 acre feet of potable water through the storm drains. Woodworth wrote: “Countless gallons of precious fresh water are cascading down Peninsula streets and sewers into the Pacific Ocean…The irretrievable loss of each acre foot, each gallon, each cupful will not be felt this month or this season. But the recent experience of an extended drought should have alerted Monterey Peninsulans…to the fragile balance between our rainfall and our water demands.”
Nearly 30 years later, Woodworth’s letter sounds prophetic.
Woodworth was one of those visionaries who actually practiced what he preached. He had 10 cisterns (or water tanks) set up under the eaves of his Pacific Grove home, and estimated that on an annual basis he collected up to 5,000 gallons of rainwater.
Using gravity-flow systems, Woodworth then recycled the water. Woodworth principally used the water on his garden and to flush his toilet, but if there were a severe drought or other emergency that cut off the supply water, the rainwater could also be boiled and used for drinking or cooking.
Jim Feeney, assistant executive officer of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA), remembers Woodworth as a man “dedicated to his work in water conservation.” Feeney describes Woodworth’s input into the Fort Ord reuse project as “instrumental.”
“He brought a lot of ideas to the table that wouldn’t have been brought concerning water,” Feeney says.
Woodworth amassed an exhaustive personal library of literature concerning water issues and contributed his knowledge of cisterns and “ponding”—home reservoirs—to a booklet, called “Captured Rainfall,” which was published in 1981 by the state Department of Water Resources. The booklet addresses such topics as the best roof materials to use, how to build cisterns and filtration and treatment systems.
As gargantuan plans for desalination plants are floated and big-spending opponents make increasingly bigger splashes over Measure W, the measure that would publicly finance the feasibility of a publicly-owned water system for the Peninsula, Woodworth’s message of personal and civic conservation has never sounded so sane and simple.
So the next time the rain’s falling and running in wasted rivulets into the ground, lift a glass of cold, clean water in memory of Woodworth and think about how much you’d be saving if you had a system of cisterns in place.
PERSONS INTERESTED IN BILL WOODWORTH’S WATER-RELATED LIBRARY SHOULD CONTACT HIS DAUGHTER CARLA AT CWOODWORTH@JPS.NET. GIFTS IN MEMORY OF BILL CAN BE SENT TO YMCA OF THE MONTEREY PENINSULA, 600 CAMINO EL ESTERO, MONTEREY, CA 93940.