In Buzz Machey's mind, increased population is most of the problem. He scoffs at the suggestion that extended drought caused his well to run dry. "We've had dry years before and never had a problem with our well. It's the people. They've built more houses up here than the water supply can handle. And they're still giving out permits. If these people are going to be living out here, they've got to learn to manage water. Don't come up here and plant a big lawn that needs watering every day."
Speaking of lawns, while Machey is drilling a new well, just down the hill from his house, the Julian High School football field grows plush and green. "Just before noon," Machey's chin quivers with anger, "I drove into town, and they were watering that whole field in the midday heat. They're dumping so much water on that field that it's draining out of some big drainpipes they installed under it, and it's forming a creek" -- he pronounces it crick -- "which runs downhill into a pond, which is full to the top. There are dried-up ponds all over Julian, which in 35 years I've never seen dry. But that pond is full. I've spoken to the school superintendent and asked if they could back off the watering to the point where it wasn't running off, but it's still happening."
Humans aren't the only creatures suffering due to drought in the backcountry. Trees are dying off at an alarming rate. Around Santa Ysabel and Mesa Grande, northwest of Julian, it's the Engelmann oaks that are dying. More than half are in a stressed state in which they drop their leaves and enter a drought-induced dormancy. Around Julian it's the Coulter pine that is suffering due to drought, though indirectly so. Barbara Mansky, who lives with her husband Walter in a mountain lodge-style house near Machey's, looks out her kitchen window at a stand of Coulter pines on her property. Half of their needles are golden brown, an indication that the trees are dying. "It's the beetles that kill them," she explains. "When there's enough rain and the water is up, the tree produces a lot of sap and encases the beetle larva. What's happened now is the water table has dropped below the root zone, so the pines don't get any water, and then they can't defend themselves against the beetles. Once they go, it's amazing. They change from green to brown in about a week."
Though the well they've had for 25 years isn't dry, it's close. So they recently drilled a new one 750 feet deep. "It costs $12 per foot," says Walter, a slender, kind-faced man in his 60s. Leaning against the high kitchen counter in his split-level house, he adds, "But that's just the drilling."
Barbara, sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of ice water, says with a German accent, "The pump is about $1000, and there's the pipe that goes down the well. So by the time it's all said and done, it's $20,000..."
"No, no, no," Walter gently interrupts his wife. "It's $14,000 to $15,000."
One thing they agree on is what will happen to Julian if the area receives another year of minimal rainfall. Walter shakes his head and lets out a long, low whistle. Barbara gives words to the sentiment: "It will be a disaster."
Enloe agrees. "Property values would plummet, people would have to haul in water to sustain themselves. People are already hauling water. And then the question is, where do you get the water from? You are not going to get it from up here, so you are going to have to truck it in from down below. That's very expensive, so it will be one of those deals of the haves and have-nots. If we don't have something good happen next winter, then it is going to be a disaster up here."