It’s October and the land is thirsty. Shasta Big Springs Ranch is nestled below hillsides studded with scrubby stunted juniper trees. Snow-capped Mount Shasta towers above, dominating the skyline from nearly anywhere here in Northern California’s Siskiyou County. An ice-cold creek gurgles up from lava tube springs deep underground and cuts through the pastures of what was once a verdant ranch.
Now, Shasta Big Springs Ranch is dry, except for a ribbon of silvery thistles along the riverbank. Big Springs used to be a source of water for salmon habitat and agricultural irrigation. Today, it’s a source and symbol of the polarizing divide between farmers and conservationists facing an increasingly water-scarce future.
Farmer and long-time neighbor, Dan Chase, remembers playing near Big Springs as a kid. “It was the most beautiful ranch you can imagine anywhere ever,” he said.
Back then, some 30 years ago, the property exemplified the pastoral dreams of most farmers and ranchers here — fine fat cattle, deer, majestic cranes dancing through irrigated meadows, and an old homestead raising the next generation of hard-working farm kids under its eaves. Aft... Read more