Summer’s Heat Brings Back Memories

It’s been a hot dry summer here in Oklahoma, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone. We’ve had just enough rain in Tulsa to keep the neighbors from running their sprinklers night and day. I say neighbors because I personally think a light shade of brown is a fine color for a lawn.

It’s been a hot dry summer here in Oklahoma, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone. We’ve had just enough rain in Tulsa to keep the neighbors from running their sprinklers night and day. I say neighbors because I personally think a light shade of brown is a fine color for a lawn.

I was reading an article the other day about the town of Norman, Okla., going to odd/even water rationing. Norman is the home of the University of Oklahoma, my alma mater, hence my interest.

The article reminded me of my first job in journalism, working 6 days a week at the Sapulpa Herald for minimum wage. One of the biggest stories of 1980 was the hot, dry summer that drained the town’s reservoir and forced the city to institute mandatory water rationing. I wrote a series of articles on the topic. They were the first water-related articles I had ever written.

I hadn’t given much though to water until then. Lake Sahoma on the north side of town was a nice place to wet a fishing line, but I hadn’t really made a connection between it and the water coming out of the tap at home.

With a string of 100 degree days and very little rain that year, Sapulpa was having problems keeping up with demand and its water supply was drying up. The city started with voluntary rationing but that had almost no effect on demand. Odd/even rationing helped a little, but most people took full advantage of the days they could water and demand remained high. As a capper, the biggest fire of the decade burned a large, historic furniture store to the ground, consuming a good million gallons of water in the process.

Then-city manager Dale Block issued a warning that Sapulpa was running out of water, so I took a drive out to the lake to check things out. What a shock. Where once had been a fair stretch of open water about a half-mile square, now mud flats baked in the sun. At the base of the dam a pool the size of a farm pond was all that was left of the lake.

Dale was an easy-going city manager and liked the press. Despite that, I normally had to track him down to get any information for an article. During the water crisis he made a point to stop by the newsroom and actually sat down at my desk to emphasis the importance of the story.

He talked about the various alternatives the city had. Conservation was the key. Sapulpa could survive the crisis unaided if people would just use their water responsibly, he said.

Dale then came out with a catchy phrase for water conservation that I have always remembered. I doubt he coined the phrase, but it sure sounded like pure Dale Block. Here it is:

“If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or gag, but I included his words of wisdom in my article. My editor laughed and said “That’s great!” as he tapped the delete key.

Sapulpa finally had to institute a ban on car washing and all outdoor watering. Things looked grim for awhile, but eventually a ground-soaking rain moved through, refilling the lake and returning life to normal.

I’m not sure why, but ever since that summer water has had a little more significance for me. And occasionally I find myself standing before the porcelain throne singing an old folksong from the ’60s. “They Call Me Mellow Yellow…..”

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