We build temples to water here. For those who do not live in California it may be hard to grasp just how precious and scarce water is for the state. Those of us who live in the Central Valley and Southern California are keenly aware of the value of water. Most of the water that our state receives through precipitation falls on the northern third of the state. We also receive runoff from the Sierra Nevada snow melt, and water diverted from the Colorado River. Obviously there is a definite water imbalance in California.
This imbalance is rife with controversy and has led to a complicated system of reservoirs and canals to transport the states water from the north to the thirsty agricultural fields in the Valley and parched cities in SoCal. One such project created to serve the city of San Francisco is the Hetch-Hetcy Aqueduct. This project included flooding the Hetch-Hetchy Valley which is located behind Yosemite Valley, and diverting that water to SF through a variety of smaller reservoirs, canals, and pumping stations. When this project was completed there were two temples constructed to commemorate this incredible feat of human ingenuity and engineering.
One of the monuments is called the Sunol Water Temple. It is located along HWY 84 just outside the city of Sunol. If you weren’t looking for it, you’d totally drive right past. Actually if you stop at the little store for a snack you might wonder what the heck is behind the grand gate facing the store. (Side note: the photos from Google were taken in a different season, the one month the grass is green.)
As I got out of the truck and headed toward the temple I was a little struck by the sound of rushing water. I mean, I knew it was temple to water, but it never dawned on me there’d be much water actually in it; don’t know why, maybe because the surrounding landscape was so dry. I was truly awestruck by the architecture and dome. Actually what I thought was, “Ridiculous.”, but I thought it with awe and respect.
I climbed the steps, admired the artwork on the ceiling then looked down to see water rushing through what appeared to be a former bath house that had had its roof ripped off; well there were lots of white tiles and chambers that were too small to be swimming pools. Anyway, the water flows through then underground and on to the places it is intended to save. If you doubt how magnanimous the people responsible for this water project were, all you have to do is read the inscription around the top of the tower, “I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry lands springs of water. The streams whereof shall make glad the city.” Sheesh. I say that with the 21st century perspective that the Hetch-Hetchy Aqueduct is no longer needed and there are efforts to have the Hetch-Hetchy Valley drained, and the thought that this temple is absolutely ridiculous; super cool, but ridiculous.
After snapping a few photos I felt a need to make some water of my own so I wandered over to a port-a-potty, opened the door, looked in the hole and noticed that a spider had completely covered it with a delicate web.
“Hope it’s not a jumping spider.”
It wasn’t. I think the spider web laced potty-hole was an indicator of 1) not many visitors, or 2) short visits. I’m thinking it’s #2. Pun slightly intended.
On my way back to the temple I noticed what might have been a fountain at one time. I took a picture of it from behind the fence that had barbed wire on top. It didn’t look important enough to warrant barbed wire, but I guess it must’ve been. I snapped a few more photos and was finishing up with some shots of the silly what has to be bronze thing on top, when I noticed a turkey vulture was sitting on top of it; preening. I had thought it was part of the temple. I smiled at the irony of a scavenger sitting atop this antiquated, but still very cool, symbol of a bygone era.
From the Sunol Water Temple I made my way to the Las Pulgas Water Temple, which is the terminus of the Hetch-Hetchy aqueduct. I could not have planned a more perfect example of the living juxtaposition that is California. On the one hand you have what the rest of the world knows about California Hollywood, surfing, and obscene wealth; on the other hand you have the rest of California agricultural, parched (except for NorCal), and rural.
The Sunol water temple is surrounded by the typical landscape of most of California which is dry golden brown hills dotted with oaks; emphasis on dry. The Las Pulgas Water Temple, however, is set in a very lush idyllic landscape. Just as the opulence of the Sunol Water Temple is ridiculous so is the landscaping of the Las Pulgas Water Temple. But the latter temple embodies all that is California: water.
The two temples are only 45 minutes apart, the climates are not that different yet at the second temple there is over watered grass, giant cypress trees, and all kinds of flowers and shrubbery. (Nee!) Water made this state perhaps more so than even gold. Without our ridiculous water redistribution systems we would not be the agricultural powerhouse that we are, nor would be able to support our ever growing cities. As my city’s motto says, “Water. Wealth. Contentment. Health.”