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Surprise Storm Came on Heels of Indian Water Rite

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tony Romero, the 67-year-old patriarch of the Chumash Reservation in Santa Ynez, said it wasn’t exactly a rain dance.

What he performed May 18, at the invitation of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in Claremont, was a water ceremony--an act of reverence, he explained, for one of the Earth’s sacred resources.

But when a freak storm dumped more than an inch of rain on parched Southern California this week, Three Valleys officials decided that Mother Nature must have been pleased by the performance. Besides, they said, after four years of drought you don’t rule anything out.

“I’m a pragmatic person,” said Paul Stiglich, board of director vice president for Three Valleys, which provides water to about 500,000 residents of the eastern San Gabriel Valley. “The Indians came. They danced. It rained. We’ll probably send them a thank-you note.”

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Added Richard Hansen, general manager and chief engineer for the water district: “The whole idea was really for them just to share the reverence they have for water and other natural resources. But I’m not going to say that it didn’t help.”

Three Valleys paid Romero and his family $1,000 to perform at the district’s annual water awareness luncheon, attended by about 100 water officials and local government leaders.

The spiritual chieftain of the central Santa Barbara County reservation arrived in full regalia, adorned with feathers and beads. Crouched over the hot earth, he slowly raised each bare foot up like a crane and waved his arms like wings. His children and grandchildren pounded out an ancient rhythm with drums and sticks.

Of course, he doesn’t have any power to make it rain, Romero confessed. But if you pray hard enough, he noted, your voice might just be heard.

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“Everything we did was sincere and from the heart,” Romero said after the Memorial Day storm. “If they think it helped, then don’t spoil it for them.”


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