Letter from California
09/30/06 0528.31 pst
San Jose, California
As the leaves turn and the mornings get chilly seasoned California brows furrow and crease heavenward, watching the sky for rain. In a year like this with so much heavy rain just 130 days behind us much less worry and concern is attached to the glances, but Californians still reflexively wait for rain and know the reservoir stat: we’re a third of the way down. We proved last century we can go this winter and even next with no rain, so if the very worst happens currently we’ve only used a third of capacity. That third summer would include severe rationing, of course, but we’d still make it.
The most expensive and extensive public transportation system the world has ever seen is the California freeway system. Its cousin in public work first world ranking is the California reservoir and aqueduct infrastructure, delivering water to 30 million souls, sustaining the world’s fifth largest economy, and delivering a dazzling array of agricultural products and commodities. We know how to get fresh water here.
Latest addition in the system is the absurdly huge Diamond Valley Lake reservoir, which doubles the capacity of SoCal surface water and was the greatest earth-moving accomplishment in history.
As soon as the cotton crop is in—35 days—all the reservoirs will button tightly up and hope for another spillover year, spillways let go in March because so much water is waiting in the Sierra snowpack. That’s been the case the last two years, global warming seemingly giving the state a much wetter, damaging storm season.
The price for all this bounty was the loss of our migratory fish (salmon and steelhead) and a continued, dangerous arrogant assumption that humans possess mastery over their ecology. Because the foundation of the reservoirs were federal projects last century a significant element of control over the water for Californians is always beyond reach, and the insidiously destructive reach of California business interests—especially in LA—is an old water story here.
In wet years of abundance there aren’t any more water wars, not really, except for the continuous skirmishes over the Colorado river. Meantime small futile battles are waged to get more cold water for the Trinity river and tear down Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite, but otherwise the water always flows and most Californians don’t think about it much (as long as they get the correct new low-flow toilet, that is).
The rest of the west is set for mighty water battles, we always hear, and fresh water is supposed to be one of the great global issues of this century, but Californians aren’t worried about water at all, not as long as it rains. Even though there’s been mighty fine rain the last three years Californians, though not worried, are still looking skyward for our precious water. An almost unbelievable human commitment has been employed to trap that water, the foundation that is all of the mighty modern California, and it will always be watched and waited for.