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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 3/3/21

Good morning, CALIFORNIA IS BOTH AN AGRICULTURAL POWERHOUSE AND A WONDER OF THE WORLD Last month we took a drive up to the Bay area via Interstate 5 (the “fast” way). As most Californians know, Highway 101, which periodically skirts the Pacific Ocean and snakes through quaint places like Pismo Beach and Paso Robles, offers the more scenic and pleasant drive. But for those of us who are in a rush to get somewhere quickly, the I-5 is the way to go. Think of it almost like what traveling in Elon Musk’s “hyperloop” would be like—a long stretch with little of note along the way. The high points are few, and even those require an eagle-eye or they’re missed. Once the I-5 passes Six Flags Magic Mountain and traverses the Tehachapis, winding the “grapevine” and the Tejon Pass, it descends into the monochromatic, near straight and level Central Valley. The grapevine is notorious for long delays in weather and the occasional multi-car pile-up in limited visibility. Snow often is visible on the surrounding mountains. There are those who willingly will drive the extra 45 minutes and take the 101 rather than travel through this wasteland and they will be justly rewarded with picturesque towns and scenery. The only thing to keep me energized while driving the I-5 is knowing I’m chopped some time off the estimated arrival time, a few more minutes of the podcast and the knowledge that in 97 miles, one will be able to get off at Coalinga for a Starbucks cappuccino. But in these days of being more keenly aware of the world around us, there are two marvels that are apparent in the Central Valley. The first is the vast extent of agricultural land—filled with both cattle and vegetables for as far as one can see. This is the land of conservative politics in California and the landscape is dotted with signs seeking to justify the industry’s profligate use of water. “Dams give us food” and “water is beautiful.” The other matter of note is the impressive infrastructure that delivers water through the state. Early in the south to north journey, one passes Castaic Lake and Pyramid Lake, huge manmade reservoirs that store water before it is delivered to a thirsty Southern California. To me, the most remarkable part of the water’s journey is what feeds these lakes—the California Aqueduct itself. THE WATER OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA We in Southern California tend to forget that we live in a semi-arid region. We increasingly build more and more into hillsides and hanging over the ocean and intruding into areas that are prone to fire. Add that we have been adding kindling, in the form of homes and landscaping, near forests and chapparal already prone to fire. The story of Southern California’s growth is the subject of many studies, cinema (e.g., Chinatown), studies of climate change, and urban planning. But nothing describes the situation any more clearly than the movement of water from the north to the south. One need only drive up Interstate 5 to see the massive cuts through the dry central valley and the pipes and pumping stations to bring the water over the mountains to the Southern California denizens. The California Water Project is massive in scope:

  • It is designed to deliver 4.2 million acre feet of water to northern and southern California each year (an acre foot is the amount of water that would cover an acre of land under a foot of water).

  • It stretches 720 miles, or 2/3 the length of the state

  • The California Aqueduct alone is 444 miles long and has two major reservoirs and lakes heading into Southern California (Pyramid Lake and Lake Castaic) and two other lakes around Lancaster, storing water for the Inland Empire

  • The pumping station over the Tehachapis lifts the water 2,000 feet—the greatest lift of water anywhere in the world

This massive undertaking doesn’t even reflect the massive cooperative of the Western states over the diversion and allocation of the water from the Colorado River system. Suffice it to say that the provision of such massive amounts of water to Southern California is both a blessing and a curse. It has allowed for perhaps too much development but has created a remarkable region of sunshine, abundance, and industry—but at the expense of drought, fire and ecological burden.


For a sobering view of the role of water in the West and the irrigation of areas that probably should never have been devoted to crops, read Cadillac Desert, The American West and Its Disappearing Water, by Mark Reisner, still a classic some 27 years since its original publication. It is a “must read” to understand what has been done to use every bit of aquifer and overburden the land. Our past decisions will catch up to us.


For analysis of weather in the West through millennia and what climate change suggests for the future, try The West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us about Tomorrow, by B. Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud-Roam.


My favorite book on this subject is Water and Power, by Bill Kahrl, which tells the story of Chinatown. Here is what Bill Funderburk, a past Vice-President of the LA Board of Water and Power Commission had to say about the “100 years of litigation blood sport that wasted hundreds of millions of ratepayers money on legal and expert fees without a long term strategic goal.”:


“…[the author] doesn’t just provide research into contemporaneous news reports dating back to the late 1800s but he goes behind the motives of those publishers—economic, vindictive or moral. The sheer hypocrisy and deception of [the] land swindle are revealed to show something more rich and complex…He makes what would otherwise have been a dry account of an even drier, parched part of the country and digs into the parties, both viable and unseen, apparent motives…in an era where drought is, in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s words, the “new normal [this is a] seminal work worthy of its name. Water and Power doesn’t just rigorously inform; it entertains.”


FALSE EQUIVILANCY OF SUPPORT FOR DEMONSTRATIONS


There is an argument going around the internet that Nancy Pelosi’s statement of support for union labor protesters storming the Wisconsin capital a while back is the equivalent of Mr. Trump’s endorsement of the rioters at the Capitol. A friend recently suggested that Democrats think it’s fine when it’s them encouraging rioting but it’s not okay when it’s Trump:


“I’m confused. What is your point here? Is it:

  1. That storming capitals are a good idea and that both Democrats and Republicans do it.

  2. That storming the capitol and storming state capitals are bad ideas but you want to point out both people from the left and the right do this.

  3. That these events are equivalent (even though one wanted to inflict physical harm on specific individuals and involved pipe bombs and a greater breadth of potential violence).

  4. That Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement of the protest post hoc is the equivalent to the president of the United States aggressively encouraging these behaviors in advance.”

And lest we forget, law enforcement’s response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations far exceeded the response to the storming of the Capitol. Happy day, Glenn

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