We’re going to need it.

I first thought of “Ag Supremacy” in June 2018. I’ve held off on writing up this post because I doubt my understanding of white supremacy and didn’t want to make an insulting comparison. I hope that I have not. I am posting it now because I’m seeing a new awareness of how historic racism has been engrained in our water rights system. Water rights were claimed in eras when only white men could make resource claims and were, at the least, excluding Native Californians, Chinese immigrants, and other peoples from holding property. California’s water rights are historic racism made permanent and present.

This drought is forcing curtailments based on first-in-time, first-in-right. On the one hand, that sounds kinda fair, like the American preference for queueing. A deeper look would be that first-in-time (but definitely not Native!!! ) is a distillation of the innate racism of our water rights system, bringing it to its purest, most racist form. I would utterly love to see an analysis of the demographics of water rights holders by year the right was claimed.

As we discuss water rights this year, I’d like our own thinking to be clear. Clear of Ag Supremacy. Explicit and direct about the inherent racism of our water rights system. Conscious of what it means to uphold those rights and be complicit in that racism.


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6 responses to “We’re going to need it.

  1. martha davis

    As always, you provide thoughtful and thought-provoking observations. Taking a harder look at indigenous water rights as part of the first in time and use has been raised by a number of people, most recently the Inyo tribes who can document not only indigenous reliance on the water supporting needed ecosystems but also — thanks to Von Schmidt’s diaries — the extensive irrigation system in the Owens Valley that predate immigrants to California by hundreds if not thousands of years.

  2. Noel Park

    It’s really nice to see you commenting here again. As to the subject at hand, thank you for your insightful and thought provoking analysis. Aside from the water rights issue, the whole system has a racist basis. Just look at who owns the farms, who does the work, and how those workers have been exploited and treated over the years.

  3. Richard Kelty

    Thank you for posting. I’ve been missing them.

  4. Matthew Heberger

    This needs to become part of the conversation. This is one of the smartest things I’ve read about western water in a long time. And the most persuasive reasons to reform California’s antiquated water rights system.

    • onthepublicrecord

      It is not my original thought; it has been trickling up on Twitter.

      I believe Cory Copeland also described it on Twitter last summer during the protests, but I can’t find his tweet.

      Anyway, they realized this and I do hope people start to recognize it.

  5. BD

    As always, appreciate your perspective and thought provoking viewpoint. In some areas, senior indigenous rights are becoming very well recognized. As senior to anyone regardless of priority date. How that right is quantified is going to be the next issue to grapple with. As far as agriculture being ‘white’, it still is by and large. That is rapidly changing, especially here in CA. The next group of farmers are brown. Sikhs, Asian Americans and especially Latino’s. The people who have been working in the fields, figured out how the whole thing works aren’t going anywhere. They are buying farms. The fact that agriculture is capital intensive has slowed that trend more than anything in my opinion, but a stronger work ethic can overcome that issue, and certainly is in my neighborhood.

    The ‘uniform’ you mentioned in Ag Supremacy though, is spot on lol. My closet is full of white plaid shirts and blue jeans.