The same people all liked almond expansion, back in the day.

It is actually a problem that the Newsom water administration are a bunch of goal-less fuckscannot articulate a clear vision for what California water should do. If we do not develop a clear new vision, we will keep operating from the old vision. That vision was clear as day. It was to eliminate the original peoples of the state, to destroy everything wild, to mine any valuable stock and to “feed the world”. They knew what they wanted and they put our water system in place to achieve it. This is the water system we are currently operating and it is currently achieving the same goals.

We cannot tinker around the edges and get to a different end result. We’ve had four droughts since 2000’s and our water leaders are still clinging to “please can we scrounge up some more water so we can keep things the same.” They call it different things now, like “resilience”. But basically every powerful person in water is offering some version of ‘stretch water to get more of the same’. Lund, of course, is all about muddling through. Gleick is still hammering on ‘everyone conserve even more!’ The actual administration’s only vision is to get Newsom elected president so they can go do some awesome resiliencing at the national level. We’ve got non-profits training up leaders, perhaps in the hope that one of them will have a vision. It is a shame that our bunch of brilliant lawyers spent all that time on a report with a bunch of tweaks to help us limp through. Brains the size of planets and that’s all they gave us.

The reason this lack of vision and imagination matters is that things suck out here and no one in Water is offering virtually every Californian anything good. Because we literally cannot imagine any other system (such as tripling the water available to urban CA by shrinking ag), all we have to offer people is more joyless conscientiousness. We’ve just lived through two years of joyless conscientiousness for pandemic reasons. Now we’re telling people they need to prolong their joyless conscientiousness for drought? No wonder they’re ignoring us.

My father in southern California has had a vegetable garden for fifty straight years. This is the first year since 1972 that he isn’t gardening, because he’ll be on one-day-a-week watering and veggies wouldn’t make it. There was a Twitter thread last week mocking residents in Thousand Oaks for worrying about their koi ponds. But you know what? Vegetable gardening and watching koi ponds are lovely low-carbon activities. Degrowth is the only pleasant way to decarbonize left to us. But if we want people to trust us that degrowth isn’t just some rich white bullshit, we have to prove to them that we care about their quality of life. We have to prove to people that we understand what makes urban life nice (ponds and gardens and local nature, partially supported by some water (and a whole lot of other housing and transportation stuff)) and that they can keep it even through a degrowth transition. We have to prove that before we ask people to move away from a consumption-based life. We have to show that degrowth will mean long sweet evenings, not infinitely nagging people to use less and do better.

We could do that. There is and will be enough water in California to have a couple million acres of regenerative agriculture to feed all the Californians and have healthy living rivers and have urban Californians have a slice of the Californian dream: a yard with flowers, maybe veggies, and a fruit tree. But we can’t get there from a system designed to kill all California natives, extract every resource, destroy every wild thing and feed the world. We could do it with a new system designed to make the most Californians content and minimize the misery of climate change. But first we’d have to imagine it.


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16 responses to “The same people all liked almond expansion, back in the day.

  1. Jan Kimbrough

    I’m glad you’re posting again. We need your insight desperately. I try to pass on what I learn from you and hope it makes a dent.

  2. arthur stickgold

    Thank you (and welcome back!!) I am going to comply with the water rules, but frankly — as long as Ag feels free to pull all the water from the rivers AND from the ground, my contribution is worth less than piss. (Actually — maybe my piss is worth more?!?) Until somebody gets the nerve / money to take back the land and the water from big Ag, we ae going to remain in a worsening crisis.

  3. caroleekrieger

    Thanks so much for being there. The problem is that ag uses 80% of the developed water while contributing only 2% to California’s GDP. Urban ratepayers use 10% and industry uses 10%. So for the governor and agencies to squeeze the ratepayers while being silent on the real guzzler (ag/80%) is not going to solve the problem.

    The heart of the problem is that there are 5 times more claims than there is water to fill them…the over appropriation/paper water problem! There needs to be an adjudication of the 26 rivers of the Delta watershed including enforcing the public trust doctrine and the California Constitution Article 10 section 2 against waste and unreasonable use.

    Until the damage done to the environment and the ratepayers is quantified and measured economically, I don’t think the problem will ever be solved. The ratepayers and the environmentalist need to join forces and sue the bastards.

    Sent from my iPad


    • Diane Livia

      We need a state constitutional amendment that does away with the pre1914 rights.


    California has to stop dumping half it’s fresh water into San Francisco Bay. That will help greatly.

  5. Aaron Mandell

    The solution to water in CA (and the entire western US) is a radical redesign of the entire system architecture, there is nothing else than can be squeezed from the current water infrastructure. Nothing will change until people see beyond the absurd paradox that water is limited – nothing could be further from the truth. Water is practically limitless (only easily accessible fresh water is scarce) and the zero-sum politics is the actual source of all the water problems. Sad that California is sufficiently dysfunctional that leadership can’t even articulate a vision for what the future could look like – zero imagination.

    • onthepublicrecord

      They do have a vision: more of the same, please don’t collapse on my watch.

      But a vision to prioritze good lives for people? Nope. They don’t know how to even say that out loud.

  6. I’m glad you’re commenting again! While I agree with Aaron, I do take some (deeply sarcastic heart) from the history of ancient Egypt. To me, our dam system has features reminiscent of the pyramids, giant ol’ piles meant in part to signify their builders’ power. The nice part is once Egypt got past the bit about making big things, they had a couple thousand more years of history, recorded and otherwise. Maybe we’ll be as lucky as them?

  7. Noel Park

    Amen! Preach on!

  8. Maya

    We need to stop flushing half of our fresh water into San Francisco Bay.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Oh Maya.

    • Diane Livia

      That’s a teeny tiny bit of water, Maya. Nothing like the 80% of developed water Big Ag uses.

    • conservomom

      So you don’t care about fish, animals or people who depend on that water? Salt water will intrude farther into the bay if less fresh water flows in. Many people depend on that fresh water.

    • Gail Sredaovic

      I take it the writer is referring to allowing the already severely reduced natural in-stream flows to actually reach San Francisco Bay. The reduced levels of flow already cause a whole lot of problems. [Can you spell toxic algae, boys and girls? ] I gather the writer would like to turn the bay into a stinking bathtub in order to grow more nuts in the desert for export. The residents of the Bay Area- and indeed the majority of Californians beg to differ!.

  9. Maya

    Half is not a “teeny” amount.

  10. Gail Sredaovic

    Puzzled by the comment about “flushing” water into the bay. Is this about flushing toilets or a complaint about [very reduced] natural flows into the bay?