In the deluge of Christmas catalogs, Thursday’s mail brought a free publication from National Geographic magazines on a subject I have an interest in — California’s water issues.
Hoping to learn something that would shed light on the obscurity of water issues, particularly those involving our own Department of Water and Power. I leafed through “Water for Tomorrow.”
After all, National Geographic is one of the most powerful and prestigious brands in publishing, known for its amazing photographs and intelligence and in-depth coverage of nature and the environment.
But it turned out, this was neither intelligent nor in-depth.
It was pure propaganda from the Association of California Water Agencies, an industry advocacy group that includes the DWP.
“There are many aspects of California’s
water system to be proud of, not the
least of which is the concerted effort
being made by all communities to
conserve water,” writes free-lance editor Don Haymann, who produced this promotional fluff.
“Other countries around the world are struggling on a daily basis to bring safe, clean water to their people. Let California be a bright example of a place that most
efficiently uses this life-sustaining gift.”
I’m sure by “other countries” he means Third World countries, not the world’s sixth largest economy of California.
In all the self-congratulatory prose over 20 pages, there’s nary a word about California’s decades-long battle over water issues, the failure to build the peripheral canal project, the enormity of problems in the Bay-Delta region, the declining supply, the inability of state government to even put the proposed $11 billion water bond on this year’s ballot.
It’s all self-serving pats on the back for the state’s water agencies without a word of criticism or context, only given credibility by the National Geographic logo on the cover.
How National Geographic expects to survive when it cheapens its brand this way is hard to understand. It’s like the front page ads and advertising covers on our newspapers — a sign of the times and not just in publishing but of the decline of quality in America, a desperate effort to maintain the status quo in the face of fundamental economic change.
The forces causing this fundamental change have a far more immediate and dire consequence than the long-term impact of climate change that gets so much more attention.
In the language of “Water for Tomorrow,” the DWP’s theft of the water from Mono Lake in 1941 and the Owens River Valley in 1913 are referred to as times when the DWP “diverted” the water to the city in as rosy a re-telling of the “Chinatown” story as possible.
It’s left to the DWP’s own head of the water system, James McDaniel, to summarize the achievement:
“The transformation of the Lower Owens River has been remarkable. We’re already seeing the greening effects of the re-watering as nature and recreational uses
return to the river. As we continue on our mission to provide water for Los Angeles, we remain committed to our environmental obligations in the Owens Valley.
“Though much work remains to be done, the re-watering of the Lower Owens is a promising start.”
If you didn’t get a copy of “Water for Tomorrow” in the mail, here’s the whole section on DWP’s good works to brighten your day:
Mono lake and the
lower Owens River:
A Dynamic Restoration
Mono Lake, a vital habitat for millions
of migratory and nesting birds covering
70 square miles, is nestled at the edge
of the arid Great Basin and the snowy
Sierra Nevada mountains. Freshwater
streams feed Mono Lake, supporting
forests of cottonwood and willow along
their banks. On the lakeshore, scenic
limestone formations known as tufa
towers rise from the water’s surface.
From 1941 until 1990, diversions of
water from the Mono Basin by the Los
Angeles Department of Water and Power
(LADWP) had a significant effect on
Mono Lake. As a result of the diversions,
Mono Lake dropped 45 vertical feet, lost
half its volume, and doubled in salinity.
The Mono Lake Committee, founded
in 1978, led the effort to save the lake. In
1994, after over a decade of litigation, the
California State Water Resources Control
Board ordered the protection of Mono
Lake, so it could rise to a healthy level
of 6,392 feet above sea level- 20 feet
above its historic low.
One way the city of Los Angeles
adapted to this loss of water was through
intensive development of local water
resources. “Most people don’t know
that, since 1978, Los Angeles’s population
has grown by 1.28 million people, and
yet the city is using about the same
amount of water as it did 40 years ago.
The department’s conservation programs
. have been tremendously successful, and
its development of local water supplies –
through conservation, water recycling,
better use of groundwater and other
measures – has allowed the LADWP
to serve more people while diverting
significantly less water from Mono Lake
and the Owens Valley area,” says Martha
Davis, former executive director of the
Mono Lake Committee.
Twenty miles south of Mono Lake,
the Lower Owens River is undergoing
the largest river restoration of its kind
in the United States. A big piece of this
dynamic project is the re-watering of a
62-mile-Iong stretch of river and adjacent
floodplain left essentially dry after water
was diverted into the Los Angeles
Aqueduct in 1913.
“The transformation of the Lower
Owens River has been remarkable. We’re
already seeing the greening effects of the
re-watering as nature and recreational uses
return to the river,” says James McDaniel,
a manager at LADWP. “As we continue
on our mission to provide water for
Los Angeles, we remain committed to
our environmental obligations in the
Owens Valley. Though much work
remains to be done, the re-watering of
the Lower Owens is a promising start.”
Mono Lake and the Owens River
were once the subject of intense conflict,
but today, the art of compromise and the
spirit of cooperation are alive and well.