High Desert Water Wars
INDIVIDUAL: Annette DeMay; Ridgecrest, CA
GROUP SIZE: Dozens
NATURE OF GROUP: Various citizens of the Indian Wells Valley—Water Wise Friends group of loosely organized activists; small city and county high-desert residents fighting the competing interests of the Water District Board representing their customers; individual well owners; small group well owners, small community well sharers, agricultural interests, large chemical company water user, and U.S. Navy well users.
INCIDENCE OF SOCIOMETRY: High Desert Water Wars
Southern Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and Indian Wells Valley—view from our place in the high desert.
The high desert mentioned in this report is the Indian Wells Valley in the northern Mojave Desert of California, about 60 miles south west of Death Valley, with an average rainfall of 3 inches and July temperatures pushing 120 degrees fahrenheit. The Indian Wells Valley is also about 70 miles south of the Owens Valley, the water from which has been fought over in epic water wars for over a century, as detailed in Marc Reisner’s book and the related film Cadillac Desert, and loosely fictionalized in the 1974 Roman Polanski film Chinatown. This report chronicles the efforts of Annette DeMay, an Indian Wells Valley resident to educate herself to the level of scientific expert (perhaps “authority”) on wells and groundwater, in addition to bureaucraticize, and the mechanizations of groups who seek to “improve” (or steal) under the cover of implied custodial rights over resources. How far would you go to protect your ability to sustain life on your property?
Versions of much of what is described in this report apply to groundwater use and conditions, as well as water politics, in other places around the United States. This is especially true for smaller outlying towns in valleys around the southwestern region, but also applies in U.S. regions with different climates. The issues will apply to more areas as increasing populations deplete groundwater or water quality degrades.
Much of what was achieved to protect our local water supply during this protracted incident is credited to others whose names are held private. But I praise these especially active and knowledgeable people with frequent recognition in local newspapers and public meetings: Don and Judie Decker, Lyle and Sylvia Fisher, Dennis and Karen Sizemore, Tom DeMay. Some members of the Water Board are also due thanks.
As a “guerilla Sociometry” report, this lacks the scientific rigor that I applied when preparing information for Water Board members, local citizens, and even insufficiently informed “experts” hired by the Water District. Despite importance of scientific rigor, it is useful and even fun to say something in an inflammatory way now and then. This version is casual and much shorter—really—while still conveying ideas from our experience that may apply to an experience of your own. You’re invited to review this water war intelligence one part at a time.
~ Annette DeMay, June 2013
This part gives a little background for the ongoing water war in our northwestern area of the Mojave High Desert. Most of Kern County is on the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and has lots of water for irrigation. But we’re on the east side. We have lots of sunshine but no surface water, and the aquifer/groundwater has been in recorded overdraft since 1945. (See the California Ground Water Bulletin pdf)
WATER WISDOM BEGINS
Once my husband and I decided our 2007 vacation was over, we drove straight through to get home as soon as possible. Driving mania would give us an extra night of rest at home before we had to return to work. Nineteen hours later we were in our kitchen checking voice mail. A message from a stranger got our attention before we could hit the delete button.
Yikes! Tomorrow night the Indian Wells Valley Water District (the Water District) is planning to approve a Water Supply “Improvement” Project (WSIP). It would appropriate (some say this means steal) water from many non-district wells in the area; maybe some would run dry. Will it matter to us?
There are no creeks or rivers in our valley, so we depend exclusively on groundwater. Our well is deep enough. The shallow wells of our neighbors are mostly 30 or more years old so probably due for replacement; and the Water District takes care of everyone else, right? But hmm…the message sounds informed and like we have a problem. If we are ever to have a say, we must attend the meeting tomorrow. It would be best to say something meaningful but brief.
Tired or not, that night we started educating ourselves so we might say something cogent and well founded at the public voting meeting.
The Water Board meeting was 2 days after most people who would be directly impacted had first heard about the meeting. Yet dozens jammed the meeting room and many commented. The proposed project was outlined in a Draft Mitigated Negative Declaration. That kind of report is used when a project will cause no negative impacts or impacts are so trivial they can be easily mitigated without formality. The Board delayed the vote another month. So comments (though unofficial only) could be submitted until the end of the month. Whew! But the reprieve was temporary and floods of homework would have to be done by many. Beginners thanked their Water Wise Friends.
IN ABSENCE OF FACTS, MYTHS REIGN
It turns out that most people’s understanding of water in our valley was based on misconceptions. Versions of them likely apply elsewhere:
- There is virtually unlimited groundwater under our valley.
- Our groundwater is recharged from the very nearby mountains—and from the north between the Sierra Nevadas and the White Mountains.
- The rate of groundwater use is pretty stable and reasonable.
- The Water District is a government department operating for the benefit of the people.
- The Water District provides water to the people of the Indian Wells Valley.
- Private well owners are a few who whine against the greater good.
- Private well owners don’t have to pay for their water.
- 1,100 new jobs will soon be offered in our valley (one “large” city with population bouncing around 25,000). This means jobs! But more water will need to be pumped.
- The proposed project will improve water supply and not have negative consequences.
- Projects that may cause real damage require an environmental impact assessment with report copies sent to certain government offices and available to the public, and a Public Notice at least 30 days before a vote.
- Voting Water Board members have at least fundamental knowledge about water science and even geohydrology where groundwater is essential.
LOCAL MYTHS BUSTED
Based on actual facts, real science, and more recent and reliable data than in Water District environmental reports, these are some things we learned about each misconception listed above.
- There may be a version of unlimited groundwater under our valley but most of it isn’t drinkable (potable). There’s way too much that contains arsenic and/or dissolved solids (hard water) and/or is too brackish (badwatersalt pans seen in old cowboy movies). More heads are being taken out of the scientific sand; revealing most of our groundwater requires expensive treatment to be potable. Our remaining known bowl of potable water of any significant size is in the Southwest Field of our aquifer. It is both limited and located under our neighborhood, above which very few Water District customers live. No, the groundwater is not really just one big bowl that we all share. It’s lots of “bowls” with flow among only some of them. And no, dissolved arsenic is not just a naturally occurring problem; careless pumping of groundwater can increase or even create such a problem in the southwest not just in Bangladesh.
- A detailed isotope analysis of our valley’s aquifer was begun in the early 2000s with the final 2008 report publicized in 2010. It showed the Southwest Field’s bowl of potable water to be almost entirely from the Pleistocene Era, with tiny recharge each year compared to extraction. Did the Water District know these chemical results were coming, so the 2007 Negative Declaration was timed to omit this “best available” data? What about Sierra snow melt? The East Fork of the Kern River rages immediately on the west side of the mountains. Oops! Sierra snow and rain virtually all flow to the west side. Although some recharge enters very near our side of the Sierras even that groundwater was aged back to 7,000 years ago. Recharge that we expected from the north was zero “no thanks” to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that sucked dry the 15-mile long Owens Lake just north of us; the underground northern river no longer feeds our aquifer. (LA DWP takes water from most of the eastern side of the Sierras north beyond Yosemite contributing to desertification and drought.) And what about that recharge flowing under Walker Pass? Well, some water comes through but it falls over an underground cliff (old earthquake fault?) before it reaches the central valley floor.
- Since first measured in 1945 our aquifer has been in overdraft, more water taken out each year than recharged. From around 1960 until around 2000, the water table under us was lowering about one foot per year. In the early 2000s’s we observed that it was going down 2 feet per year at our well, so we figured a 3 to 4 feet annual lowering may occur later. In 2005 we drilled a new well that would last more than our lifetimes (we thought). We spent $20,000 for a deeper well. But our adjacent neighbor’s water level made an unusual drop of 8 feet from 2011 to 2012!
- The Water District is not a part of the local city or country government. It’s actually a private entity that is a “service providing agency” under California law. This exempts them from many local and county laws, such as zoning and local controls over water use.
- The stated goal of the IWVWD in 2007 was to provide the best and cheapest water “for its customers” (and @#$%^& to everyone else?) That wording hadn’t made an impression on many of us until 2007. By the way that phrase was gone in 2012.
- Non-Water District well users are by no means just a selfish little group of individuals. According to a Water Board member, as stated in two public meetings, there are about 800 wells in the valley. The Water District has about a dozen active wells of which it alternately operates a few at a time. Yes, their pumps are 40-50 times bigger than the typical private and small community wells, and there are three other big entities pumping water from our valley’s aquifer. The Navy and North American Chemical have been using pumps less than half the size of the “improvement” project’s proposed wells; agricultural water use seems almost uncontrolled, a 4,000 gallon-per-minute pump was approved in 2013.
- The cost to replace our 23 year old well (that’s almost $1000/year) only hints at the fact that private and small-community well users are not getting free water. This is a second capital expenditure for a well for us; others are experiencing the same. Some private wells also have to pay for monitoring and for filtering. All have to pay for electricity to pump the water.
- New jobs were indeed offered by the Navy, as part of moving work to a better location. But, as has happened under previous Base Realignment and Closure efforts around the country, less than 25% of the offers were taken. This lack of influx was expected and acknowledged by informed people in the valley.When carefully analyzed, the Water District’s own data showed the redundant (extra) water needed for emergencies already existed. The census after people had arrived for new jobs revealed a population of about 25,000, representing the same minimal population variation that had been occurring over decades.
- If the agency that wants an expansive project is also designated as a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQE) reviewer (for some things), and that agency writes the report finding no negative impacts, and the public is too naïve or uninformed…then the project can move swiftly forward without regard for all the consequences. But in 2007 the Water District was found out.
- Even for a project supported by a negative declaration, the law requires at least 30 days for review initiated by a Public Notice (e.g. legal notice in local newspapers and distribution of an environmental report. After being prodded, we remembered seeing a Public Notice before going on vacation but it described something trivial that had already been in the plans with public input. It turned out that was the notice for this destructive project.The Water District did not give copies of the negative declaration report the to the required government offices 30 or more days before the vote. In fact some didn’t have it yet on the July 9th voting day. This was likely the most important reason the Water Board backed off from voting that first time.
- No, elected voting members of this Water Board (and many public boards) are not required to have scientific or technical expertise in matters over which they will vote. They may be well meaning but ignorant, as in lacking detailed knowledge of the subject.
Short Canyon—15 minutes west of our home. (Springs in such canyons above valleys just west of Death Valley were sought and missed by the lost 49ers during Gold Rush days.)
Part 2. Water War I — 2007
REAL IMPACTS EXPECTED
We read the “negative impact” declaration report for the 2007 WSIP (supposed improvement project). It revealed a plan to install 2 very large production wells on property across the road from us. Each well would have a pump twice as large in capacity as the largest formerly used and thought safe to operate in our valley. And they had plans for 3 more big wells, all too close together and too close to our neighborhood. None of these wells would be in ground occupied by Water District customers.
Dozens of non-district wells, used by people who actually live above this field of the groundwater, would be affected. Our well would go dry much sooner than we had planned but others would “run dry” almost immediately. The report claimed there would be no adverse impacts on adjacent private wells without any justifying data. It was obvious that pumping this much water would lower the local water table significantly. And what about the plunging effect from turning those big pumps on and off; wouldn’t that stirring of the groundwater affect quality too? There was no consideration of water quality impacts.
Once we learned the truth about the misconceptions and the proposed project, we became concerned and active. This was important! not just for us and our neighborhood but also for the whole valley.
Understanding groundwater chemistry and issues became my new hobby, with contributions from my husband too. (This sadly left quilt making in the desert dust; but I was looking forward to retirement soon, so artistic dreams were put off again.)
At work I was a critical quality analyst of new high-tech systems, so was accustomed to learning details about new things quickly. I also had a little useful background from a former professional lifetime—biology, chemistry, and some exposure to aquatic toxicology. So I worked on getting smart about the science and politics and began educating (lobbying?) Water Board members. Silly me, I thought that with factual science and data they would naturally make the right choices for long-term sustainability.
We joined a group largely unknown to each other but loosely connected via phone tree and email. Dozens attended Water Board meetings and many made comments, from worried complaints to serious refuting science. Collectively, we wrote hundreds of letters to the Water Board, county planning office, and the regional water district. (A memo to one, with CC to others easily increases the distribution.)
Many wrote letters to the editors of local papers. Fortunately, the local Daily Independent supported thorough exposure of the controversy. It was a huge and important topic but I managed to mostly keep each of five memos/articles to the important limit of one side of letter sized paper.
- “Request correction to misleading statement in July 11, 2007 issue,” This presented real facts in rebuttal to a self-serving and misleading quote of the Water District’s engineer in a newspaper article. It was also effective in enlisting the Executive Editor as an ally, rather than criticizing the journalism.
- Regarding “INDIAN WELLS VALLEY WATER DISTRICT INITIAL STUDY AND DRAFT MITIGATED NEGATIVE DECLARATION FOR THE 2007/2008 WATER SUPPLY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT, MAY 2007,” Document was dated May but not distributed as required, so most people heard and agencies heard about it at the time of the first scheduled vote to approve the project. This document, summarizes my 12 most egregious problems with the declaration.
- Subtitle “effects of lowered groundwater locally and across the aquifer,” addresses proximity of wells, faulty study in report, and failures of process.
- Subtitle “concentrating arsenic in groundwater,” discusses water quality issue very relevant in our valley but ignored in negative declaration.
- Subtitle “increasing total dissolved solids (TDS) and subsidence,” discusses another water-quality factor omitted and subsidence that is speciously disregarded in the negative declaration.
A few of us even wrote extensive guest-writer articles to the papers. The Deckers and I all had major articles published the weekend before the Water Board’s final vote. Articles were spread across multiple pages of the Sunday paper on August 11-12, 2007. I tried surrounding the more hardcore content of my four earlier letters with generally understandable language. I was arguing against the Water District with facts, while trying to maintain some good will.
When making public criticism, it’s also important to avoid unnecessary insults to those whose agreement you are soliciting. Thus, when an editor changed the meaning of some of my words, I apologized to the Water Board, making it another chance to take a potshot at their poor hydrology.
These actions provided education for the public and a wake-up to county officials about what was occurring without their proper notification. All our informational letters moved the Senior County Planner. She wrote a long letter of condemnation to the Water Board for its poor project. She also showed up at the final voting meeting to read her letter into the public record. She demanded that it be part of the official comments appended to the Negative Declaration, on the basis of the document not having been distributed to government offices as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
At the August Water Board meeting, before the final vote, several people made informative comments on the record. I appealed to the Board’s responsibility and self-respect. Most were and still are well meaning but sorely lacking in understanding of the relevant science and technology. You can read what I briefly read into the public record on August 13
By the end of the 30-day extension of the comment period, our many actions resulted in formal condemnation of the Negative Declarations’s project, by both the public and the county. The Water Board itself repudiated the proposed project. Rumor had it that the Board chose to back off before even taking a vote, rather than have the Senior County Planner read her letter into the record that night. Among other things, she designated the Water District to be appropriators and mentioned some laws that could be used by the opposition, though her office didn’t have water-prevue authority to invoke them directly.
Part 3. Water War II — 2011, 2012
HERE WE GO AGAIN !
The Water District fired its first salvo in July, again. Of course, they would engage the public in July. That’s when many people from our valley go on vacation. Outside temperatures typically reach 110 – 115 degrees during July. On Monday night July 11, the District announced they were in the process of doing an initial study for a 2011 WSIP. Public input was invited. The Water District would host a meeting to consider this input on July 13—yes, just 2 days away. The gist was that, if you have anything to say, now’s the time; otherwise, don’t complain that our project displeases you.
Fortunately a few Water Wise Friends were in town and attended the Board meeting. They activated the phone and email trees. We got the message as we arrived in Steamboat Springs for a three-day visit with family. I was furious but a contribution was important. Among other bad ideas, the Water District was again planning to put the two big production wells across the road from us where more than 50 non-District wells were within a half mile. With frequent feelings of @#$%^&*, I spent a day and a half writing a document to be read into the record. Meanwhile my husband had a good time with the family.
CAREFUL BUT HOLLOW PROCEDURES
The Initial Study meeting was held, comments accepted, deadline for comments extended until the end of the month. Later, a couple of “informational” meetings were held for the public. These meetings were first steps towards following required procedures when intending environmental or cultural damage. But steps were taken in very narrow ways. The Water District made clear that some of their meetings and the final hearing were unrequired gifts to us.
Obvious deficiencies in the 2007 project and its environmental report led the Water District staff to have prepared a more extensive Environmental Impact Report. Five years and $250,000 later, the Water District’s contractors published a revised EIR for their supposed improvement project, now the 2011 WSIP. The inputs they had gleaned through the early meetings were evidently used to seemingly convey in the EIR that the public’s issues had been settled.
The EIR gave extensive justifications for its impacts, and admitted that there would be significant adverse impacts on existing non-District wells. But the justifications were based on ignoring some important data, providing incomplete data to contractors who were doing modeling, and stating conclusions unsupported by the best available data. Vague promises to mitigate for lowering the water table would be on a case-by-case basis, no details. Promise was made to never mitigate for water quality impacts because according to their EIR:
“The increased pumping from the Proposed Project, however, is a very small fraction of the existing total pumping from the basin that has created the groundwater depressions. Thus, the contribution of the Proposed Project to the change in groundwater quality is miniscule and cannot be quantified, measured, or monitored.” [EIR section ES.6.3]
It’s too well established that water quality can be measured thus monitored. It’s ridiculous to compare a localized potentially catastrophic damage in one depression to a huge area with many depressions, in order to make it seem small. One is prompted to ask, “Are they stupid or are they liars?” Maybe they think everyone else is stupid or just too busy to read the document and catch them? We were told the latter applied to some officials who could have stood against this.
DONE AND NOT DONE
Some Water Wise Friends wrote letters and/or met with county officials. Some letters-to-the-editor appeared (far fewer than in 2007). New editors at The Daily Independent seemed mostly interested in reporting what Water District and Board members had to say, as if there was no controversy except on the part of a few whiners. Some of the Water Wise were still worn down by the 2007 effort. During the first months of this effort, I was working overtime to wrap up my career so I could retire. Others and I invested extensive effort to educate Board members but not the general public this time. Many non-District well users in the impact area declined to participate this time. Rumor has it they felt punished by the Water District after the 2007 effort. Old District wells near them had been re-equipped without any environmental assessment. The water table near them dropped so much that their existing wells became unusable.
To those of us who studied the EIR, including the county’s CEQA reviewer, it was obvious that the conclusions therein were decided before the report was begun, and adverse impacts were admitted only when there was no way to wiggle out of them. (See Kern County’s CEQA review letter.) Clever wording was frequently used to seem to address concerns expressed as early as 2007.
From July 2011 through February 2012, the Water Wise Friends worked hard to educate the Water Board. Informative comments were made at Water Board meetings. Some of the wise offered individual meetings to explain data and science. We developed educational materials for the Board. Subjects addressed what was poorly covered or altogether missing in the EIR.
This illustrates egregious overlap of drawdown cones of proposed wells, not shown in the EIR. Large cones 4 mi diameters, small 2 mi. Extents are as if each well were run alone, the plan is worse. Cones also intersect many private wells plus other District wells. Many drawdown figures are in the EIR but none show this dramatic interference.
Public comment about the EIR was solicited, and many people made thorough comments supported by data. Had the Water District been sincere about doing an excellent job for the people of the valley not just a short-sited grab for its customers, this would have been a factual treasure trove of solid reasoning. Comments questioned multiple specious bases of the EIR while others explained data (missing from the EIR) that showed different EIR conclusions to be incorrect or unfounded. At this point, you won’t be surprised to find out that the 2008 AB303 water sampling and analysis study was still not included in the modeling used for this supposedly more thorough 2011 environmental report.
But the Official Comments were essentially ignored in the Official Response process. Often supposed responses to legitimate critical comments merely repeated (copy and paste) the original poor EIR wording that had been so carefully questioned by commenters. Other times, the response said something irrelevant to the specific question posed by a commenter.
One of my official comments was about how arsenic solubility problems can be created by the nature of their planned pumping scheme and closely spaced wells. In my case at least, the response to this critique stated incorrect hydrological chemistry with an erroneous conclusion in order to falsely claim that my comment was incorrect.
A Final Public Hearing and vote by the Water Board was set for February 23, 2012. Some of us put in more effort to try to overcome the sham responses to the issues on which we had been focusing. Prior to the hearing, I clearly pointed out why I was actually indeed correct in my statements about prospective water quality damage. I produced a set of graphic slides with explanatory notes. This was delivered to Board members.
The night of the hearing, I accused their “hired lackey” of an EIR-geo-hydrology “expert” of lacking relevant knowledge and crucial understanding of the science. My accusation was backed by scientific explanation supported by national experts and respectable references. What the Water District’s contractor did was so disgusting that I couldn’t even get a laugh out of how red he turned while begging those siting near him to believe he really was an expert.
So many people had submitted factual and helpful official comments. Many also made very well thought and substantiated criticisms at the February 23 hearing prior to the vote. As promised, they let us talk extensively because that would be the only way to get our positions into the record.
WATER WAR II LOST, OR MAYBE NOT?
After about 4 hours of public comments, the 5 elected Board members were ready to vote. Their lawyer explicitly asked something to this effect: Do you understand that approving the project means that you acknowledge significant impact to water quality that you will never mitigate? They voted on each of several motions. It was unclear exactly how many 4, 5, 6? The Water District’s lawyer cleared it up enough for the Board to actually be able to vote, though at least one seemed to remain uncertain about precisely what some motions meant. There was complete denunciation of the EIR and superficial process by one brave Board member who cares deeply about preserving availability of quality water in our valley. There was limited dissention by a couple of other members.
Bottom line? The EIR for the destructive project was certified. But it wasn’t funded.
Why wasn’t it funded? Some Board members were worried they really were too ignorant of the facts to actually proceed, even under pressure from their colleagues. But they didn’t have the money either. The Water District had raised rates in a way that encouraged much needed conservation. Many people got serious after learning conservation was really needed, and the alternative hurt their wallets. So the Water District laid people off but was still losing money and heading for the accounting red zone.
The District’s lawyer told us at the next regular Board meeting that the Board having certified the project did not mean it would occur. More motions would have to pass in future votes.
Changes occurred later in 2012.
The Water District raised its rates again to avoid the financial red zone. They blamed it on cost of arsenic treatment but lots of people felt they were being punished for conserving. This time the little water users carried a heavier burden than the big water users and wasters.
One Board member moved away and an interim member was appointed. The one who left was pro-growth with less regard for other factors. The interim member had been on the Water Board years ago, hadn’t sat in the meeting audience for several years, but was chosen as most qualified. The appointing majority expected him to be in the pro-growth at-any-long-term-cost camp but he wasn’t. A former Board member who had attended essentially all meetings for the past many years applied but was rejected, although she was more knowledgeable than some serving members. The General Manager of the District retired and was replaced.
Even the February 23 motions that passed did not fully approve the project, so more votes were required. A pro-growth-and-others-be-@#$%^& Board member pushed hard to vote to approve the project at the first meeting with these new personnel. Another Board member said she would agree if the motion included language requiring measuring and monitoring of water quality. It passed by 1 vote. She apologized later that she didn’t realize she had failed to include mitigation. She was very nervous because of strongly competing pressures from questionable EIR “expertise” versus science-and-facts versus business. Some very limited funding for a preparatory study passed. And the Water District’s lawyer told the audience this did not eliminate their right to sue.
Though we had lost much, the arsenic monitoring was a small consolation to the water drinking public.
Indian Wells Canyon—runs west above valley floor to Sierras.
Part 4. Status to Date in 2013
Elections occurred in November 2012. The Water Board gained 2 new members to start serving in 2013. The most knowledgeable person running lost by a couple hundred votes. But our election efforts did spread the truth about water issues. And both new members are thoughtful and have been revealed as caring deeply about protecting the whole valley’s water supply (not just the District). An incumbent who is knowledgeable and thoughtful was also re-elected.
A system of monitoring wells is being established in 2013.
At the April 2013 regular Board meeting, that aggressive member again pushed even harder for the Board to vote to fund the project. He harangued at length multiple times. Finally a vote was taken: 2 in favor, 2 against, with the water newbie member abstaining.
On June 10, the Board voted to fund a study to determine revised costs for re-equipping two wells with big 2,200 GPM pumps. Some Board members asked their engineer lots of challenging questions about this.
New Board members welcomed water-quality educational materials from me. We found out that 3 Board members (a majority) are currently against actually funding any wells with such big pumps. They are working hard on viable alternatives among limited options.
So as of this writing, our position in the High Desert Water Wars is looking less bad. There’s hope for more reasonable solutions to the valley’s water needs. Chances are now good that remaining potable water will not immediately start to be pumped in ways that would allow relatively cheap thus wasteful use, reduce access by overlying land owners, and damage water quality.
But we are wary. Unfortunately, agriculture is still allowed unfettered use of water. The Los Angeles DWP, that already takes much of the water from the Sierras north of us, is making arrangements to bank and take water from the valleys south of us.
The informal Water Wise Friends are converting to a group registered in our state, and thus gaining some legal status.
Bottom Line in 2013
The High Desert Water Wars, even beyond our valley, will likely continue throughout our lifetimes. The issues for our valley will be more serious each year. We’ll continue to serve on the front lines to the extent of our abilities—or until dry wells force us to move away, pushed by the dry desert winds.
Part 5. A summary of What Works and What Doesn’t
The things in the What Worked section applied to our 2007 Water War, except for the campaigning that occurred in 2012. The What Doesn’t Work section represents the tired effort on the part of many Water Wise people during the 2011-2012 water war. These activities likely apply to other kinds of efforts to influence public decisions and can be successfully applied to almost any community organizing project against city and county interests that involve a process allowing for public input and comment.
- 100s of people simply attend public meetings—lots of voters make an impression
- Lots of people make simple comments at meetings—be smart or just complain
- Some knowledgeable people speak at public meetings
- Lots of newspaper coverage—short letters to editor with 1 topic each, guest editor educational articles
- Stress negative cost and health aspects
- Convince business community that your position is better for growth
- Educate voting Board and government representatives through multiple contacts over time
- Expose bad science and data with simple explanations
- Talk in person, don’t rely on others to read even important long documents
- Campaign to elect wise people running for relevant positions
What Doesn’t Work
- Too few attend public meetings and hearings
- Failure to get business community on board
- Failure to bring along regional and county government officials through many contacts
- Too little newspaper exposure
- Failure to convince public about incorrect Environmental Impact Report
- Some Water Board Directors/members not reading the EIR or its repudiating comments before voting
- Failing to do the What Works activities
High Desert Water Wars was originally published on a tri-fold display at iSFair 2O12 in San Francisco.
Tags: arsenic in ground water, community organizing, desert wells, indian wells valley, Institute of Sociometry, is, is agent, iSFair 2O12, Owens Lake, protest, ridgecrest california, Sociometry Fair, water wars