The Water Education Foundation (Foundation) this week celebrated its 35th Anniversary. As part of the celebration, the Foundation asked readers to take a moment to reflect on the various written words and publications that have influenced them in the ongoing discourse around California’s water resources. The water landscape in many ways has been shaped as much by the written word as the various hydrodynamic and political forces. To be sure, water in California involves various disciplines, all of which are central to the policy debate and rely upon the written word to convey ideas and information.
The response was interesting. In reviewing the nominations from around the state, a mélange of influential writing emerged that is both interesting and should help inform anyone interested in California water. All nominations were passionately presented in a very thoughtful manner, thus showing the value of the written word. As you might expect, nominations covered a wide spectrum. This includes time–the entire 20th Century to the present day was covered; the audience–from broad poetry and essays to reports designed for a particular purpose; and ideology–many diverse perspectives were clearly imbedded in the nominations.
What makes this reflection valuable and enjoyable is that many of the nominations would be on my personal list; yet several were not, which provides an opportunity to further explore new insights into California water. I am guessing the same will be true for others, where this list will contain many of your recommendations, but you will wonder why another particular favorite of yours is not on the list. In sum, this list will hopefully serve as a simple annotated bibliography to stimulate interest in California’s water resources and are all worth reading.
Books. There are many wonderful books that touch on California water. In thinking about the books that were nominated, several categories emerged. From a historical perspective, two books stand tall. Robert Kelley’s Battling the Inland Sea as the premier tome that weaves flood management in California with the surrounding public policy context. Norris Hundley Jr’s The Great Thirst is a solid and readable history of California water up to the turn of the century.
Several well-known books: Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert and Joan Didion’s 2003 memoir Where I Was From reached audiences larger than the water community and thus drew attention to California water in different ways. More recently, David Zetland’s End of Abundance has painted both a provocative and compelling picture of the value of water.
Plans and Reports. For plans and reports, the 1919 Marshall Plan, written by Colonel Robert Marshall, the Chief Surveyor for the U.S. Geological Survey, proposed a plan for diversion dams and two canals to serve the Central Valley. This report influenced both the California Water Plan in 1930 and Bulletin 3 in 1957, which foreshadowed water management in California. Governor Jerry Brown’s 1978 report from the “Governor’s Commission to Review California Water Rights Law” is still talked about in water circles. More recently, several Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) reports, most notably Envisioning Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, brought together new and different approaches to the Bay-Delta debate. The National Research Council reports over the last several years on the Bay-Delta, such as Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta provide similar thinking.
Poetry and Essays. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Water in twelve lines captures the essence of water, as shown below. Closer to home, Joan Didion, shaped by her childhood in Sacramento facing both drought and floods, wrote Holy Water in her 1979 collection of essays in the White Album.
Legal Profession. The legal profession has a unique body of work that deserves attention. This includes Wells Hutchins’ The California Law of Water Rights, which, after more than 50 years, still remains a staple of any legal library. With respect to law reviews, several have received attention: The Pacific Law Journal’s “Symposium: Revisiting California Water Law” in 1988 and the University of California Davis “Symposium-The Public Trust Doctrine: 30 Years Later.
Blogs. David Zetland’s Aguanomics, which includes his daily musings, provides thought-provoking ideas through the blogosphere.
Legislation. With respect to writing in the legislative arena, three statutes drew praise. The overarching provision for California water is Constitution, Article X, section 2 that was passed by initiative in 1928 and directs that all uses of California’s water resources must be for reasonable and beneficial purposes. The Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act in 1969, which was the first comprehensive legislation to address water quality, remains an increasingly central part of the water policy landscape and it influenced the federal Clean Water Act. The Delta Protection Act of 1992 addressed an important place in California and the land uses in this pivotal part of the state.
In thinking about the value of the written word, the Foundation’s 35th Anniversary has also provided a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the Foundation’s accomplishments and its mission “to create a better understanding of water resources and foster public understanding and resolution of water resource issues through facilitation, education and outreach.” The water community clearly recognizes the important role that Western Water, the various Layperson Guides, maps, Water and the Shaping of California, Aquafornia, and soon Aquipedia, have all served to inform the public policy debate surrounding our precious water resources. Congratulations to the Water Education Foundation for serving this vital role.
[Note: The author serves on the Board of Directors for the Water Education Foundation.]
Water, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The water understands
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
(Source: Poets of the English Language (Viking Press, 1950))