In late December last year East Bay Area regulated utility EBMUD released a list of “water guzzlers”, a naming and shaming strategy the utility adopted in response to the drought that hit the state during the last couple of years.

The local media had a ball with the release, publishing names of offenders and aerial pictures of their property.  Names of celebrity “water guzzlers” graced the headlines.  Although they obviously tried their best, Bay Area journos are yet to perfect the art of naming and shaming.

In the Soviet Union such a list would be accompanied by an expose of how it was really the water criminal Kristi Yamaguchi, not as previously thought Tonya Harding, who plotted to break Nancy Kerrigan’s leg.  Seriously, though, one must feel powerless to engage in this kind of behavior.

A few days later I drove to Los Angeles and was relieved to see that somebody in California has a different approach to water crisis.

Some of you might remember the uproar when in 2008 , allegedly to protect bait fish, Congress cut off water to San Joaquin Valley farms.  In response a local non-profit called Families Protecting the Valley came together to put up signs “Congress created DUST BOWL” next to lifeless orchards and sun-burnt fields.  Those signs, perched along the I5 corridor, which city-dwellers pass traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles, had the state and the nation talking about the issue.


[Oldie but goldie: some of the original Stop The Congress Created DUST BOWL signs are still visible along I5. ]

This time I saw a new generation of water-related posters pop up; they were infrastructure and drought-related.

“Dams or trains?” it asks in reference to California necessity (and ability) to build new water storage facilities and our expensive (and unlikely to be completed) high speed rail project.


In the opinion of liberal city-dwellers the answer is obvious: trains. In their view since much of California is a desert, we must curtail our water use.

That Western civilization made the desert bloom and that we are not taking full advantage of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, or that we can build desalinization plants doesn’t enter their minds.  Speedrail, on the other hand, sounds futuristic and good for the environment.  In other words, they detest modernity and embrace a return to nature so long as they are shielded from nature’s whims by technology.

On the other hand, San Joaquin Valley asks the question “Is Growing FOOD Wasting Water?”


The answer, it seems to me, is NO, but only if we are not wasting the food.  But our agriculture is subsidized and the price of water is regulated.

While I want to side with the sensible farmers over neurotic, power-hungry cities, I dislike the maze created by governments meddling in agriculture.

Several signs on display together, some of them are in Spanish, which makes sense because so many of San Joaquin residents are of Mexican descent.  But it also reminds of the fact that while water creates jobs in agriculture (a message of yet another poster that unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture), many of these jobs go to illegal aliens.


Still, the answer to the Dams or Trains question should be obvious.  On the one hand, with a growing population and the physical reality of periodic drought, California needs to build reservoirs.  Otherwise we will be reduced to praying to El Ninio, son of Gaia, while practicing ritual humiliation of people with green lawns.  And yet there is little political will to develop water infrastructure.

Just as we need new dams, we do not need Moonbeam’s choo-choo, as anyone who has traveled on I5 can tell you that.

We typically go to LA twice a year and rarely encounter any traffic.  The door-to-door trip down the 4-lane highway with 2-3 stops from the East Bay to the San Fernando Valley typically takes 6 hours.  Air travel takes about the same, taking into account travel to the airport, security screening, baggage claim, etc.; Speed Rail is not going to be any faster.

This time we hit traffic twice, briefly, on our way back.  First was in the Grapevine hills north of LA, because it snowed, and the second in San Joaquin because of a major accident.  Modern technology is pretty good at guiding drivers around the traffic.  And, in any event, this was unusual.  There is no pressing need for an alternative form of transportation between the Bay Area and LA.



The author writes the blog Sitting on the Edge of the Sandbox, Biting My Tongue and occasionally posts at Legal Insurrection. She is an American citizen and a native of Kharkov, a Russian-speaking city in what was, when she was growing up, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.


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