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Where Did the Water Go in Central Valley California

Matt Powers takes this opportunity to provide an example presentation for my 2014-15 sophomore class’ PowerTalks.

Matt discuss the fact that maps are listing out lakes that he has never seen filled with water and talks about many items, one of which is the issues with the current water restrictions.

These issues include not being able to flush the toilet or water your own crop garden, but the fact that agricultural business’s are still able to divert water for their needs.


  1. One factor to add to Matt’s analysis. In nevada county, the Nevada Irrigation Ditch (N.I.D.) uses old mining swales to transport water from reservoirs and snow melt to farmers in the foothills. The ditch system travels through numerous properties and collects water from streams and seasonal streams. Then sells the “surplus” at much higher rates to cities as drinking water. I used to own property in Grass Valley, 55 inches of rain each year landed on that property, ran down the hillside and into the n.i.d. ditch bypassing the natural stream that ran through the property. n.i.d. was originally set up to provide low cost irrigation to farmers, spreading snowmelt over a much broader area than it normally would have followed. It is now a for profit business with highly paid executives that gathers all the runoff and would rather sell it to cities than to farmers because that is more profitable.

  2. Great job Matt! Very informative. Peak Water in CA may mean Peak Food in CA and elsewhere. The media is downplaying the issue saying the global economy will pick up production as CA drops. It’s not that simple or quick or AFFORDABLE, the poor will be pay dearly. The price of food will inevitably rise esp in places that are remote that have become dependent on imported food. Your solutions are feasible, it is not a technical problem, its a government/business problem–too many hoops to jump through in addition to the challenge of teaching old dogs new tricks. Demonstration is the best way I know of for farmers to “see it” and then make appropriate change.

  3. good presentation. I have one concern: referring to “our water,” and asking what are they doing with our water, reinforces the water rights system and way of thinking which led to all these dams, and over-pumping of aquifers. I suggest we recognize that the entire biome depends on water for life, and no long refer to it as our water, but instead ask the question: What is the highest and best use of the water? to avoid the invetibale losses that come with moving it long distances through leaky pipes and evaporating aqueduct; or by supporting the diversity and vitality of the biome, by leaving water in the watershed to serve the needs of a diverse and productive ecosystem, upon which not only humans, but all life depends.

  4. Great summary. One consideration – labor. Current systems are set up for mechanical harvest, or migrant labor. A systemic change to perennial polyculture that would require more labor will be a concern in a system where how we pay and utilize (or underpay and abuse) our labor force is already contentious. How can the social justice side of the equation be presented in a win-win scenario? What will a more just society look like as a result of the changes you are suggesting? Policy makers are concerned with citizens earning a wage (and paying taxes). Will someone (corporations) have to lose money in order for that wealth to be distributed more fairly among a broader base of labor, or will everyone win through the changes? Don’t just dismiss the money by saying ‘without water there’s no California’. People want to live there. They’re going to find a way somehow. The Permaculture way makes the most sense as a long-term sustainable solution. But that is conceptually pretty far from peoples’ minds right now. What intermediate steps address the social justice concerns, the business concerns and the water use? Win-win-win?

    Keep on presenting and stimulating discussion/action.

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