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A Paiute Perspective on the LA-Owens Valley Water Story: Jenna Cavelle in conversation with Alan Bacock and Harry Williams

There is a widely held belief that Los Angeles went out and “stole” its water from Owens Valley. This viewpoint has produced an entire body of literature and film on the Owens Valley-Los Angeles water war. In nearly every case these works focus solely on how Los Angeles took water from the white settlers at the time the aqueduct was completed in 1913. From academic journals to best sellers, to documentaries and film noir, for the past 100 years the Owens Valley-Los Angeles water story always begins and ends with the Los Angeles Aqueduct. But there is a greater story, an untold story that is rich in history and human achievement—a story that is as much a part of American memory as the creation of our great cities. This story is the history of the Paiute Indians who populated and irrigated Owens Valley for millennia, long before the aqueduct was built.

Paya, a documentary film project currently in production, sheds light on the pre-history of America’s longest-lived water war through the untold story of Paiute Native Americans and the vast irrigation systems they engineered. These complex networks of ditches, canals, and dams were erected using communal labor and managed under the direction of a head irrigator who was elected by the tribe.  Over sixty miles of indigenous waterworks irrigated desert valley into an agricultural system that sustained the Paiute for thousands of years.

For the ancient Paiute—from Pai meaning water—water was central to both their cultural practices and sociopolitical hierarchies. Colonization during the nineteenth century and the takeover of their waterworks without regard to first-user water rights led to the displacement of the Paiute, erasure of their irrigation practices, and suppression of their customs and history. Over time, tribal members have lost touch with their cultural traditions or simply don’t remember historic livelihood practices their people engaged in for thousands of years. Perhaps what is most miraculous about this untold story is that living tribal elders have identified what they believe are remnant waterworks in the current Owens Valley landscape.

Paya documents Paiute irrigation history and remnant waterworks using web media, photography, videography, archival materials, cartography, and oral histories. The media resulting from this project will be featured in museum exhibits in the Paiute-Shoshone Cultural Center in Owens Valley and in UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, in a documentary film, and on the project website.

The following are excerpts from an interview  conducted in Owens Valley, June 23, 2013, by Paya producer/director Jenna Cavelle with two of the film’s main protagonists, Harry Williams, Bishop Paiute tribal elder and activist, and Alan Bacock, Big Pine Paiute tribal member and the current president of the Owens Valley Committee, a non-profit citizen action group dedicated to protecting the natural resources of the Owens Valley.

Jenna Cavelle: I am Jenna Cavelle. I am a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley and a recent graduate of UC Berkeley. I am here in the Owens Valley doing a community service project that recovers the cultural memory of the Paiute irrigation and water history in the context of the aqueduct centenary and a 150-year water war between the indigenous Paiute and various outside entities, LADWP among them.

Alan Bacock: My name’s Alan Bacock, I am a tribal member of the Big Pine Paiute tribe of the Owens Valley. I also work for the tribe; I am employed by them to look at water issues. The story here is continuing and is unfortunately one that stresses a viewpoint that water is something to be owned by people for people only—that’s not a viewpoint that tribal people typically take because we see water as important for all life and life encompasses more than just humans.

Harry Williams: My name is Harry Williams. I am a lifelong resident of Owens Valley. I am a member of the Bishop Paiute tribe but I have relations in the Big Pine area, Tinemaha, and the Round Valley areas that were traded off during historic land exchanges. Since 1996, I’ve been pretty involved in water rights and I’ve argued for them as a member of the Owens Valley community.

READ MORE: ARID A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology

Ontology, Ethics and Epistemology in the Nexus

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Ontology, Ethics and Epistemology in the Nexus

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about philosophy. In part I’ve been doing this as I figure out my next steps (dissertation, summer job and possible PhD) and sort out my research ontology and epistemology.  Then, earlier a friend sent a youtube video on Kantian ethics. Now I’ve got to thinking back to my class at Berkeley on Environmental Philosophy and Ethics and all my other Humanities courses at Mount San Jacinto College. Now I’m not just going to be ruminating over some obscure thinker or abstract theses, philosophy is something we live everyday. Whether challenged or unchallenged as an actor in the Nexus you and I have been fundamentally shaped by our individual and collective ontologies, ethics and epistemologies.
Before going into the meat of this it’ll be valuable to give a quick rundown of what I mean. First the jargon. We’ve all probably heard these terms before but its useful to revisit them, at least in the context of this column.
Ethics, an organised system of moral principles- paradigms of the good life. There are two main categories here, categorical and consequential. In the formal what is ethical is determined by the ends (think cost-benefit analysis), while for the former its more a right vs. wrong approach (ends can never justify the means). A further distinction comes where u centre moral value- between the rational actor of egocentrism, the greater good of homocentrism and the holism of ecocentrism.
Next we have ontology-  a kind of theory of reality (being is used formally in philosophy, but not so helpful here). For our purposes that’s limited to applied ontology- the understanding of how the world works in science. In social science for instance you have about four different approaches used. They all differ on what is objective and how we might come to understand the world.
Finally, there’s epistemology- the study of knowledge. Every field of inquiry and practice has its own epistemology, shaping practitioners pursuit of data and analysis. We use it figure out what to use as evidence, how it may analysed and different types of causation determined.
How we all understand socio-environmental forces and natural resource management is entirely dependent upon the philosophy underpinning each position. Lets start by examining the historical status quo- resource policy on energy and water. Whether with a command economy or command and control approach on the one hand or laissez-faire or neoliberal market mechanism approach natural systems are  valuable only insofar as their use as economic inputs. The former is often informed by a utilitarian (branch of consequentialism that is the basis of cost-benefit analysis) homocentrism, focused on delivering the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people. The later is dominated by an atomistic egocentrism focus on the individual whose pursuit of personal gain not only right categorically but will produce the best results for society. Whether through direct regulation or markets the negative impacts of natural resource exploitation are externalised, with the long term impacts and on human beings and socio-environmental interconnections understudied or ignored.
To extend that point further, you can compare mainstream social science as it informs policy and more critical, environmental and interdisciplinary approaches. Mainstream economics applies the logic of the physical and biological sciences to social forces- it treats people as rational actors acting in predictable patterns which can be modelled and maximised. The problem is that human beings aren’t limited to individual rationality but are subject to societal, cultural, religious, and normative forces external to them. Furthermore, no one has access to perfect information and in every situation there is an unequal distribution of power (be it in knowledge, strength, wealth or otherwise) between actors. Just as important is that the full life-cycle cost of exploiting natural resources has not historically been accounted for.
Other fields such as Anthropology, Environmental Economics, Science and Technology Studies, Global Environmental Governance, Political Ecology and Sociotechnical Transitions Theory all address these issues. Without rejecting the idea of an objective reality, and therefore empirical study and evidence-based policymaking, these disciplines bring to bear a much more complicated ontology and understanding of both human behaviour and socio-natural processes. They provide new methods of study such as ethnography and discourse analysis. They provide a new avenue for more effectively accounting for environmental costs in policymaking such as with payments for ecosystem services. Mainly however, they broaden our understanding and our set of tools for effective action.
Nexus thinking unto itself is a product of this evolution, of an expanding interdisciplinary approach to environmental problem solving. Cost-benefit approaches and economics will continue to dominate policy debates, we need be aware of that and the limitations of approaches that would simply improve this (such as insuring environmental damage is quantified and included as commensurable to profit in project costs) rather induce systemic change. The solution isn’t in attacking the status quo for its deficiencies, but in providing a viable alternative pathway for the future.
All of it starts with what we think we know.
~Miles On Water


California may start huge water project before knowing if it’ll work

The Sacramento River in Sacramento. Delta restoration plans call for building three large intakes on the river that would feed into two 35-mile tunnels.

The Sacramento River. Retrieved from: LA Times

“One thing stood out in the pile of documents released Thursday detailing state plans to replumb California’s water hub: Construction could start on the massive project before water managers know whether it will work as intended.

“The still-evolving proposal, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and the federal government, is designed to partially restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta environment and halt reductions in delta water exports.

“But uncertainty over the volume of future water deliveries is likely to linger for years as government scientists try to nail down how much water imperiled salmon and smelt need in the delta.

“This plan does not include any guarantees for water supply deliveries,” said Mark Cowin, director of the state Department of Water Resources.

“Proponents also don’t know whether restoring about 100,000 acres of habitat in the much-altered delta will produce the desired effect of bolstering fish and wildlife populations.

“But state officials argue that doing nothing will guarantee the continued deterioration of the delta ecosystem, and with it, additional cuts to southbound water deliveries.”

Read more: LA Times



Spreading the Nexus and Finding it Everywhere

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Spreading the Nexus and Finding it Everywhere

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

Applying for PhDs is an intimidating prospect. So too is trying to make a real, valuable contribution to a burgeoning field. As is navigating the current job market. Fair readers, you find me now striving through all three.

Once you start its hard to shut off, colouring your perspective on everything else. You might even start seeing the world through it. In the midst of this now I can attest to the surreality of spreading the word and finding it everywhere you look.

On some level applying for a PhD is an exercise in arrogance, assuming that not only is there a gap in the knowledge that you, you lowly peon you, have accurately identified but that its something to which you can bring a unique constructive addition.  You’ve got to find the right niche though, or it all can fall apart. Though I’m not sure yet what the next step for me will be after my MSc I’m knee-deep now in the process of finding such a niche myself. I’ve several materials put together now, spent a particular amount of time developing an energy-water policy nexus research proposal.

Effectively, I’m trying to take the approach here at Exeter’s energy policy group and combine it with the Transitions literature (basically about the interplay between the society and economy with technology over time- i.e. transitioning to decarbonisation in energy) to study energy-water nexus case studies from the American Southwest, the United Kingdom and desert lands around the world. All this is towards helping to develop a water equivalent to the global energy system transition. I spent a lot of time on my literature review trying to throw together a whole slew of different perspectives and areas, and went through several revisions with the help of my Tremough mentors.  Hopefully I got in a decent stab at balancing the practicality (both in terms of execution and impact) and uniqueness (both intellectually and to creative problem-solving). As the comic here shows, this terrifying balance dominates the first stages in every doctoral studentship.  Wish me luck. The experience has crystallised my thinking on energy-water issues, I see it everywhere now.

I’m already dedicating one module (on environmental and sustainability policy) to exploring the nexus in California and the UK, had an incredible seminar on energy and the built environment (including water-in-energy infrastructure) and spent an afternoon recently watching the live Guardian debate on the energy-water-food nexus discussing its contours on Twitter. Right now I’m in the depths of a one-week intensive module on international energy issues, its a lot of time spent being bombarded with incredible and deeply complex material. The water-energy nexus has been a constant theme from India’s bilateral water resource treaties with Pakistan and Tibet to Big Hydro in China and Middle Eastern solar desalinisation. We’ll continue through Friday afternoon, providing a plethora of new areas and datasets for study. I doubt this project will end any time soon.

Though I’ve many other interests in energy and specialisms I hope to develop I’m working right now to find a placement further exploring the nexus, might even end up combining such an experience with my PhD research proposal to develop my dissertation over the summer. Whether I find a job or start a PhD, after I finish at Exeter there’s a very good chance this work will go on well into the near future. I’ll continue chasing the nexus.

Its a big thing to be a part of.

~ Miles on Water

Domesticating the Nu? China’s New Leaders Face Big Hydro’s Policy Hazards

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Domesticating the Nu? China’s New Leaders Face Big Hydro’s Policy Hazards

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

In this post I’ll revisit a fascinating subject already covered by Peak Water- the Chinese State Council decision to reopen hydroelectric dam development on the Nu river. As will likely often be the case, the coverage I’ve followed most closely on the subject is the Environment coverage of the Guardian and Peak Water’s news aggregation-perfect time for a Lily Victoria shout-out, fantastic work!

This is a particularly exemplary case of the essential tension of policymaking- here, between hydroelectric dam building-as-development and mitigation strategy on the one hand and the potentially devastating socioenvironmental impacts of such massive engineering projects on the other. Government environmental authorities here make the argument that new hydro development across China can help to offset the countries increasing reliance not just on a high proportion of coal in its energy mix but as the fastest growing component and to secure its supply of energy with domestic sources. It is true that this will be one of the greatest challenges in energy, that is the decarbonization of China, in the coming decades. As the economy continues to develop and its middle class grows, so too may demand rise exponentially. Efficiency and overall demand side management in China’s going to be essential, its not inevitable. From the sometimes crude calculation standpoint of policy, this dam building is only justified if the benefits outweigh the damage done. There is an increasing body of evidence that the 2008 Szechwan earthquake which killed 80,000 people may have been caused by the weight of water in the Zipingpu Dam reservoir. A coalition of actors has ensured since 2005 that the efforts have been forestalled. These included the scientists concerned with the southwest’s frequent seismic activity and NGOs dedicated to preserving the river’s biodiversity and indigenous cultures. In fact, that year, Premier Wen Jiabao joined these efforts as he imposed a moratorium on dam building citing geological and ecological concerns. Environmental policy saw its stock rise during the tenure of the last leadership, a greater priority for the public and in a more limited fashion the government. Since the leadership change however, it seems this coalition may be overtaken by a more traditional approach with devastating socioenvironmental costs increasingly ignored or obfuscated.

The 2011-2015 energy sector blueprint calls for 60 new hydro projects. In energy policy analysis we often talk about the degree of centralization of both an energy technology system and the policies which underpin it. Though there are examples to the contrary, hydro-electric dams tend towards titanic civil engineering feats of power and water resource concentration. They lend themselves to a technocratic (as opposed to more open, democratic alternatives) approach to resource management, one historically utilized by policymakers the world over. This is especially so in a state bureaucracy empowered by one-party rule. A return to a stronger technocracy and big hydro seems increasingly likely.

Time will tell the veracity of this assessment.

~ Miles on Water



Plying the Water-Energy Nexus

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Plying the Water-Energy Nexus

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

Growing up the in the American Southwest is an education in the triumph of human ingenuity and the creeping hazards of its peril. From Palm Springs to Las Vegas we’ve made the desert bloom- a green oasis of shopping malls, suburban lawns and sprawling golf courses. It is a socio technical system built on a foundation of innovative engineering large and small, from the proliferation of air conditioning to the California aqueduct and the Hoover Dam. Even amidst the bust of the Great Recession and its aftermath, the boom of these places is so resonant* it’s easy to forget just how fragile and contingent the whole enterprise truly is. Climate change looms ahead, and the water’s running out. Even amidst all the changes ahead, the world’s driest places will see their rains dwindle. They’ll only get drier. In the Southwest, the Colorado no longer feeds into the sea. In California in particular, the vast majority of the water (and other resources) is consumed in the South yet it’s sourced in the North. This system defined by overconsumption is no longer tenable; the region’s decision makers need search out viable alternatives. Much as the global energy system needs a transition to a more equitable, secure, efficient and decarbonized alternative so too must our water socio-technical systems change. I’ve personally come to be defined by that reality.

Though I’ve lived now around the world, for the vast majority of my life my family and I lived in the Southwest, split mostly between Las Vegas and the Inland Empire of Southern California. We lived in Vegas for most my primary and secondary education, my folks moving us to California when I started high school. It’s where I started my post-secondary education, at Mount San Jacinto College. These spaces, Nevada and California, have shaped me and the course my life’s taken. Resource management is a priority for any public policy, but it’s vital in the desert. For all the clever development, water shortages are an ever-present and deepening concern in these places. The efficient consumption of water and other resources is both a necessity and a central source of contention. People get used to their cars, to their lawns, their shopping malls, housing developments and rapid economic growth. We forged an oasis and struggle to maintain it. This dynamic, this dilemma is one I’ve grappled with from the onset of my career in energy over five years ago. I got my start in Socal as a student participant in a K-12 energy efficiency education program which provided the training, tools and support to conduct an energy audit of one’s campus and even implement changes. The lesson, amidst the greatest recession we’d known since the 30s, was the value maximal throughput at minimal expense. Our resources are finite, precious. How we choose to consume defines not only our economic activity, but shapes our culture and socio-natural landscapes all around us.

This has resonated with my experiences ever since. Through further jobs and voluntary work I came to an understanding of everyday energy use efficiency beyond simply the kWh; demand management in energy policy is as much about the careful management of our water for the future and the planet as innovations in energy conservation and technologic efficiency. Energy and water are inextricably linked, whether the connection between the energy inputs to the mass agricultural sector of California and its behemoth thirst or suburban sprawl with its house-as-castle populism and everything in-between. These parallels and intersections are deep, and many.

After completing a B.S. in Society & Environment at UC Berkeley focusing on Global Environmental Politics I’m now on a Fulbright-University of Exeter Postgraduate Student Award pursuing an Energy Policy MSc at the Exeter Cornwall campus. I’m in my second term now, developing another energy specialism-in water policy as it relates to energy. From this entry on, Peak Water readers you can join me on this new path as I explore the energy-water nexus. I’m as a much a student on this journey as you, let’s pursue it with an unquenchable curiosity and a humble openness to learn. Maybe in the process we can even start to shape a new vision of the global water transition, of its interconnections with energy and its realization.

Best of luck to us along the way, it should prove an interesting ride.

~ Miles on Water


Newmont Mining Suspends $4.8 Billion Peru Gold Mine Operation After Violent Protests Over Water Supply

“LIMA, Peru — A $4.8 billion gold and copper mining project, Peru’s biggest such investment, was declared suspended Tuesday after increasingly violent protests by highlands peasants who fear for their water supply.

At least 20 people, including eight with gunshot wounds, were injured Tuesday in clashes between opponents of the Conga project and police who used firearms, Cajamarca state regional health director Reynaldo Nunez told Canal N television. He said one person was in critical condition and the injured included police.

“After discussions with the government, it was agreed that to help restore public order, the project would be suspended,” Newmont Mining Corp. spokesman Omar Jabara told The Associated Press via email. Denver-based Newmont is the majority owner of Conga, which was to begin production in 2015 and is an outgrowth of Yanacocha, Latin America’s biggest gold mine.”

Read More: The Huffington Post


Josh Fox: Are We About to Witness the Liquidation Sale of New York and its Drinking Water?

“This is a conversation about community and sharing the voices from the gaslands of America. This is the story of Josh Fox, his movieGasland and about his current, Save the Delaware campaign. “Is this the liquidation sale of New York and our drinking water?” asks Josh Fox.

This is a week to celebrate the sudden November 17 cancellation of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) meeting where they were expected to vote on new gas drilling regulations, i.e. green-light fracking in the Delaware River basin that provides drinking water for 16.5 million people. On the 17th Governor of Delaware, Jack Markell announced that his state would be voting “no” on the new DRBC regulations that would have allowed 20,000 wells to be fracked in the watershed. Governor Cuomo of New York had already stated that he would vote “no” which left the expected “yes” votes of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, leaving the deciding vote to a representative for President Obama; a very complicated decision for him and one with risky implications. This is a movement about building coalitions, including the Delaware Riverkeeper that lead the numerous grassroots organizations organizing the event in Trenton, New Jersey on November 21.

So a momentary respite from the threats of gas drilling to the Delaware was celebrated on November 21 as hundreds of people traveled to the already scheduled rally in Trenton, New Jersey which included actors and activists, Debra Winger and Mark Ruffalo residents of upstate NY. In addition, Julie and Craig Sautner of Dimock, PA who are still without safe drinking water three years later, as promised by Cabot Oil, gave their support of the victory for the watershed and served to remind us of what’s at stake.”

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The Power Politics of Water Struggles

“When you’re driving through a war zone, your instinct may be to roll up the car windows. Wrong move. A bullet is less likely to hit you than to strike the glass, which will shatter and probably cause injuries. It takes firsthand experience to learn these tricks of the trade, and for years, Mark Zeitoun has sought out such experience.

Yet he did not scout out war zones as a combatant or journalist; he was delivering water.

A leading thinker in the field of water issues, Dr. Zeitoun helped pioneer a way of analyzing international water tensions, departing from the idea that water struggles are characterized either by peaceful cooperation or armed conflict. He suggests that countries’ approaches can vary by many gradations in between.

Oxfam GBMark Zeitoun on an aid mission in Abéché, Chad.

Dr. Zeitoun’s philosophy on water politics, known as hydro-hegemony, “significantly influenced the way we look at hydropolitics across the world,” said Tony Allan, a water resource analyst at King’s College, London.

Today Dr. Zeitoun, 44, grapples with global water issues from his office at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. But his voyage to understanding has been a long one, taking him from his native Canada, Congo, Chad, the Palestinian territories and Iraq.”

Read More: Green Blogs New York Times


Abnormal Levels of Caffeine in Water Indicate Human Contamination

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“Our study has determined that there is a strong correlation between the levels of caffeine in water and the level of bacteria, and that chemists can therefore use caffeine levels as an indicator of pollution due to sewerage systems.”

The researchers took water samples from streams, brooks and storm sewer outfall pipes that collect storm waters across the Island of Montreal, and analyzed them for caffeine, fecal coliforms, and a third suspected indicator, carbamazepine. Shockingly, all the samples contained various concentrations of these contaminants, which would suggest that contamination is widespread in urban environments. Carbamazepine is an anti-seizure drug which is also increasingly used for various psychiatric treatments, and the researchers thought it might be a useful indicator because it degrades very slowly. However, unlike with caffeine, no correlation was found.”

Read More: Science Daily