I can’t believe it took a trip to Sacramento to understand how precious the water is in my own backyard. I knew California was in a drought. And I know that this drought is more serious than any other drought before. So, I was surprised and delighted when Councilwoman Michelle Martinez, e-mailed me with an invite to attend a two day State Water Inspection Tour. I totally jumped at the opportunity and signed up immediately. I really wanted to get a firsthand look at what is really going on with California’s water.
What I discovered on the tour was really terrifying.
First and foremost, the environmental degradation of out water system is shocking. I could see this immediately because in visiting a local fishery outside the town of Orville, there was a fish ladder which at this time of year would typically be filled with Salmon. But instead it had only one Salmon swimming up the ladder. You heard me right, only one!
I was really surprised to learn that from Ventura to the Mexican Border there are 1.7 billion gallons of water a day that are brought through this passage known as the Delta. This water serves 19 out of 38 million people in California. And right now there are up to 19 communities who turn on their tap and nothing comes out.
I was also startled to hear that taxpayers in the State of California are paying billions of dollars to sustain and subsidize levees so that farmers in the Delta region can maintain farms that are only bringing in around 200 million dollars a year though this practice of farming along the Delta is clearly threatening our fresh water supply.
And when our tour guide Jena Fraizer, impressing the gravity of the situation, explained starkly, “We need to begin looking at water differently; we need to look at water as a non-renewable resource. We have to wake up to the reality that we have to get every drop out of every drop.” I had to catch my breath, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Water! Nonrenewable? When did this happen?
Fraizer went on to describe how this year when 109 fires burned through different parts of California the dried up streams made it impossible for fire fighters to create a fire break. I instantly thought of Robert Frost’s poem which states “some say the world will end in fire…?” And for a moment, I thought to myself, perhaps Frost was right.
Expressing the general public’s naivety about the water situation, Fraizer lamented: “When it rains people think the drought is over, but don’t understand what a drought really is.” A drought, I learned, is when the ground water is gone because the lack of precipitation in the mountains failed to runoff and fill our underground aqueducts with water again.
Seriously, everyone knows that water is important. So when I also realized that the city of Santa Ana has abundance of this incredible resource, it made me feel proud. Proud, because, this is contrary to the stereotypes and popular beliefs about the poverty in Santa Ana. You see the reality is that I live in a place that has one of the richest geopolitical landscapes in all of Orange County.
This is because; Santa Ana draws most of its water from its own natural springs. There are currently 21 wells and unlike other cities in Orange County, we only receive 30 percent of our water from the Metropolitan Water District. I am excited to know that I live in a city that is filled with “Blue Gold."
A friend of mine in sales often jokes: “I will sell you the air you breathe and the water you drink.” And living in a time when The World Bank is working diligently to privatize water and establish trade in water suits, while corporations like Nestle are bottling and shipping our precious resources abroad and cities like Detroit during a deficit turned off the residents tap threatening to sell its water rights, it is obvious that these are telling signs. In the last water meeting conducted by Councilman Vince Sarimiento I found out that there are companies who have in fact asked to frack within our city, so this forecast about selling us the water we drink is becoming more and more hauntingly true.
This two day water inspection tour was a real eye opener for me. It revealed to me, that California’s “Blue Gold Rush” has only just begun. Therefore, naturally the question becomes, “What can we do to make sure the water is conserved and protected. Well, It is my understanding that it begins here, by spreading the word. But that is just the beginning...
I am a firm believer that the local community should manage its own water resources, how else will effective consumption and equitable use be regulated? In order to do this we would have to start with a city affirmation that officials will promise to protect Santa Ana’s water supply. Next residents, the school district and city through its municipal water works would have to create a clear water protection policy, and work on a community lead conservation plan knowing that the only way to broadly raise community consciousness is to let the community own the process and teach the lessons of conservation themselves.
Next, we would need an ordinance to protect and prohibit any misuses of water. For example, Santa Ana’s water should never be used for fracking, privatization or turned over to commercialized management. Instead, Santa Ana residents and the city must work to ensure, maintain and protect the quality of its water resources so that our public’s health, quality of life, and the riches of our economic vitality in our precious water is preserved for us as well as all future generations of Santaneros.