Many of today’s under-resourced communities have no more access to blue gold (scarce water) than the under-resourced white residents of the Owens Valley have had since the 1920s. In 1924 greedy public and private water interests transformed the lush Owen’s Lake into a noxious dust bowl.
One of the guilty parties LADWP (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power), recently celebrated partial restoration of Owens Lake by constructing a ghostly monument of granite and sculpted earth in the long desiccated lake bed. The monument includes a public plaza with curved granite walls inspired by the wing shapes of ghostly shorebirds and eerie sculptures of earth and rock reminiscent of the whitecaps that once graced the lake’s watery surface.
For many indigenous peoples denied their rights to water for a century, partial restoration of the lake without full restoration of their water rights is too little, too late. As LADWP slowly restores water to the Lake, only one Paiute tribe (Paiute means “flowing water”) in Fort Independence is well positioned to benefit from increased water flows. That tribe never gave up its right to water that it uses to operate an orchard and other businesses, and maintains the community base needed to profit from increased water allocations.
After the 1920s most of the Paiute tribes lost ownership of Owens Valley water and the opportunity to own orchards, alfalfa fields and businesses. Now, they, and many of California’s agriculture workers, servers, cooks, hotel maids and domestic workers, struggle to reliably access clean safe water for their own homes and businesses.
When black and Latino under-resourced neighborhoods, whether in the Central Valley or in Compton, have water, it is often unattractive, or even contains toxic metals or pesticides. In the case of Sativa (Compton), a private water company, which had to be dissolved and management taken over by Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts , a brown, smelly fluid flowed from faucets. Daniel Lafferty, an engineer at the county’s Department of Public Works, described the fluid “as disgusting, but safe.”
To correct such inequities in access to natural resources between counties, state and local governments increasingly give new affordable housing developments preferential access to local water and land. Residents often object to such preferential access, including some in San Mateo County’s Midcoast a few miles south of San Francisco.
Legitimate problems and benefits of housing for low-income workers in a semi-rural area along the Pacific Coast will be aired at a public hearing on Friday, March 12th, when the California Coastal Commission will consider San Mateo County’s request to approve Amendment No. LCP-2-SMC-20-0054-1 for the Cypress Point Affordable Housing Project to amend a LDP (Local Development Permit) to site 70 affordable homes in the Cypress Point development in Moss Beach. Especially if you live along the Pacific Coast, get involved, attend the virtual commission meeting and let your voice be heard.
Take action to ensure that California governments supply water sustainably and equitably. Take action to prevent emerging water barons from gaining monopolistic control of California’s water sources.
Take action and sign up for the Sierra Club California Environmental and Social Justice Newsletter put out by the SCC Committee for Environmental and Social Justice by e-mailing your request to CNRCC-EJ@lists.sierraclub.org.
Co-chair, Sierra Club California Conservation Committee for Environmental and Social Justice Committee
(SCC - E&SJComm)
If you’re interested in working on environmental and social justice issues please contact me at: email@example.com
The Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club welcomes your participation in its century of involvement in the enjoyment and protection of our planet's environment. The Angeles Chapter spans Los Angeles and Orange Counties in Southern California, with an extensive program of hikes/hiking, national and international travel, local conservation campaigns, political action, and programs for people of all ages.