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It has been argued that no state or even country of comparable size has changed its water distribution as dramatically as the state of California. There is some truth to the worn out joke that the water from Northern California is pumped hundred of miles to fill the swimming pools of Southern California where huge cities such as Los Angeles were built in the desert. In the process of building reservoirs, pipelines, pumping stations and canals whole landscapes were destroyed or flooded, Native American settlements and cultures obliterated, and species such as the Chinook Salmon taken to the brink of extinction.
But the swimming pool reference is also misleading. That tax payer subsidized water fed and continues to feed giant Agribusinesses that in turn pollute the earth and air. And today, in 2014, industrial agriculture use looks almost benign as a project is under way -in the middle of an epic drought - to raise the dam of the Lake Shasta reservoir, build twin tunnels at the edge of the Sacramento San Francisco Delta to divert even more water to the south. And this time the additional water is intended for use by the oil industry in an expansion of hydraulic fracking. And the Governor of California in 2014, Jerry Brown, has given up all environmental pretense and is trying to convince the Obama administration that the Feds should pay part of the bill.
The film Chinatown and the book Cadillac Desert captured the imagination of millions - in good part because they described with much documentary evidence - the murderous nature of the water wars that built the system that is to be expanded now. Today a new chapter can be written - and some may say it could be the last one. And the players in this end-game have different names. They are the new owners of water such T Boone Pickens, Warren Buffet, The Resniks of Paramount Farms, Kern Water Bank, Metropolitan Water, and Westland’s Water District. They all realize that we can live without oil but nobody can live without water and the most profit can be made by taking possession of the precious source of life.
I met and recorded Caleen Sisk, the Chief of the Winnemem Wintu, on April 19, 2014 at a Ukiah, CA, meeting on SALMON AND SOVEREIGNTY: Indigenous perspectives on water and cultural survival in California