Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Depictions of the rural-urban divide in California, in the context of burying the hatchet in the state's water wars

Adam Nagorney reports today in the New York Times on the long-awaited settlement of Los Angeles's water war with the Owen Valley—a coupla' hundred miles to the east, in the Sierra Nevada.  This is the water feud started by events depicted in the film "Chinatown," starring Jack Nicklaus.  It's a fascinating tale, to be sure—a tale of deceit as agents of the City of Los Angeles bought up land in the Great Basin, including water rights that ultimately allowed them to drain Owen's Lake and divert the water to L.A., creating a "dust bowl" that has polluted the area for decades.  Now the long-standing dispute—essentially one between rural and urban—has been settled, accompanied by a public apology from L.A.'s mayor Eric Garcetti.  Los Angeles has committed to fighting the dust and pollution by hydrating the dry lake bed that once was Owen's Lake.  You can see photos on the NYT website.

As interesting as all of this is, also interesting is the New York Times' depiction of rural-urban difference in this context.  The story features two really priceless passages in this regard.   Here's the first, which highlights the starkness of the rural-urban divide between L.A. and the Owens Valley:
The result was a bitter feud between two night-and-day regions of California, steeped in years of lawsuits, conspiracy theories, toxic distrust and noir lore — the stealing of the Owens Valley water was the inspiration for the movie “Chinatown.” But while the water theft remains a point of contention, the battle long ago turned into one about the clouds of dust that were the legacy of the lost lake, 200 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.
And here's the second, which plays up the cultural differences between the two places:
It is a clash of cultures and regions, between a teeming metropolis and a sparsely populated expanse of mountains, valleys and lake beds, where temperatures range in a single year from 10 degrees to 120 degrees or more. About 31,000 people live across the three counties that make up the water basin — or about one person per square mile.
Nagorney quotes Ron Hanes, Chairman of the Great Basin Water Board and a member of the Alpine County Board of Supervisors:
We are very different people.  In my county, we don’t have a bank. We don’t have a Starbucks. We don’t have a single stop light. There are 1,172 of us — depending on the day.
Nagorney also quotes William W. Funderburk, a Los Angeles lawyer who is vice chairman of the Department of Water and Power and who co-led the negotiations with the Great Basin Water Board.  Funderburk says he was "struck upon arriving by the tense atmosphere between the two sides," comparing this rural-urban dispute to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  (Guess who the underdog is?)  

Funderburk continues: 
There was no trust …  Bad blood had just been passed on through the generations.
And that sorta' sums up the bad blood now brewing between rural America's reaches and the urban behemoth.   The California water wars as just a somewhat dated example of it, but the ongoing agitation by residents in some rural counties to secede and form the State of Jefferson persists.  Read more here and here.

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