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A Progressive Water Policy Platform

Dan O'Connell
On Water (March 2019)
Healing the World

The San Joaquin Valley of California is the most productive agricultural region in the world yet also has the highest levels of poverty, pollution, and hunger in the United States. This paradox did not occur by happenstance, nor should the poor be blamed for their condition. Geographies are planned and constructed; by definition, imprinted with our designs.

Few are aware of the histories that inform their lives, leaving society susceptible to acquiesce into accepting and normalizing injustice and oppression. Today we increasingly understand how the Valley was engineered to be unequal and unjust – a feat accomplished through massive infusions of public investment in the last century, including the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.

Today we face the task of mitigating, rectifying, and transforming past mistakes, including non-enforcement of federal laws and corruption in public institutions – decisions which prioritized and privileged a handful of powerful landowners over the needs of local residents and the citizens of this nation, and which neglect environmental stewardship.

On May 19th, 2018, progressives throughout California – local residents of the San Joaquin Valley, policy advocates, seasoned activists, and community organizers who have worked on California water issues for decades – traveled to Fresno to draft a set of positions and policies on water in the San Joaquin Valley.

Though specific to the region, the platform has broader application and import. We hope Friends will join us in realizing the concerns and objectives of this platform, and assist us in the work of realizing its values.

Progressive Water Policy Platform for the San Joaquin Valley

A Human Right to Water

  • Everyone in the San Joaquin Valley shall have clean, safe, and affordable drinking and sanitation water.
  • People should be able to play and swim in every river in the valley, from the Kern River through Bakersfield, to the Mokelumne in Lodi. Riverfronts are created in cities and towns, to bring people and rivers together.
  • As the summers in the valley get hotter and hotter, every town will have a swimming pool, and every child will be able to swim. People in every town will have a place to cool off, with water and trees.

Everyone has a Say

  • As Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) develop the rules for groundwater, disadvantaged communities and tribal representatives will have legally required representation on GSA boards to protect the interests of small disenfranchised communities.
  • Water districts must be democratically governed and transparently administered. Many small districts should be considered for consolidation, as they do not have the capacity to handle current water challenges. Some districts have been captured by large landowners, are perennially corrupt, and must be reorganized or dissolved by the State.

Data and Technology

  • Valley residents need a real-time dashboard of their household water quality metrics, and accessible up-to-date public data on all agricultural and urban water uses.
  • State or federal governments should expand groundwater, stream, river, lake, and snowpack gauging, as well as free public access to frequent remote sensing of mountain and agricultural lands.
  • More government-funded research and technology is needed on many topics such as crop adaptation to climate change, aquifer recharge, soil tilth, drinking water treatment, soil remediation, forest management, meadow restoration, and agroecological practices.

Healthy Mountains, Rivers, and Aquifers

  • The people of the valley are connected to and care for the Sierras. Students will learn the science of their own watersheds at every school. Urban youth will be able to get summer jobs in the mountains, restoring meadows, maintaining trails, and managing forest ecology.
  • The valley’s groundwater basins will be recharged through many small efforts throughout the region, using municipal water recycling, on-farm fields, unlined canals, river restoration, and habitat conservation.
  • The costs of subsidence (damage to structures and infrastructure) will be paid for by the people responsible for over-drafting aquifers, in proportion to the water they pumped.
  • Water will be legally and physically restored to every river; public parks will give everyone access to each river.

Water is Not for Sale

  • Our water is a resource, not a commodity. Anyone that receives water cannot sell that water to anyone. They can use it or return it unpolluted to the natural watershed, but they cannot transfer it to anyone else for profit.
  • Everyone in the Valley has the right to water, for our bodies and souls. Everyone should be able to bathe in and drink clean water; tend to our mountains, foothills, and rivers; and be able to swim, cool off, and experience water in nature.

Since California’s statehood, the San Joaquin Valley has been one of the most politically charged, economically polarized, and socially segregated places in the United States. Periods of outright political violence have continually boiled over in the process of consolidation of the region’s rural economy, the privatization of its natural resources, and the importation and exploitation of foreign workers.

Concurrently, local communities and their allies have organized resistance, including the United Farm Worker movement of the 1960s, supported by the American Friends Service Committee and other Friends in the West. Although victories have been won by workers, injustice and poverty continue to characterize the region.

The Valley’s paradoxes raise moral questions. When public institutions are co-opted and corrupted, how shall we acknowledge, testify to and transform unjust structures within our society? Quaker practices of corporate deliberation and discernment leading into nonviolent action are well matched to the complex of issues that undermine democracy, public health, and environmental sustainability.

Local residents and advocates in the San Joaquin Valley would welcome assistance from Friends and other allies across California and the United States, as we engage and challenge the long-established power structures of our region. To help, get involved and support the Central Valley Partnership by emailing: [email protected].   ~~~

Daniel O’Connell is Executive Director of the Central Valley Partnership, a regional progressive network of activists, community leaders, and organizations spanning the southern San Joaquin Valley. He is also a member of the Visalia Friends Meeting (PYM) and was previously active on AFSC’s Farm Labor Committee in the region.

Central Valley San Joaquin Valley farmworkers Social Justice Environmental Justice

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