by Jay Lund
Today’s water struggles have deep roots.
In our shared summer confinement, we hopefully have some time for some deeper reading on California water. Here is a small collection of older writings on California water, the youngest of which is still older than me. Beyond historical interest, these early writings have useful perspectives on water problems today, in the future, and outside California.
These writings illustrate how a society of poor disorganized immigrants experienced abrupt climate change when they moved to California and had to change how they did agriculture, built cities and water systems, and organized water laws and institutions in a new (to them) climate and land. We still struggle with this condition today, and will in the future. California society is mostly much richer today, and somewhat more organized.
- Alexander, B.S., George H. Mendell, George Davidson (1873) Report of the Board of Commissioners on the Irrigation of the San Joaquin, Tulare, and Sacramento Valleys of the State of California, Washington: G.P.0. Report on irrigation development for the Central Valley, including a wonderful global survey of irrigation projects from around the world.
- Austin, Mary (1903), The Land of Little Rain, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, New York, 280 pp. (Text version) On water, life, cultures, landscape, and Native Americans in the Eastern Sierra/Owens Basin. Includes some early water and irrigation management conflicts. A very pleasant read.
- DWR (1930), California Water Plan, Division of Water Resources, California Department of Public Works, Sacramento, CA. An excellent strategic presentation, reflecting more than a decade of systematic state studies and discussions, this plan during the Great Depression, shaped the CVP and SWP. [This document seems to be no long available on a State of California web site.]
- Goldschmidt, Walter (1947). As You Sow: Three Studies in the Social Consequences of Agribusiness. Montclair, N.J: Allanheld, Osmun and Co. Publishers, Inc. Excellent readable early work on the anthropology and sociology of rural irrigation-based communities in the Tulare basin – many issues and findings remain relevant. See recent blog post on this one.
- Montgomery, Mary and Marion Clawson (1946), History of Legislation and Policy Formation of the Central Valley Project, United States Department of Agriculture Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Berkeley, CA, March, 264 pp. An excellent history of the early CVP, from a state water project to a federal water project, with struggles over public versus private interests, state projects to supplement declining groundwater and expand irrigated area, and the state’s struggles to regain control of the CVP (while retaining federal funding). [So far, you need to visit a library for this one.]
- Banks, Harvey (1953), “Utilization of Underground Storage Reservoirs,” Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Vol. 118, No. 1, January, pp. 220-234. One of the State Water Project’s main engineers began with excellent analyses and discussions of groundwater.
- DWR (1957), The California Water Plan, Bulletin No. 3. Sacramento, California. California Department of Water Resources, May, 1957. This plan could have the subtitle – leave no valley undammed, and set the direction of state water planning until 1983. [This document seems to be no long available on a State of California web site.]
Many excellent writings on California water are more than 50 years old (pre-dating the popular Cadillac Desert!).
Please suggest additional writings in the comments section, including a web link where available.
Read old to stay sharp.
Jay Lund is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California – Davis.