Tag Archives: Fracking

The Governance of Drought

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Governance of Drought: California, the Illusion of Plenitude, and the Presidential Election

The University of California, Davis maintains a website on which one can track the levels of water in California’s reservoir system. You can reach the most pertinent graph by scrolling down and noticing a rectangle on the right hand side marked “Reservoir Conditions.”


To say the portion of each reservoir’s rectangle that was filled in with blue was on the low side, back in February, 2016, is to understate the emergency that California faced after five years of harrowing drought. February itself had not brought predicted rains; instead, record heat had punished Southern California, and it appeared as if further rationing might be in store. For the record, here are reservoir levels on February 18: Shasta was only at 57% of capacity; Lake Oroville at 49 percent of capacity; Folsom at 64 percent of capacity, and Trinity at 33% of capacity. These levels, as a whole, were a full 25 percent below the historical average.

Fortunately, March brought enough substantial rainfall that the reservoirs returned to adequate levels to draw upon during this summer. The aquifers of the Central Valley, however, remain seriously depleted, and complete recovery is unlikely at any time in the foreseeable future. As is well known, the reservoirs depend to a great extent not upon direct rainfall, but upon the flow of water from snowmelt in the mountains. It wasn’t until the first couple days of May, therefore, that the largest reservoirs topped off at the highest levels in quite some time:
Shasta Reservoir was at 93 percent of capacity;
Lake Oroville was at 96 percent of capacity;
Folsom Lake was at 86 percent of capacity;
Trinity Lake was at only 58 percent of capacity, however.

In the three and a half months since that high water mark, these four reservoirs have been drained at a fairly steady rate. As of midnight, August 15, here are the capacity levels of the above quartet:
Shasta: 73%
Lake Oroville – 58%
Folsom Lake – 39%
Trinity – 45%

As one can see, Lake Oroville has had its contents put to work at a rate that bespeaks an unwarranted confidence in the winter to come; or should I say, the winters to come. It is unlikely that the storms we will have this coming winter will be even half as generous as the past winter. How is it then that Lake Oroville can plummet with so little concern about replenishment?

(I would insert an “update” note into this post, at 2:41 p.m. The Los Angeles Times, about a half-hour after I posted this blog entry, published an article by Matt Stevens about the lifting of water restrictions: http://fw.to/mh5PFyZ)

I would note that a trio of much smaller reservoirs further south along the Sierra Nevada, and more directly in line with the Central Valley’s pipelines, remains at more or less the same levels as they achieved in late spring, so obviously they are being held in reserve, should the ferocity of the drought prove to be planning a counter-attack on this illusion of plenitude during the coming winter.

In devouring the water at Lake Oroville this summer, one wonders if the people in charge realize that we still have at least two and a half months to go before we get the first storms of the 2016-2017 rainy season. That is, of course, if such storms actually show up. The past five years might be simply a foretaste of a challenging century in this nation’s most populous state.

One question relevant to the current presidential campaign involves these reservoirs, in fact. Hillary Clinton has spoken of an unprecedented investment in the nation’s infrastructure. Water is the crucial component of the Western half of the United States, and if Clinton wants to increase confidence in her ability to manage the coming water crisis, then it would behoove her to post some specific agenda plans on her website. I understand why it is unlikely that she (or VP nominee Kaine) will campaign much in person in California. That does not excuse not having already met with Governor Brown and other governors of the Western states and not having that dialogue’s outcome posted for public comment.

This leads me to today’s suggestion. What is needed at this point is not more debates between the presidential candidates, but a public meeting, at least three hours in length, at which each presidential candidate is in charge of a group of governors (no less than three, no more than five) discussing a major environmental issue and the direction that regulations should move in. It is time for the water levels of the reservoirs that are on display at the UC Davis website to stop being treated like polls of candidate preferences. First up, and then down, and let’s hope they rise again. Let the reality of ground level conditions be addressed in a thoughtful manner by those who aspire to determine the quality of our lives and of the environments we leave to our progeny. No more vague proposals about infrastructure, in other words!

Though I doubt that my suggestion will be enacted, I would suggest that if such a publicly broadcast meeting did take place, people would see that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified presidential candidate to be at a conference table in a meeting with oil company executives who want to increase fracking, alongside environmental representatives who are sitting to the other side of Governor Brown’s elbow. This is a dialogue, based on a grasp of ecological imperatives and acquisitive economics, that the American people deserve to hear. Please, we don’t need more rallies and fund raisers, but instead deserve the chance to see actual portrayals of governance. Yes, it would be make-believe, but no more make-believe than the promises we are asked to endorse with our votes.

Race, Class, and Fracking

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Race, Class, and Fracking: Stuart Hall, Wanda Coleman, and Alfred Kreymborg

“Race is the modality in which class is lived,” Stuart Hall proposed as a fundamental component of social analysis. Wanda Coleman was one of the most important poets who dramatized in her poems and prose the compressed struggle to make that modality audibly visible to a variety of communities. Today, I wish to dig back to a book that was published the year that Wanda was born for a passage that brings to our attention a passage of writing by Abraham Lincoln that needs to be quoted as often as the Gettysburg Address.

My decision to present excerpt from Kreymborg’s book-length poem today is in part because I want to keep the extraction of oil by fracking in California (and elsewhere) as a crucial, turning-point issue in our ecology. Governor Brown has declared a state of emergency in regards to the drought, yet he has been very supportive of the corporation-sponsored drive to accelerate the deployment of fracking as a profit-making enterprise. It is my understanding that a minimum of two and a half MILLION gallons of water must be injected in an oil well in order to siphon off deep deposits of oil. At the same time, the ordinary citizens of Long Beach are being told to cut their average daily use of water from 114 gallons to under a hundred. Kreymborg’s call for a new political party has never been more pertinent. We cannot possibly hope that the so-called Democratic party really wishes to slake our thirst for ecological justice.

Finally, in bringing this matter back to the top of the list of concerns I wish to address in this blog, I need also to remind the reader of what should be obvious but cannot be overemphasized: the impact of pollution on communities of color is far more disproportionate than any “neutral” demographics would lead one to expect. The corrosive effects of ecologically damaging production processes on communities of color show up, in particular, in areas that affect public health. Wanda Coleman’s protests against the inherent racism of a capitalist economic system are not just against the most visible agents of that repression (e.g., the police force), but ultimately raise substantial questions about the practices of those who police our ecological well-being.


from MAN AND SHADOW: An Allegory: Second Movement, Part V (“Another Testament”) by Alfred Kreymborg. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1946, 132-135)


All of us know the Gettysburg address

And how it was composed in tragic haste.

Stylists riddled the thing who made their prose

Much more cultivated and verbose

Than Lincoln had the time for. Yet it seems

That most of us today have never read

A pregnant message Lincoln sent to Congress

During the War, a speech men now suppress

Or fail to quote in after-dinner speeches.


Loving the truth and not expediency,

I read it aloud at a school for debutantes.

Oddly enough, I was a teacher then

Giving a course in our native poetry

In relation to our lives and destiny.

I felt so much of Lincoln in the style

Of Whitman’s Leaves and biblical tone they shared,

I couldn’t resist the occasion and therefore read

Lines containing a worthy parallel:

‘I see in the near future a crisis approaching

that unnerves me, and causes me to tremble

for the safety of my country. As a result

of war, corporations have been enthroned,

and an era of corruption in high places

will follow, and the money power of

the country will endeavor to prolong

its reign by working on the prejudices

of the people until all the wealth

is aggregate in just a few hands,

and the republic is destroyed.’

There was a pause,

A puzzled hush, until some bright girl said,

‘It sounds like free verse to me,’ and another,

‘No, it’s Karl Marx –‘ she said this angrily.

‘No,’ said I, ‘it’s President Lincoln – Listen!’

‘Capital is only the fruit of labour,

and could not have existed had labour not

first existed. Labour is the superior

of capital and deserves much the higher

consideration. I bid the laboring people

beware of surrendering the power they

possess, and which if surrendered will be used

to shut the door of advancement for such as they,

and fix new disabilities and burdens

upon them all till liberty shall be lost…’

Where are we now or whither shall we go

With so much in the air like Lincoln’s age?

. . . .

I’m quite against a double-party system

That worked in our youth; that day is out of date.


We need some check beyond the yearly check

Demos employs beyond his chosen column,

Or a progressive party deep enough

To keep our Constitution and Bill of Rights

In shape from first to last against miscarriage

In Washington lobbies and the subtle chains

Of the yellow press and purple radios.


Inside our double system we need a third,

Or one endowed with every right to say

A word for workers here and everywhere.





Fracking Protest in Long Beach

MONDAY — Fracking Protest — TODAY!!  — January 6

According to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, a protest of the ongoing push by California’s government to enable this state’s oil industry to engage in the drilling and oil extracting process known as fracking will take place at the California State University, Long Beach campus today, Monday, January 6 at 2 p.m. The protest is scheduled to last an hour.

Given that Los Angeles just had the lowest level of rainfall in any year since weather records were kept in 1877, it’s hard to believe that an industrial practice that would devour huge amounts of fresh water is being allowed to gain a foothold in this state with so little public discussion. To call hearings held before most people have even finished returning from work and eating dinner a “public” hearing verges on the absurd. I realize almost no one reading this blog will find out about this protest in time to attend, but I feel as if I have to go on record as at least supporting this effort.

The decision to hold tomorrow’s meeting at a time when school is not in session is also not an accident. I suppose one could argue that if the meeting was to take place during the semester, then there would not be much in the way of parking for the public, but given the hours the meeting is being held at, it’s very questionable whether there would be much need for public parking. I rather suspect that the last thing the oil industry wants is to have a large segment of justifiably concerned young people protesting the environmental destruction of this state.

As for the argument that fracking will restore California prosperity, I do not hear anyone in the oil industry advocating that California adopt the same kind of oil extraction tax that is used to sustain higher education in Texas and Wyoming. California, in fact, is the only state that is a major oil producer without an oil extraction tax. The fact that the industry doesn’t want to pony up even as it engages in yet even more risky environmental practices sums up the notoriously selfish agenda of the corporations involved with oil production.