Sometimes it’s easy to forget how little most of us really know about water in the San Joaquin Valley. And even when we do know just a little, it’s even easier for what little we know to be submerged in the flood of mis- and disinformation that fills most of our media most of the time.
For those reasons and more, insiders who follow western water news closely rely on Maven’s Notebook, a masterly aggregation of everything relevant to water compiled by Chris Austin, better known as “The Maven.”
And the real hard core water zealots, those for whom water news ranks above sports, politics, celebrity gossip and even gory crime, never fail to scan their mailboxes closely for a post from the mystery author who, too infrequently, posts in On the Public Record (OtPR).
Self-described as, “a low-level civil servant who reads reports,” the author responsible for OtPR quite wisely prefers to remain anonymous, or, in his or her own words, “pseudonymous, distinct from the other anonymice” (sic). He or she adds, and this is crucial:
“I don’t want to meet the influential names in the field nor sit in important meetings. If I met them, I would probably like them and lose my ability to call them terrible things. We all know how important that is to me.”
Calling powerful people, “terrible things,” is one of the most burdensome obligations of journalists everywhere, at least those for whom, “speaking truth to power,” is a firm directive. And given how much evasion, equivocation, misdirection and outright lying flows from the mouths of powerful people when they’re talking about water, it’s no wonder anyone pursuing the truth manages so frequently to be perched on the horns of a dilemma.
On the one hand, one wishes to be civil, fair, and objective. On the other, when, after observing, smelling, and consulting with experts in the field one is confronted with what is obviously a pile of horseshit that’s been described as rose petals steeped in Napoleon Cognac, how does one go about correcting the record without offense?
It’s a problem our local journalists too often address with the attractive but duplicitous “both sides” approach. The “both sides” directive demands one give as much credence to what one knows are lies and falsehoods as one does the truth. So if one is told that the stink of odoriferous equine waste is actually the sweet perfume of roses and fine liquor, the easy way out is to treat the story as, “he said, they said.”
But if the journalist happens to be our mystery, “low-level civil servant,” we get treated to the truth in the form of deeply learned commentary enriched by generous portions of wit and profanity. And this is someone who actually knows how and when to cuss.
The effect isn’t just educational and entertaining, it’s bracing. It’s like seeing clearly after a long bout of fuzzy vision and eye floaters.
And just when everyone thought s/he might have retired for good, our OtPR person resurfaced, probably because things got so false, foul and putrid, good conscience demanded a correction—and who better to provide it than someone who really, really knows water.
OtPR was revived a few months back, likely in response to the grim prospects of dealing with climate change without a plan. But OtPR really got up to speed more recently, about the time the Friant Water Authority began pushing what it calls the, “San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint.”
The Blueprint appears to be yet another in a long line of attempts to deny the water deficit—some 3 to 5 million acre feet—that has resulted from overdrafting groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley, especially from Merced south. The denial is necessary in order to delay as long as possible fallowing the 500,000+ irrigated acres we must retire if we’re to even begin to achieve sustainable water use, especially given the effects of climate change and population growth.
There’s really no way to do justice to OtPR’s cutting review of the Blueprint, and there’s more below that. Especially don’t miss the August 8 post, which includes much-justified hilarity at the likelihood Westlands Water District will lose the money it put into attempts to promote Jerry Brown’s Twin Tunnels. It’s just too good.
Above the August 8 post, the August 15 post recounts Devin Nunes’ purchase of an estimated 100 square feet of farmland. It’s another “too good” post. The absentee congressman who turned out to be a fake farmer has generated much amusement on Twitter and elsewhere, but OtPR turns flogging Devin Nunes into performance art.
But don’t take my word for it. Go to On the Public Record, read it all the way down, and rejoice. It really is too good. Just too, too good.