Balancing act

  • J.David Love

    Wyoming Travel Commission

Balancing Act

The cover story in this issue is the first of a two-part series about a topic that High Country News has been covering for a long time: California water. More specifically, it's a look at the Golden State, post-Bruce Babbitt - the Clinton-era Interior secretary who negotiated massive water agreements in California and the Colorado River Basin.

Through countless hours of negotiation - and more than a little arm-twisting - Babbitt and his staff convinced California to change the way it manages its most precious resource, and to wean itself from Colorado River water owned by other states. The question now is whether those agreements will hold up under a new administration.

In this issue, HCN Assistant Editor Matt Jenkins takes a look at one of the toughest, orneriest old water buffaloes, the Imperial Irrigation District, and wonders if the "buffalo" title still applies. Over the past 20 years, Imperial has been forced to give up some of its mammoth one-fifth share of the Colorado River. But the latest step toward efficiency may threaten the Salton Sea, a critical stopover point for migratory birds.

In the second part of the series, Arizona writer Susan Zakin will tell the tale of the California Delta - the sprawling wetland that once offered refuge to a myriad of wildlife and birds. Its fate is now tangled in a web of state and national politics.

Wrestling with California's water woes is an odious task for everyone involved, but it's one that will ripple through the entire West. As Zakin rightly points out, "They say about New York that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. If California can solve its water problems, perhaps the rest of us can, too."

Spreading the News

Thanks to our generous readers, we've raised over $1.3 million to date toward our goal of $2 million for the Spreading the News Campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to endow our 20-year-old intern program and to vitalize our new media programs - Writers on the Range, Radio High Country News, our Web site (, and news syndication service (High Country News Service).

If you haven't already contributed to the campaign, watch your mailbox around the first week of October - we'll be sending you information on how you can get involved. If you've already given, thank you! Your gifts are already going to good use.

Writers on the Range columns have been making waves around the region. We'll place well over 4,000 columns in close to 80 different newspapers this year. In the last month, both the Denver Post and the Cheyenne, Wyo., Tribune-Eagle ran a three-column package from WOTR looking at who is to blame for the wildfires that have blazed across the West this summer.

High Country News Service continues to spread HCN stories far and wide.

In October, we'll launch a revamped Web site, which will include a stronger search engine for accessing the HCN archive, and we hope will be more useful for our online and on-paper readers alike.

The intern program is going strong so strong, in fact, that we've hired another former intern as a full-time staffer. Laura Paskus is now an assistant editor, keeping an eye on the Pacific Northwest.

Spreading the News has also launched HCN, literally, into space. Starting mid-September, Radio HCN will be available via satellite to public radio stations around the West (up to this point, we've distributed the show on cds). The radio staff has also spawned a new column for the newspaper called "Off the Air" that debuts with an interview with Native American writer Sherman Alexie.

More musical chairs

All this progress requires people power, and the HCN staff continues to change and grow. Robyn Morrison, formerly our development director, has left fund raising for journalism. Robyn will be working for HCN as a special projects editor, overseeing a new Web site that focuses on collaborative approaches to resource management. HCN pioneered reporting on such efforts in the 1990s, and has continued to follow the issue, touted as an alternative to the litigation-happy head banging that usually characterizes land management. The new Web site grows out of a conference held in Red Lodge, Mont., in 2001, which brought together collaboration practitioners and thinkers. Funded by the Liz Claiborne & Art Ortenberg Foundation, it will be a tool for folks in the field, but as with all of our endeavors, it will stand on a foundation of solid, in-depth journalism.

Moving into Robyn's seat is Gretchen Aston-Puckett, who has been our office manager. She'll be working as assistant development director, alongside publisher Paul Larmer, to push the Spreading the News Campaign through to completion.

And to replace Gretchen, we've hired Denise Massart-Isaacson, who moved to Paonia a little over a year ago. Denise is a biologist by training: She spent eight summers at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colo., studying, among other things, the pollination biology of Ipomopsis aggregata. That's Latin for scarlet gilia, or skyrocket, a plant that grows in high mountain meadows and shoots off flashy red flowers. Denise once trained hummingbirds to feed from flowers she held in her hand. She's done such an admirable job organizing a pack of Paonians to play ultimate Frisbee every week, we figure she'll get the High Country News staff in line in no time.

We've also hired JoAnn Kalenak as a design/production assistant. JoAnn comes to Paonia from Coal Creek Canyon outside Golden, Colo., and says with gusto, "I've left the corporate world behind." She spent seven years producing glossy magazines for the Association for Operating Room Nurses. More recently, she ran a small print shop - "a miniature Kinko's" - and started a community publication called Highlander Monthly. The publication covered everything from local personalities and living with bears, to fights against monster homes and giant TV towers. "This is so cool for me," she says of her new spot at HCN. "I'm putting all this experience to good use."

Finally, coming all the way from Washington, D.C., April Reese has joined our staff as an assistant producer for Radio High Country News. The job is the perfect intersection of April's past lives. She spent seven years as a radio DJ (some of you East-Coasters may know her as "April St. John," or "April Thomas" from various "rock radio" stations). Most recently, she was the editor of Land Letter, a weekly online publication that covers environmental issues around the country (there, she wrote under her real name - at least under the name she's given us). Here in Paonia, says the Maryland native, "I can do it all - radio and journalism - in one place."

Congratulations - and thanks

Subscriber Kevin Brooks and his fiancee, Veronica Ortiz, of Napa, Calif., recently contacted us with a special request for back issues of the paper. For their Sept. 21 wedding, they plan to give guests copies of High Country News, and include information about our Spreading the News campaign. We are wowed to be included in their special day and appreciate their support.

A legend of the land

He's been described by writer John McPhee as the "grand old man of Rocky Mountain geology," and by longtime friend and HCN founder Tom Bell as a man you meet "once in a lifetime." Born in Riverton, Wyo., in 1913, and raised in the rich landscape that became his life's work, J. David Love was an admired geologist and an unrelenting lover of the land.

His thorough investigation of Wyoming's geologic riches eventually led to widespread mining - an irony that inspired Love to fight for the environmental health of his state, particularly the Red Desert in southern Wyoming. But his dedication to his economically strained neighbors was equally fierce in a state whose economy depends heavily on its natural resources. McPhee's book, Rising From the Plains, profiled the conflicted Love, as well as his parents, who were early pioneers in the Wyoming wildlands.

Even in his 80s, Love, who was one of HCN's first supporters, continued to hike in the mountains near his home in Casper, which he shared with Jane Love, his wife of 62 years, and where he died at the age of 89.

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