Coming to a farm near you: Los Angeles

  • Jonathan Thompson

 

Each year, my family and I visit my father-in-law at his house in the desert, just over the mountains from Los Angeles. From there, we can't see the great beast they call L.A., but we can feel it. The San Gabriel Mountains loom black against the city's nighttime glow. At all hours, a steady stream of cars flows by on the Pearblossom Highway. Most aren't trying to get from one town to another, but rather to travel from one side of L.A. to the other side of L.A. - a 100-mile trip.

It's a little scary. But it's also awe-inspiring, because the place works. This teeming machine of humanity, and the gigantic infrastructure that it relies upon, operates day after day, decade after decade, without respite. Each morning, the millions who live here make their coffee, drive to work, switch on their computers. An occasional power outage disrupts things, and there are traffic snarls from time to time, but all in all, the place just keeps humming along.

Yet there are signs of fragility everywhere. This fall, a fiery crash in a freeway tunnel halted traffic and clogged the city's arteries for days afterward. A few downed power lines could cripple the power grid. And, as we learned in October, a spark hitting tinder-dry chaparral can quickly turn well-ordered neighborhoods into an inferno.

Perhaps most delicate and mysterious of all is the system that supplies water to all of these people. It's always been a challenge to keep L.A. wet, but now, with drought, a growing population and a restriction on water withdrawals from the Sacramento Delta, it's become even harder. But it gets done, and HCN Contributing Editor Matt Jenkins, in this issue's cover story, tells us how. He delves into the workings of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which keeps the fluid flowing to some 18 million people. He tells us how this monstrous agency, once known for its ruthlessness, has begun to take a gentler approach to keeping its customers hydrated. A big part of the new approach includes going to farmers and buying or renting water meant for crops.

The intricate maneuvering that Jenkins details may not be pretty, but it's become necessary in these dry times. And, as cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas and Denver come more and more to resemble L.A., these sorts of deals are likely to be replicated across the West.

Here in the town of Paonia, in western Colorado, it all seems a bit abstract. We can look up towards the mountains and see, more or less, the place where our water bubbles out of the ground and flows down a pipe into town, no deal-making necessary. Nevertheless, it would behoove even rural Westerners to pay attention to what's going on in L.A. After all, I suspect someone already has his eye on the water that fills this valley's ditches each summer. And I suspect that someday, we won't need to go to L.A. or Phoenix or Denver, because they'll come to us.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM MANAGER
    Associate Program Manager ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our State Parks thrive. From redwood groves and desert springs...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • FREE RANGE BISON AVAILABLE
    Hard grass raised bison available in east Montana. You harvest or possible deliver quartered carcass to your butcher or cut/wrapped pickup. Contact Crazy Woman Bison...
  • CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST (NORTH CENTRAL WA)
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, and the chance to work with many different kinds of people and accomplish big conservation outcomes? Do you...
  • CARDIGAN WELSH CORGIS
    10 adorable, healthy puppies for sale. 4 males and 6 females. DM and PRA clear. Excellent pedigree from champion lineage. One Red Brindle male. The...
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with volunteer management experience to join...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The conservation non-profit Invasive Species Action Network seeks an executive director. We are focused on preventing the human-caused spread of invasive species by promoting voluntary...