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~  April Supplemental  ~



Patrick Cleary


There is no source of new water--all water is conserved. Location, location, location _ applies equally to real estate as it does water, where it flows and doesn't flow, above or below ground level. Recently, George Skelton, writing in the Los Angeles Times ("Water, water everywhere, but not enough is saved," Capitol Journal, April 4, 2011) brought us back to Chinatown, and the Valley. He was deriding the demagoguery of drought, but also seemed to be advocating for the very water bonds that he claimed benefitted from such hype. He mentions approvingly a mooted reservoir in Colusa County and a new dam along the San Joaquin River near Fresno.


Meanwhile, the Public Policy Institute of California recommends "re-operating" existing dams and levees as part of a reconciliation approach to ecosystem management, especially as regards the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the most critical water supply for California. In their February, 2011 report "Managing California's Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation," the authors advocate a "natural flow regime" for the Delta which would negate the need for pumping water in the middle of the Delta, and divert it to a peripheral canal that would distribute the waters south of the tidal islands to the distributary rivers. A peripheral canal for the San Joaquin Delta bedeviled Governor Brown's first term, as he vacillated in support until finally abandoning the project.


Prompted by Southern California's recent wet season, Skelton asks why we do not capture the excess rain as "precious bounty".


"We could if we had a place to put it and a way to get it there," says Maury Roos, the state's veteran chief hydrologist.


As it happens, I recently visited the Water Replenishment District (WRD) of Southern California, whose service area includes 43 municipalities in South Los Angeles County from the Puente Hills in the north to Palos Verdes and Los Alamitos at the shore. The WRD manages existing groundwater and oversees replenishment of the aquifers that contain the "precious bounty". Analyzing their detailed aquifer maps, it was clear water levels were well below capacity, reflecting the drought of the last few years as well as increased water use. The agency relies on water from the State Water Project to replenish the aquifers at spreading grounds formed by the Rio Hondo River near Pico Rivera. Droughts do not begin with one dry season nor do they end with one rainy season.


The larger issue Skelton does not acknowledge is land use, or more accurately, land miss-use. The building of dams and levees was necessitated by developers who founded communities in flood plains, like Van Nuys, which recently celebrated the centennial of its founding on February 22, 1911.1 It is situated along the drainage of Pacoima Canyon. Only three years after its founding it experienced catastrophic flooding. In California, we live in a hydraulic society. Water is channeled by pumps from one place to another through man-made waterways, for urban, agricultural and environmental purposes. In the Los Angeles area, once natural creeks and rivers have been replaced by concrete storm drains and culverts that scarcely induce a second thought as we drive along their overpasses. In 1938, flooding in the Valley prompted the construction of the Hansen and Sepulveda Dams. Perhaps we have forgotten the horror of flooding in urban areas.2


William Mulholland was the hero of his age in that he engineered the delivery of water for suburban homes and gardens, but also the protection from flash flooding secured by his dams and levees. When one of those dams failed, the St. Francis Dam, he took full responsibility for the devastation and loss of life and died a short seven years later. Now, the dams are a collective responsibility. They are not permanent solutions, as all dams silt up and fail eventually.


In Los Angeles, we find ourselves in "a landscape almost completely dependent on technology to survive," according to David Ulin.3 One of the side effects of a completely engineered water cycle is the rainwater runoff that George Skelton laments. It is true that dams allow water to seep into the soil and eventually the aquifer, but they inhibit fish migration patterns and lead to large scale erosion. Certainly, one of the goals of the Los Angeles River Revitalization effort should be to minimize runoff into the ocean.


So I would point to the location of flood plains and the location of underground aquifers as guideposts. How well do we heed nature's indications? The city fathers of Van Nuys did not read the sand and boulders along the Pacoima Canyon wash as an imminent danger. The cattle ranchers of Chino chose not to consider the vast underground aquifers that might be damaged by the tons of manure excreted by their cows. The citrus ranchers of Orange County over-pumped their groundwater until saltwater threatened the existence of their wells. Aquifers can be permanently damaged, so their careful trusteeship is critical. Above ground, where ownership of land includes rights that might conflict with the public interest, the call for new publicly funded dams or levees is often made in order to deflect private responsibility. As Chinatown illustrates, "The story is an almost perfect metaphor, with its insider intrigues and hidden agendas, and its tension between vision and corruption, by which L.A. is revealed as a territory of overlapping surfaces, where private and public aspirations collide."4 We must look not to new water works as solutions to our chronic water problems, but first to ourselves.


1    http://www.laobserved.com/archive/2011/02/happy_centennial_van_nuys.php

2    "Infamous New Year's Day Flood, Los Angeles Basin, 1934". Biot Report #365: May 28, 2006         

3    http://places.designobserver.com/feature/la_day_la_night/25228/

4    Idmb




You are sitting around a fire after a hard day of work. The air cools and the sun sets, the frogs and crickets begin singing as the sky darkens. Suddenly the person you have been eagerly awaiting leaps to the center of the circle. Your Shaman begins her story. You have heard the story a hundred times, but the antics of the animals and the wisdom in the story never fail to give you pleasure. As she weaves her tale, the knowledge that every thing is alive, carrying its own power and wisdom, soothes your soul.

Let us join together, in this virtual circle, and share these Animal Tales. Let us once again feel how the stories connect us to the natural world and remind us that we are all part of a vast Circle of Life. Listen now as the Shaman's animal stories whisper tales of that
power and wisdom in your ear.


Tonight is another Trickster Coyote tale. This one is told by many Native American tribes; the story of how fire was stolen for the people. In this version it is Coyote, the primary animal trickster figure of the Southwest, who plans and leads the journey. And with the help of some other carefully chosen animals brings warming fire to the world.


As you will see, tricksters are clever animals that are trusted to be wise and know how to trick others into getting what they want. The trickster often bring us a glimpse of something new and different, or something, as in this tale, that makes it possible for the human animals to grow and prosper.


How Coyote Got Fire for the People




A long time ago there was no fire. No fire to warm by, no fire to cook with, and no fire to see in the dark night.


The animals wanted fire. They knew it was a power that could help the world and help them in their lives. The animals asked Coyote to help them get fire. He was the smartest and craftiest of them all. They knew Coyote could get them fire.


Coyote heard about three witch sisters who had fire in their house high up in the mountains. He had a plan to get the fire from them. They were dangerous beings and would surely kill Coyote rather than give him fire.


He asked different animals to help him in his plan. He asked Mountain Lion and Rabbit and Deer to help him. Lastly he asked Frog. All the animals wondered why Coyote asked Frog. Frog was small and had no weapons and could not run very fast. He would be of no good to the plan to get fire everyone thought. But Coyote asked him anyway.


Coyote and his helpers went up the mountain. As they began to climb upward, Coyote told Frog to stay at the bottom by the river. As they went further he told Mountain Lion to wait a little ways up. They went further and Coyote told Rabbit to wait halfway up the mountain. And as they neared the top of the mountain, Coyote told Deer to wait nearby as Coyote went to the old witches’ house.

Coyote went to the house and knocked on the door. The youngest witch sister answered and asked coyote to come in. He came near the fire and in its light he saw the other sisters. They were very ugly and had sharp teeth and claws. They looked at Coyote hungrily. They told him to sit near them and so he did. They gave him some food.


Coyote told them the fire was good and warm and that he was grateful for them welcoming him in and that he had heard many stories about the three witch sisters and how beautiful they were and how they were the best dancers around. The three sisters laughed and blushed. No one had ever talked to them this way and they liked it.


Coyote said he would like to dance with them to see which one of them was the best dancer. He got a hand drum and began to drum and sing a song. The three sisters got up and began to dance. They were terrible dancers, but they believed what Coyote had said.


They danced and danced and Coyote sang and sang. This went on for many hours and late into the night. Morning was coming and still they danced. They were very tired and one by on lay down to rest and sleep.


When the oldest sister lay down to sleep, Coyote jumped up and grabbed a burning stick from the fire in his mouth. It burned his mouth and he cried out in pain, but did not let it go. He ran out the door, but the oldest sister heard him making noises and woke up. She screamed and her sisters woke up too. They began to chase Coyote.


They were running very fast and would catch Coyote if he tired even a little bit. They were getting closer and Coyote could feel their hot breath on his back. They were getting closer.


He called to Deer to take the burning stick. Deer leaped out of the brush and grabbed it, wrapping it in his tail. Deer ran and the sisters now chased him. They were good runners and began to close in on Deer. Soon they would have him. Deer could feel their claws grabbing for the fire in his tail.


Deer called for Rabbit to get ready. Rabbit jumped out of the bushes and grabbed the burning stick and wrapped his long ears around it to keep it safe. And Rabbit ran as fast as he could with the witch sisters now chasing him. He ran and hopped and jumped, but they were very fast and were getting close enough that he could hear their terrible breathing. Rabbit ran further and further down the mountain.


Rabbit called for Mountain Lion to be ready to grab the stick. Mountain Lion leapt out of the rocks and grabbed the stick in his mouth. The stick had burned down and it was a little stick now, almost an ember. Mountain Lion ran as fast as he could, but the witch sisters were relentless and soon they were almost upon him.


Mountain Lion called for Frog to be ready to take the stick. Frog jumped out of the grass and took the stick, which was now a small glowing ember, into his mouth. It burned him badly, but he was determined to help his friends. He hopped as quickly as he could, but frogs cannot run, so soon the sisters were right upon him. They reached their terrible claws out to grab him but Frog jumped into the river and quickly swam to the bottom and buried himself in the mud.


The three sisters tried to dig him out of the mud, but they could not stay under the water long enough to find him. After many days they finally gave up and went back to their home in the mountains.


Frog came out of the mud and water and spit out the ember into wood. That is why we burn wood to get fire. He had kept it safe for all the animals. The animals took the burning ember and built a fire. They now had fire for warmth and cooking and light. All thanks to the little Frog.




Animal Tales Column brought to you by Kamala.

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