View Blog Archive ITP Blog - Archives > On Tap: Engaging the Histories and Future of Water in the San Joaquin Valley

Posted - 09/08/2016
On Tap: Engaging the Histories and Future of Water in the San Joaquin Valley

CIRS_Logo.jpgBy 2016 ITP Grant Partner Ildi Carlisle-Cummins, California Institute for Rural Studies

Climate change can be a polarizing topic in California's San Joaquin Valley. This past summer, however, as San Joaquin Valley communities watched the U.S. Geological Survey drought map turn from ominous shades of "severe drought" orange to "exceptional drought" maroon, the Valley experienced what many believe was a taste of coming water shortages related to climate change. According to the USGS, the Central Valley is home to 75% of the irrigated land in California and 17% of irrigated land in the entire U.S. While it may not be easy or popular to talk about climate change directly in some of the Valley's more conservative circles, people were eager to talk about water—how to find or store more, who it should go to, and how to make do with less. We believe that talking about water management can open up an urgently needed conversation about mitigation of and adaptations to climate change in the Valley, bringing together people who might not agree on the severity or causes of climate change itself.

In 2016, California Institute for Rural Studies staff member Ildi Carlisle-Cummins is working with collaborators Janaki Jagganath, Jenny Rempel and Nikiko Matsumoto to host two gatherings that bring people together to talk about water in the Valley.  Each of the project collaborators on this grant is involved with work related to water. Janaki Jagannath is coordinating a collaborative in the San Joaquin Valley that brings together environmental justice groups to chart a vision of sustainable agriculture in the region. Shifting farming practices towards sustainability will involve water management practice changes. The Cal Ag Roots project, led by Ildi Carlisle-Cummins, is focusing its 2016 story series on farming innovations within immigrant communities in the Valley; we expect water to play a key role in those stories. Nikiko Masumoto has been watching the water table drop and the wells become unreliable on her family farm. The drought has hastened her search—along with other small farmers in the region—for even more sustainable water practices. At the Community Water Center, Jenny Rempel is organizing rural, low-income, predominantly Latino farmworker communities to advocate for access to dwindling supplies of safe water. The partners in this grant are poised to spark dialogue about equity in Valley water systems and raise critical questions about sustainable farming practices.

We are organizing two pauses as part of our On Tap project. The first pause brought our project team together for a two-day retreat in Fresno and along the Kings River in March, 2016. Leaning on Nikiko's training in creative group planning processes, borrowed from methods and fields such as place-making and design thinking to stimulate ideas for our work. We took stock of other active work at the water-climate nexus in the San Joaquin Valley and emerged from the pause with a network map of agencies and activist groups-- along with a host of new perspectives and ideas about water in the Valley. Over the course of our pause, we traveled a route that inspired us to think and talk about the past, present and future of water development, moving from Fresno to the Masumoto Family Farm in Del Rey to the unincorporated farm worker community of Tombstone and following the Kings River to a Central Valley Project site and eventually to Pine Flat Dam. The second pause will take follow this same route in late August in Fresno County and will expand the conversation to include 10-15 other Valley community members with a diverse set of skills and knowledge. The group includes everyone from a history professor to community water advocates to a local water district official and even a musical composer.

The odds of acute drought have doubled in the past century, so the San Joaquin Valley will likely experience more frequent and extreme droughts in the decades ahead. On Tap is gathering residents now to learn from past water management challenges and build toward a more sustainable water future. We believe that the Central Valley's unique position as a place of intensive food production and water use gives the region the potential to make larger impacts on state and national conversations, policies, and practices about agriculture, water, and climate change. Ultimately, the San Joaquin Valley could stand as a model of sustainable transformation towards a more just, equitable, and livable future.