East Porterville revisited

With a wave of stories in the last few days about the provision of running water to the community of East Porterville, in California’s Central Valley, I wanna re-up this important Citylab story by Laura Bliss. East Porterville has been the poster child for drought in California as national and international media descended to tell the stories of a poor community with its well going dry as farmers around pumped down the aquifer.

Bliss’s story sheds light on an important nuance. East Porterville has always had water problems, which have as much to do with the provision of society’s basic infrastructure to the poorest among us as it does with drought. Drought pushed a problem of justice in governance over the cliff:

[T]hose hit hardest by the drought have been vulnerable for decades. The San Joaquin Valley’s history of Wild West land-use planning, its governance structures, and the political disenfranchisement of an entire class of citizens have created a human-made crisis.

Bliss points to a pattern in which incorporated cities had the infrastructure and financial resources to continue to provide the basic municipal service of water, even in the depth of the drought. But around those cities’ margins, places like East Porterville, where many of the communities’ poorest members lived, were denied annexation, kept outside the boundaries of governance needed to provide basic services.

So yes, it was drought that pushed East Porterville’s residents off the cliff. But it was a failure of governance, rooted in economic injustice, that made the difference between who had water during this drought and who didn’t.