To use or refill? (a good mid-March Colorado River Basin forecast raises the question)

With more wet in the forecast, the latest numbers from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center look very good right now:

The active weather pattern that began around mid-February continued through mid-March across the region. Precipitation was above to well above normal across most of the region during the first half of March. March 1-16 precipitation in the UCRB ranged from 80% of normal in the Colorado Headwaters above Kremmling to 275% of normal in the Duchesne River Basin. In the LCRB, March 1-16 precipitation ranged from 110% of normal in the Upper Gila River Basin to 285% of normal in the Virgin River Basin. Precipitation generally exceeded 200% of normal during the first half of March in the GB.

Graph from Colorado Basin River Forecast Center showing unregulated inflow to Lake Powell at nearly 5 million acre feet above average.

A good runoff forecast

This poses a really interesting question for water managers: Do we keep our water conservation foot firmly on the throttle (or brake? a metaphorical muddle?) and use this year’s bonus water to refill the reservoirs? Or do we back off the throttle (brake?) and let some of bonus water flow to users?

As always, a huge thanks to Inkstain’s supporters for making this possible

“partición de bienes” – Albuquerque’s Long Lots

A “long lot” in Albuquerque’s Duranes neighorhood

Sunday’s bike ride book research took us up along the old Duranes ditch, through Albuquerque’s near north valley. The landscape is still wearing its winter coat, but it’s clearly dusting off its leaf-growing apparatus and getting ready for spring.

We stopped to get a look at one of my favorite old farm fields, on Los Luceros Road. If you don’t count parks, it’s likely the largest irrigated parcel left in Duranes, about an acre in size. But look at the picture. Look at its weird shape – 600 feet long, maybe 75 feet wide

Long lots and “partible inheritance”

A guiding theme of our new book is the notion that institutions shape landscapes. By “institutions” here, we mean rules. The government agencies, the more common thing we talk about when we talk about “institutions”, are relegated to an important but secondary role – they are the tools we build to carry out the rules. So you’ve got to start with the rules.

The rule that drives the shape of this long narrow lot on Los Luceros is “partible inheritance”, a practice rooted in Spanish law of dividing land up equally among heirs to a piece of property. You can’t write Johnny out of the will because he joined the circus to pursue his dream of becoming a clown. Johnny still gets his share of the land when Mom and Dad are gone. And, importantly, because its value is connected to his ability to irrigated, Johnny and his siblings each get a narrow piece of land, connected on one end to the ditch.

Partible inheritance – “partición de bienes” – inevitably led to a bunch of “long lots” in the midst of urban Albuquerque.

Long lots and Albuquerque’s urban form

The urban development of Albuquerque was passed through the institutional funnel of partible inheritance.

Long lots of Duranes. Source: MRGCD 1927 Property Maps

You can see it in the map to the right (click to blow it up), showing the land ownership structure of the old village of Los Duranes circa 1927.

Long lots helped to establish a distinct agricultural landscape, as small family-owned subsistence farms gave way to work in the wage economy after the arrival of the railroad in 1880.

The long lots and the ditches influenced the layout of roads and paths, and which mostly (as in Duranes) run parallel to the ditches, sharing the high ground path the ditch builders chose for the first and most crucial piece of Albuquerque’s urban infrastructure.

Partible inheritance also resulted in fragmented land ownership, which shaped the urban growth and development patterns of Albuquerque.

The primary large parcels available to the early 20th century city-builders were the ones not subject to the “long lot” phenomenon. (Reader warning, I’m getting arm wavy here, but this is the hypothesis.) These big chunks of non-long lot land were mostly swamps and riverside woods, and that’s where you find the wave of suburban home building in the middle third of the 20th century. I think.


“the valley breathing in”

The Duranes, in Albuquerque’s North Valley, awaits first water. February 2023

The Middle Rio Grand Conservancy District began diverting water this morning (March 16, 2023) around 4 a.m. from the Angostura Diversion Dam north of town into the Albuquerque Main. The big concrete-lined channel carries water down the east side of the river some 15 miles to Albuquerque’s North Valley.

It irrigates land along the way in Santa Ana and Sandia Pueblos, two Native American communities that have lived and farmed their lands for what we call “time immemorial”, a poetic term rooted in English common law that the English jurist William Blackstone in the 1700s described as “a time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.”

By next week, the water will be flowing down through the city, through a hybrid landscape that is sorta “peri-urban”, a term that’s usually used to describe the transition zone between urban and rural areas. But Albuquerque’s peri-urban landscape is weird, or at least we think it’s weird (a central theme in our new book).

Peri-urban landscapes are often characterized by the tension of a city sweeping away the rural, an expanding series of concentric circles as the urban area pushes outward. But in Albuquerque the ditches of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District instead became a peri-urban anchor that preserved a belt of quasi-rural green run straight through the city’s urban core.

The economics wonks have a conceptual framework to think about what has happened here in the notion of “non-market values”. We normally think of irrigation ditches as conveying economic benefit via crops that farmers sell. Here, the value is non-market:

  • a preservation of a perceived cultural and historical significance, maybe growing a bit of hay or some fruit trees (I say “perceived” – maybe not quite the right word? – because our narrative of the history of agriculture in the valley doesn’t seem to match up well with the actual history, but the non-market value comes from the perception, eh?)
  • ecosystem services – the richly understudied biodiversity of the ditch network is endlessly fascinating, a novel ecosystem that’s been around for hundreds of years
  • recreational opportunities – walking, biking, fishing. Yeah, really, people fish the ditches!
  • community cohesion – social capital is built around the shared experiences of a neighborhood ditch
  • aesthetic values – have y’all seen that giant cottonwood along the Griegos Lateral?

My book’s co-author, Bob Berrens, and I are playing with an intriguing hypothetical: What would it take to add something like this to a city after the fact? Like, take a modern western city that’s kinda dry and boring and add a network of public flowing water through its midst, with trees and walking trails in the cool summer shade?

You couldn’t do it.

Years ago I was out on a newspaper story around this time of year with the late Joey Trujillo, the MRGCD guy in charge of helping usher the water down the Albuquerque Main into the city. I can’t find the old quote, so I’m doing this from memory, which is risky, but what I remember Joey saying is this:

I love this time of year. You can feel the valley breathing in.

Deadpool Diaries: Colorado River report card

An old wrecked speedboat emerging from a declining Lake Mead.

The structural deficit

With the March 24-month study out, a status report on the Colorado River Basin’s critical numbers. I’ve added the “minimum probable” forecast this time to help better understand the risk profile.

In brief, water users continue to take more water out of Lake Mead than is flowing in.

Most Probable
Lake Mead million acre feet
Start of WY2023 7.328
End of WY2023 6.589
Change in storage (0.739)
Year-end elevation 1,034.27
Miminum Probable
Lake Mead million acre feet
Start of WY2023 7.328
End of WY2023 5.883
Change in storage (1.445)
Year-end elevation 1,023.46


Projected water use by Lower Basin states

State Projected use in maf Percent of full allocation
California 4.423 100.52%
Arizona 2.358 84.21%
Nevada 0.227 75.67%


Sources: Projected reservoir levels, March 24-month studies, retrieved March 15, 2023; Forecast Lower Basin use, USBR Forecast, March 13, 2023, retrieved March 15, 2023

As always, a huge thanks to Inkstain’s supporters for helping make this possible.

Does 2023’s “cabin crusher” of a snowpack herald a return of California’s Tulare Lake?

Map showing the Tulare Lake Basin in Central California, USA.

Map showing the Tulare Lake Basin in Central California, USA. Shaded relief data from USGS. Solid blue: Perennial streams Dashed blue: Seasonal streams Dashed light blue: Man-made aqueducts Beige: Dry lake beds. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

It is easy to forget that California’s Tulare Lake, in the southern San Joaquin Valley, once competed with Lake Cahuilla (the “Salton Sea”) for the title of “largest lake west of the Mississippi”.

We drained it. We farm it. But as Erica Gies happily reminds us at every opportunity, water is a formidable adversary if we aren’t willing to make peace with it.

Here’s Jeff Mount:

It is easy to forget that the Tulare Basin once held a very large lake, covering more than 1,000 square miles. The lake was very productive, with vast tule marshes teeming with fish and waterbirds that supported numerous Native American tribes. In very wet periods, it got deep enough (more than 40’ deep) to spill over into the San Joaquin River. In surface area, it was the largest water body west of the Mississippi, surpassing even the Great Salt Lake.

But in the 1900s, inflow to the basin was tamed by a combination of levees, dams, and canals, allowing farming throughout the region. Despite this, every few decades, nature recaptures a portion of the old lakebed when flows from the four rivers that drain into the basin—the Kings, Kaweah, Tule, and Kern—overwhelm the ability of landowners to move water around to avoid flooding their fields.

The last big cabin-crusher of a snowpack happened in 1983. That year, a young John Fleck got “trapped” in Chico, California, by the bodacious runoff (the scare quotes a reference to the fact that 23-year-old me being stuck in a party town with a delightful traveling companion and no particular need to be anywhere else was not a bad thing). In 1983, according to Mount’s PPIC post, 100,000 acres of Tulare’s former lakebed, now turned lucrative farmland, ended up under water.

There’s a good chance of something along those lines happening again this year – the water has to go somewhere! But Mount notes a fascinating “wrinkle”:

For the past decade, extensive groundwater withdrawal has lowered portions of the Tulare Basin, including areas both in and around the historic lake. This is likely to have two impacts. First, flooding may affect a potentially wider area that’s now lower and within reach of flood waters. Second, even though infrastructure that’s used to move water around in the Tulare Basin is critical to managing floodwaters, subsidence has altered the slope of many irrigation canals, reducing their capacity to move water. It’s not yet clear how this will impact flood management, but it could pose a challenge.

Jeff’s post is useful throughout.

Deadpool Diaries: A report card on our response to inconvenient science

A Colorado River report card

Lake Mead Water Year 2023, based on the most recent Bureau of Reclamation 24-month study

Lake Mead million acre feet percent full
Start of WY2023 7.328 28.08%
End of WY2023 6.508 24.93%
gain(loss) (0.820) -3.14%


Current forecast U.S. Lower Basin water use

state projected use in maf percent of full allocation
California 4.427 100.61%
Arizona 2.36 84.29%
Nevada 0.227 75.67%


Sources: Projected reservoir levels, February 24-month study, retrieved March 13, 20-23; Forecast Lower Basin use, USBR Forecast, March 10,2023, retrieved March 13, 2023


Some “inconvenient science”

An Assessment of Potential Severed Droughts in the Colorado River Basin

Salehabadi, Homa, et al. “An Assessment of Potential Severe Droughts in the Colorado River Basin.” JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association (2022). (from the terrifically helpful Utah State Colorado River team and collaborators)

We summarize our updated understanding of plausible future drought conditions by considering historical flows, tree-ring reconstructions, and climate change…. We produced three drought scenarios, each comprising 100 streamflow sequences to be used as input to systems operation and management models. We used analysis of the duration-severity and cumulative deficit relative to the mean natural flow to evaluate droughts and drought simulations and show that the current millennium drought that started in 2000 has an average flow far less than the historical record. However, the flows reconstructed from tree rings or future flows projected from climate models indicate that even more severe droughts are possible. When used as input to the Colorado River Simulation System the drought scenarios developed indicate considerable periods when Lake Powell falls below its hydropower penstocks, indicating a need to rethink management and operation of these reservoirs during these critical conditions. (emphasis added)

Let the rethinking begin.


Inkstain at Twenty

tl;dr I started this blog 20 years ago today. I used it to learn to write.


Black and white photo of a 20th birthday cake.

Tims 20th birthday cake, courtesy Marion Doss

This blog started 20 years ago today (March 9, 2003) thus:

I have too many blogs already – Advogato, the Nuke Beat, my ABQJournal musings. Starting another seems a bit of overkill. They all have their roots elsewhere – a pre-existing publisher in the case of the Journal and Advogato, which provides a built-in audience. There’s comfort in that. The Nuke Beat’s just a hare-brained experiment, which may or may not work. But they all have something in common, which is me.

By that time I’d been a professional writer for two decades, for most of that time solely in print. My nerdy volunteer side hustle working on free software (GNOME, a Linux user interface thingie) took me down the tech rabbit hole, and I was part of the newspaper geek crew trying to figure out how make sense and use of the Internet’s amazing possibilities.

As the quoted bit above notes, I’d already been experimenting with blogging – Advogato was a free software community site, the Albuquerque Journal gave some of us blogs to play with early on, and I’d set up the “Nuke Beat”, a topic-specific blog associated with the nuclear stuff I was covering at the newspaper and as a freelancer at the time.

But none of them were “me” exactly – all were derivative of some particular subset of what I was writing and thinking about.

Rob Browman and I had registered the Inkstain domain name some years earlier and were already using it as a sandbox, first with a little Sun box plugged into a rack of gear at the office, then hosted at Southwest Cyberport, our still-awesome local ISP.

Inkstain began with two mottos: “Some things you don’t want to do on your employer’s production server.” and Jello Biafra’s “A prank a day keeps the leash away.” Some days had more than one.

So I installed Movable Type, one of the first-gen blogging platforms, and began to type.

David Cassidy and the Stochastic Parrot

Working on the new book, I’ve ponied up for a subscription for research. In addition to the book research (1920s newspapers are a blast), a fun side benefit is access to a bunch of my old newspaper work.

One of my first searches was for what I think of as the Fleckest thing I’ve ever written – the time I interviewed David Cassidy. Yeah, the Partridge Family guy, that guy.

some of the vast detritus of my newspaper carrier

It started as a joke.

On my morning commute, I’d seen a billboard announcing that Cassidy would be playing Sat., Oct. 21, 2006 at “San Felipe Casino Hollywood,” one of our Indian casinos. Our Friday entertainment section would do setup pieces for weekend shows, a delightful sad tired ritual where the publicist would set up a phone interview with the artist from some random tour stop the week before.

I wandered over to the arts desk and told Dan Mayfield that he should let me do the David Cassidy piece.

It was sort of a joke.

I was the science writer.

I had a reputation as the office policy wonk.

David Cassidy was an aging pop star.

But I have always taken my craft seriously, and also the Inkstain motto: “A prank a day keeps the leash away.”

Cassidy was a great sport in what must have been the approximately 5,782nd time he had to cheerfully reflect on his Partridge Family life.

The joy for me is rereading the rat-a-tat of my own voice, the way I used the Cassidy peg for a tight, sweeping little essay on ’70s art and pop culture. This is one my favorite paragraphs I’ve ever written. The setup was a paragraph introducing Shirley Jones and the Partridge Family’s peppy intro, “C’mon get happy!”, then somehow this spilled out.

They had the symbolic trappings of counter-culture rock ‘n’ roll, down to the old hippie-looking tour bus. But this wasn’t a Ken Kesey-style “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” bus. Its colorful paint job carried the cheerful clean abstract lines of Piet Mondrian rather than the revolutionary stylings of Jasper Johns.

I still marvel at where stuff like that comes from.

In a widely read and lately even more widely quoted-without-reading-it-all 2021 paper, linguist Emily Bender and colleagues introduced the “stochastic parrot” to help us understand language models like ChatGPT, the “AI” thingie that all the cool kids are talking about. Language models ingest huge volumes of words written by humans and develop probabilistic models of what sort of words follow what other sorts of words.

They’re super interesting, and I’ve been spending a ton of time experimenting with ChatGPT, in part as a sort of “compare and contrast” to try to think about my own writer’s brain, which is a marvelous puzzle. Here’s Bender et al explaining the parrot metaphor:

A LM is a system for haphazardly stitching together sequences of linguistic forms it has observed in its vast training data, according to probabilistic information about how they combine, but without any reference to meaning: a stochastic parrot.

You’re either on the bus or off the bus

The thing I puzzle about, that fills me with wonder, is how stuff like the Cassidy piece comes together in the chaos of my writer’s mind.

I had to start with Cassidy, and from somewhere – 11-year old me sitting in front of a TV with my 13-year-old sister, Lisa? – came the notion that the Partridge Family made rock and roll safe for suburban middle American us. I doubt I thought it up myself, all of my ideas are derivative, right? I’m no parrot, yes? An original thinker, yes?

David Cassidy helped make rock ‘n’ roll safe.

A cultural revolution fueled by anger over war in Southeast Asia, with rock ‘n’ roll as its soundtrack, was tearing the United States apart in 1970 when “The Partridge Family” premiered.

In Vietnam, American soldiers were thick in the middle of what would be the last major ground offensive of the war. In America, young people were on the streets, loudly and angrily.

Jimi Hendrix, symbol of all that was dangerous about rock ‘n’ roll, died Sept. 18, 1970 after taking too many sleeping pills. Two weeks later, Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose.

Sandwiched in between, on Sept. 25, the perky members of the sitcom “The Partridge Family” made their television debut, an upbeat message out of their garage telling us that everything was going to be just fine.

Rat-a-tat. “…perky… “…out of their garage….” I can still remember my delight at nailing down the timeline – Hendrix, Joplin, the Partridge Family. Rat-a-tat.

Off the bus?

Mondrian and Jasper Johns were just icing. Modrian was obvious – look at that bus! Jasper Johns rolled out of my own language model, the art I’d grown up around, the water I swam in as a juvenile fish, the obvious thing that comes after Mondrian when you’re looking for countercultural art.

Obvious, anyway, to a kid trained at LACMA.

Having been born in 1959, I always felt cheated that I was too young to appreciate “the Sixties”, but I played all the music as a college DJ after the fact, and I read the Electric Kool-Aid Acid test at a very impressionable moment in my development as a young writer – “You’re either on the bus or off the bus.” I had so very much wanted to be on the bus.

So all the raw materials were there. But how did my writer’s brain assemble them? I’ve no idea.

At this point, stuff like this is beyond the large language models.

While working on this piece, I prompted ChatGPT to output some words about the connection between David Cassidy and Jasper Johns. The resulting text was a story about how David Cassidy was a big fan and avid collector of the artist’s work.

It sounded great – that’s what LLM’s are good at, sounding great, a terrific parrot as parrots go – but seems not to be anchored in verifiable reality.

More deeply, to borrow from Bender et al, “without any reference to meaning” – somehow those life experiences, dropping acid and reading Kesey in the late 1970s in a desperate attempt to recapture the ’60s, standing in bemused fascination before a Jasper Johns flag at some big boy art museum show, scratchy Hendrix on the turntable at KWCW, sitting in the Fleck family TV room rapt in September 1970s – “c’mon get happy!” – assembled by my writer’s brain into my crazy wonderful David Cassidy piece, contained “reference to meaning.”

Where did I learn to be archly dismissive of Mondrian? Where did that come from?


Inkstain at 20

I eventually ported Inkstain to WordPress, and according to my installation’s database, when I hit “publish” this will be my 6,176th blog post here.

As I think I mentioned, I’d been crafting workable sentences for a living for 20 years by the time the blog launched, but this is where I learned to write.

Thanks for reading.

Inching toward El Niño

Today’s ENSO outlook (El Niño Southern Oscillation) suggests a consensus among “the models” that the odds are tipping toward an El Niño for the coming summer and fall. The humans in the loop are more bearish:

The most recent IRI plume favors ENSO-neutral to continue through the spring, with El Niño forming during summer 2023 and persisting through the fall. In contrast, the forecaster consensus favors ENSO-neutral through summer 2023, with elevated chances of El Niño developing afterwards. The smaller chances of El Niño relative to the model predictions are primarily because ENSO forecasts made during the spring are less accurate, and also the tropical Pacific atmosphere is still fairly consistent with a cool/La Niña-like state. However, it is possible that strong warming near South America may portend a more rapid evolution toward El Niño and will be closely monitored. In summary, La Niña has ended and ENSO-neutral conditions are expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring and early summer 2023.

Reminder: El Niño tips the odds toward wet along the southern tier of U.S. states – meaning the Rio Grande and lower reaches of the Colorado River basin(s). The upper reaches of the Colorado River basin are meh. And note “tips the odds”, a reminder that echoes through my typing fingers as I hear the voice of the late great Kelly Remond every time I write about this. See: Southern California’s cabin-crusher of a snowpack after a La Niña winter – ENSO tips the odds, but is no guarantee.

As always, a huge thanks to my supporters for helping make this work possible.

On Gardens

“A garden in Giverny that used to be owned by Claude Monet, where he did many of his paintings. The famous Monet bridge (as used in his paintings). Not sure if it is a new bridge or the original one.” Photo by Elliott Brown, 2009, licensed under Creative Commons

Utopian text

Every garden is a utopian text, expressing the desire for a more perfect world as well as an implicit critique of the less-lovely world in which it is located.

– Naomi Jacobs, Consuming Beauty: The Urban Garden as Ambiguous Utopia

Claude Monet, no doubt speaking in French and so shared here translated prosaically into English, is quoted as having described his garden as “my most beautiful masterpiece” – perhaps this, if not accurate, is at least more poetic: “Mon plus beau chef-d’oeuvre, c’est mon jardin.”?

Which is quite saying something, though you don’t have to look far to find the convergence between his garden and the other works for which he is justifiably well known.

During the “Great War” (Monet would have been broken when we had to start numbering them) a numbed Monet retreated into his garden at Giverny. From Royal Academy curator Ann Dumas, setting the scene for a 2015 exhibition of what the RA called “garden painters”:

Monet’s monumental canvases of his water garden painted in the last decade of his life – the Grandes Décorations (1914–26) – are the ultimate expression of the symbiosis between his garden and his art. They would seem to offer a retreat into a world of tranquil beauty, an aesthetic immersion in the garden that obsessed him for the last 30 or so years of his life. Yet, for Monet these works carried another layer of meaning, beyond the garden. They were his very personal response to the mass tragedy of the First World War. “Yesterday I resumed work,” he wrote on 1 December 1914. “It’s the best way to avoid thinking of these sad times. All the same, I feel ashamed to think about my little researches into form and colour while so many people are suffering and dying for us.”

From the garden, Monet could hear the guns, the “less-lovely world” beyond his garden walls.

The Duranes ditch

The Duranes ditch in Albuquerque’s North Valley, March 2023, photo by John Fleck

Our Sunday bike ride (it’s book research! totally counts!) looped and wandered with a vague destination of the Duranes ditch in Albuquerque’s North Valley. It’s the setting for what I think will be a critical scene in the conclusion of the book Bob Berrens and I are writing. Here’s the key bit:

As a terrifying pandemic fog enveloped the world in the warming late spring of 2020, the Duranes Ditch in Albuquerque’s North Valley was transformed.

Treelined and cool, the Duranes has the quasi-geologic structure of a traditional New Mexico acequia, berms on either side created by centuries of spring cleanings to keep the slow, cool water flowing. Ditchbank berms have become walking paths through the neighborhoods on the Albuquerque metropolitan area’s valley floor, tree-lined and cool against the summer heat.

In the spring and summer of 2020, the Duranes became a pandemic lifeline, the normal trickle of ditch walkers turned into a flood.

When I read Dumas’s story of Monet in his garden painting with the sound of shells in the distance, I was struck by the parallels with the pandemic ditchbanks of the valley – the desire for a more perfect world, existing precisely because of the tension with the staggeringly “less-lovely” world beyond.

And gardens.

I’m writing on the edge of my comfort zone here with this garden stuff. There is a rich literary tradition around the idea, a line that starts with the Old Testament. (I realize it has issues, but the King James of my childhood will always be poetry to my atheist ears – it is at the heart of both my rebellion against organized religion and my learning to write.)

And the lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed….

And the lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

But the story of Eden, crucially, only stands in contrast to that which lies outside of it, our “mortal coil”.

I am not a “rich literary tradition” kind of writer, more comfortable in my wonkish policy realm. But our story demands it, so I’m taking a dive into the ideas of gardens.

“gardens of the new West”

Testifying before the House Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation in December 1930 on S. 4123, “An act to provide for the aiding of farmers in any state by the making of loans to drainage districts, levee districts, levee and drainage districts, counties, boards of supervisors, and/or other political subdivisions and legal entities, and for other purposes,” Mr. J. Rupert Mason of San Francisco, Calif., sung the praises of reclamation and gardens:

these epoch -making achievements have gone steadily forward, under fair and foul economic conditions during periods of high mortality for railways, industries, banks, and commercial institutions, and to-day irrigated agriculture stands in the front ranks in annual earnings and total assets on the capital investment which changed the old deserts into gardens of the new West.

Mason (I have no idea who he is, I just ran across the garden reference while I was hunting through congressional testimony for some other stuff) is drawing a contrast here, between the “mortal coil” of the great depression and the Edenic “gardens of the new West”.

Old Baldy Brand oranges

Whoever he was, Mason is doing something crucial for the narrative Bob and I are crafting: His “gardens of the new West” stretch beyond the crop revenue-producing agricultural lands.

One writer, referring to the part irrigation and drainage have taken in building up a great western city and contrasting the irrigated areas with the unirrigated, says, when referring to that city:

“Its broad avenues are embowered in luxuriant foliage and the adjacent orange
groves and fine fruit gardens present a marked contrast to the vast barren unirrigated
regions thereabout not yet touched by the magic wand – water.”

I have no idea where Mason’s “one writer” is talking about, but I grew up there. The town of my birth, Upland, California, was richly green with the luxuriant foliage left behind when its fine citrus groves slowly handed the future off to suburbia.

This is the crucial point of the book. When we make irrigation canals and drainage ditches, we are not merely bringing the land into a crop export economy. We are building gardens in which to live.

Monet’s turnout

Look closely at Elliott Brown’s photo at the top of the post. Through the bridge (almost certainly rebuilt since Monet’s time) you can see the handle of the turnout used to control the flow of water into Monet’s lily ponds.

Gardens need tending.