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Behind the Scenes


Living Off the Land
Produced by J. Greenberg

As the population of the Valley swells, its freeways choke with traffic. Though tie-ups and long commutes can wreak havoc with people's schedules, they can have an even more devastating effect on the environment. Californians' dependence on the automobile poses the greatest threat to the air we breathe -- and in turn to the Valley's economy.

Metropolitan Sacramento suffers from the 10th worst ozone levels in the country, but air quality is a Valley-wide issue. Whatever the solution, it must come soon. Unless Sacramento cleans up its air by 2005, the federal government may withhold federal highway funds. Without this money, Valley drivers can expect more traffic snarls and longer commutes, which would lead to even greater pollution.

Hopefully, we've learned from our experiences in using -- and abusing -- the Valley's most precious natural resource: water. It is the foundation of our economy. It powers our cities, and transformed the Central Valley into one of the most fertile regions on earth. But our dependence on water has sometimes undermined our aspirations, and our use of it has often been disastrous to the environment.

At the height of the Gold Rush, hydraulic mining -- washing away hillsides with high-pressure hoses -- savaged the ecology of the Central Valley. Rivers were diverted and drained of their water, while run-off heavy with silt and impurities poisoned farmlands. But farmers fought back to preserve their land and water rights. Their 1884 legal victory marked a shift in California water policy -- a new direction that would prevail for nearly a century, as California's fortunes grew with its crops.

But what benefited our farms has often devastated the Valley's natural environment. As more water was set aside for growth and agriculture, rivers and wetlands dried up, and many native species dwindled. In recent years, significant strides have been made to halt and even reverse the damage. CalFed -- the joint state and federal agency that distributes California's water -- has removed dams to restore the natural flow of the Valley's rivers. Perhaps their most important endeavor is the stabilization of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

But not everyone is happy with these efforts. Several agricultural organizations are suing CalFed in an effort to secure more water that they say is needed to maintain production. On the other hand, some environmental groups complain that CalFed has not gone far enough to repair the damage done by decades of unbalanced water policies. But more and more, these two sides are coming together, as they realize that they have more in common than not. Of course, consensus on water policy would be easier to achieve if the Valley had an unlimited supply. But in years when rainfall slips below average and melting snow water from the mountains fails to meet our needs, the Central Valley must tap even deeper into its groundwater reserves or learn to conserve…

Because the Valley relies so heavily on water, we're liable to think of it solely as a resource. But from time to time, nature reminds us that it is also a force to be reckoned with. Too much water can pose an even greater danger than too little. Levees aren't always effective, and even when they are, they often save one area at the expense of another. Ultimately, the Central Valley must try to strike a balance between urban and agricultural concerns…between generating power and preserving the environment…between protecting against floods and staving off drought. There may not be a "perfect balance" but we must realize that growth in the Valley doesn't preclude conservation; it depends on it.


Christopher Cabaldon
West Sacramento City Council Member

Kevin Starr
State Librarian-Historian


The complete text of New Valley Episode 101 -- Preserving the Dream...



Presentation also made possible by a grant from
the Great Valley Center


New Valley Official Site