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Behind the Scenes


Produced by Jerry Blair

When we study the health of our natural resources there are no county lines. When we're dealing with the air we breath, the water we drink, and land we share in this ecosystem of the Great Basin, jurisdictional boundaries don't mean much. Ten counties from Sacramento to Shasta. Eight down to Kern. Four hundred and fifty miles of alluvial plain made over into an Eden of agricultural abundance. With that abundance came the growth that is now making demands on our natural infrastructure -- demands that could conceivably reverse much of what makes the Valley an enticing place to live and work.

Take a deep breath. This Central Valley geography we've come to know and appreciate as the "Breadbasket of the World" also happens to be a perfect spot for the collection of air pollutants. A Public Policy Institute poll found that 34% of Californians view air pollution as the most important environmental issue facing the state today. Much of that concern points to the Central Valley.

At the foundation of this Central Valley ecosystem is the land. For centuries it supported a vast wealth of wildlife and natural habitat. Today it also sustains cities, suburbs, a massive agricultural complex and industries of all shapes and sizes. According to the California Department of Conservation, between 1996 and 1998 the San Joaquin Valley saw over nine thousand acres of irrigated farmland turned over to urban use.The loss of wetlands to urban use in the valley can cause changes that have far reaching implications to wildlife using the Pacific Flyway. Interruptions of riparian pathways can cause damage to the natural filtering of water contaminants and deplete aquifers.

The Central Valley at one time had over 4 million acres of vast wetlands; today these have diminished to a mere 300,000 acres. The PPIC poll indicates that Central Valley residents are split over how best to use what open space remains.

As we've seen over the last few years, poorly managed energy sources have far reaching ramifications to our environment, our health, and our pocketbooks. According to the California Energy Commission, per capita residential electricity usage in the Central Valley is consistently a third higher than the state average. You can blame the summer valley heat.

The life's blood of California's past and its future is water. Only gold may hold a higher spot in the resources hierarchy. Agricultural interests, manufacturers, tour directors and urban planners can all make a case for needing more of this diminishing resource.

Our rivers and streams are the spine of a watershed system that must support wildlife and the growth that is now threatening many prime watersheds in the valley.

Our other major waterways, the Sacramento, San Joaquin and American Rivers have all been seriously impacted by growth. Thirteen percent of the rivers and streams in Sacramento County are damaged to some degree. Eleven percent of San Joaquin County's waterways are suffering from growth related pollution.

Air, land, water, and energy. Resource managers are working overtime in their efforts to stay ahead of the growth curve.

A tough task, since we've already fouled our nest...


Eric Vink
Asst. Director, CA Dept. of Conservation


The complete text of New Valley Episode 108 -- Refuge or Ruin...


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


New Valley Official Site