Monday, August 11, 2008

1,965 miles

We started out our trip singing, "We are going, heaven knows where we are going ..." and boy, did we ever go!

I drove a total of 1,965 miles, from South Pasadena to Sacramento to McCloud and all the way back down again. It was an amazing, incredible journey and I feel so blessed to have been a part of it.

There we are in the picture, proudly wearing our UULMCA t-shirts, just after we led the Sunday worship service at UU Church of Fresno (Aaron is not in the photo, he must have been doing something with the video equipment).

That morning, we preached what we had been practicing and learning all week. We shared our struggles, enlightenments, sorrows and joys that met us along our travels. I think it's safe for me to speak for all when I say that we have been changed forever.

Those young adults are headed back to their congregations, schools and communities (and India and Latin America!) energized and ready. They are ready to work with congregational leadership to find ways to bring back all they have learned.

Thank you Lindi, Aaron, Sonya, Julia, Glenn, Samantha, Judy, Sarah, Ian, Glade, Thea, Katharine, and James. You have helped me know the world in a deeper way.

Everyone else - watch out! We are doing Young Adult UU Road Trip II: Water Justice from Central Valley down to the border next year. Be a part of it!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Westlands Water District

Chris Eacock, super cool UU from the Fresno Church (he runs a bike shop that helps homeless people fix up their bikes, in addition to working for the Department of Reclamation), toured us around the West Valley (not west valley LA, but west part of the central valley).

For years I've zoomed up the 5 freeway, never thinking too much about the miles and miles of agriculture I'm passing, just thinking about my final destination (if San Franciso I'm probably dreaming about the amazing vegan chocolate cupcakes at Herbivore).

Turns out much of the land on either side of the 5 is part of Westlands Water District. Did you know there is only one actual community in the whole of Westlands Water District? All the rest of corporate-owned agriculture. And that whole central valley used to be a huge inland sea, thousands of years ago, which means there is a lot of salt in the soil and also in the groundwater.

Contrast the 5 to the small farms that hug highway 99, which runs almost parallel to 5 (they come together just north of the grapevine). Along 99 are smaller orchards, farms with more diversity in what is planted. Nearer the 5 are fields and fields of monocrops, things like cotton, alfafa, and corn. The cotton and alfafa are very water intensive (and we are growing them in the desert because ...?), and the corn and alfafa being grown is fed exclusively to cows. As I wrote in an earlier post, there are 1600 dairies in the central valley, and the smallest dairies have around 8000 cows. So that is at least 12,800,000 cows. Each cow poops around 40 pounds per day (this is a direct quote from a rancher I met at last November's California Water Policy Conference in LA). That is 512,000,000 pounds of cow poop in the central valley every single day!

And why should any of us care about all that pooh? Besides the horrible smell (ever driven by cowschwitz on the 5?), cow manure releases a considerable amount of methane gas, one of the greenhouse gases that is contributing to global climate change.

And yes, Chris's shirt in the picture does indeed say "poop," but he's not making a statement about cows - it's a great political shirt and the poop stands for something like people against outrageous oil profits ... Chris, if you read this - please comment and tell us what the acronym means!
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Saturday, August 9, 2008

a jolt of privilege

Thursday we hauled down I-5 and 99 through the Central Valley into Fresno, and Friday we drove on into Visalia. We had wonderful hosts at the UU Fellowship of Visalia who served us a yummy potluck meal, provided home hospitality, and let some of us sleep peacefully in their church nestled among walnut orchards.

Before going to sleep and eating dinner last night, we had an opportunity to visit local organizers in small towns near Visalia. At the helm was Susanna, an amazing woman leader at the Community Water Center (CWC) in Visalia who is working like crazy to bring the water issues to the political forefront.

As we started our gathering with CWC, they asked us to introduce ourselves and say whether or not we ever buy bottled water. Yours truly got really puffed up because guess what? I made a commitment a couple of years ago to not buy bottled water. And I'm pretty proud that I drink tap water.

But guess what else? Drinking tap water is a *privilege* because there are people in California (poor with brown skin) who cannot drink the water that comes out of the tap.

Let me repeat - there are people in California who own their own homes, who work, who have families, who have children in school, who cannot drink or cook with the water that comes out of their own kitchen sink. They pay around $70.00 month for public water they cannot drink, and spend an additional $40-80.00 a month for bottled water.

Why? One reason is the groundwater used for their water (in East Orosi and Tooleville) is contaminated with harmful levels of nitrates. The cause? Likely it's seeping in from the 1600 dairies located in the Central Valley, from old septic tanks, and fertilizer from agriculture.

What is the responsibility of the rest of us who never have to think about nitrates when we turn on the tap?

What does it mean that clean water traveling in aqueducts, fed by mountain snow packs, passes right by these communities but they cannot tap into it because it is already allocated for agriculture use?

And for those 22 million people living in southern California, what does it mean that a huge amount of our water travels down to us, via canals and aqueducts, over 600 miles?

Water - it's so beautiful, so vital, so essential, and oh so complicated.

Reflections from the Sacremento Headwaters

Going back in time a few days (or was it weeks? it's hard to tell time on the road like this) ...

We journaled as part of the worship service on the banks of the Sacramento Headwaters, and to the right of this blog entry, you can read three of the reflections by Thea, Judy and Katharine. They are really beautiful and give a much better sense of the awe we were feeling while we were in that sacred place.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Deep in the Central Valley

Since our last post, we've been river rafting on the middle fork of the American River, seen the pumping station at Tracy, the fish transfer, Fresno UU Church green building, groundwater contamination in small farming communities in Tulare county.

Our heads and hearts are full. Later I'll post reflections from our group and more photos.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

a ray of hope

Today was our day of hope. After breakfast with our lovely Chico UU home hospitality folks, we met at Chico State and saw a top sustainability school - lots of recycling, LEED buildings, composting, organic farming. They have it going on!

Next up, Lucy led us to Butte Creek, to the only place in the state where salmon are still running free. The West Canal water district teamed up with environmentalists and the federal government to do something radical - they undammed the creek! It allowed the salmon to stop getting lost in the surrounding rice fields and find their way home to spawning grounds. It's created a beautiful habitat for migrating birds. And it's made a lot of people proud.

Then we toured Lundren organic rice farm, received free rice cakes and rice syrup (yum!), and we got to eat rice cakes right off the rice cake cookery. They tasted so good!

We looked at each other and said - To the Capital we must go! Each of us lobbied our state Senator for recognition of the Winnemum Wintu (catch the blog in a couple of days for pics of us in our bright yellow UULMCA shirts!).

Tomorrow we're floating down the American River so we can commune with the water. We'll be offline for that, and we'll update you as soon as possible afterward!

radical hospitality with Chico UU Fellowship

The Chico UU Fellowship embodied radical hospitality all day yesterday, they are a truly amazing bunch of people.

We'll be in Chico learning about groundwater for 24 hours, and in that time they will feed us three meals, give us home hospitality, teach us what they know about groundwater (which is a lot!), tour us around Chico State which is in the top 10 of sustainable campuses in US, and let us help them monitor stream health in Big Chico Creek.

Yesterday morning we rolled into Chico around 10:30, and Barbara (active at Chico UU Fellowship and with League of Women Voters) gave us a crash course in groundwater issues. We learned about the two kinds of water law (surface and ground), three types of water (surface, ground, and paper), and talked about the different costs of water.

California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has a water plan 2009 - google it, check it out. This will affect all of us. Let's learn together!

What do all of us Californians need to do in terms of water? We must:
- live within our means - the supply of water that 'naturally' flows to them
- tell legislators and DWR to fund 'water projects' that enhance the natural systems and protect the source
- conserve
- recycle
- reuse

We also got a chance to go down to the river and pray yesterday. Bob and Margaret took us out to Big Chico Creek, which is incredibly beautiful - I highly recommend jumping into it! We helped them do a healthy stream check, which involved taking stream measurements - depth of water, temperature, and calculating the velocity of stream flow (done with a lemon). I'll try to upload pictures from this.

After that, the Chico folks treated us to a lovely BBQ at the local park, and Bob Hennigan (an orchardist, and husband of Barbara from LWV) talked to us about Integrated Pest Management, which sounds a bit like a hybrid of organic and some pesticides. Basically, what he's doing is figuring out which pests like to eat the pests that are eating up his crops, and he does whatever he can to encourage the 'predator pests.' When and if the crop-eating pests get too out of control, he uses a small amount of pesticide to get rid of some, but not all, of those, so the predator pests can regain control. I'm an organic advocate myself, but I think his method might be more appealing to some kinds of farmers.

We're getting lots of scientific information, but we are tending to the spirit as well. Glenn, Sonya, and Samantha are doing an awesome job of keeping us centered in our UU values. We have spirituality bags (very fun idea! each person brought a brown paper bag filled with three items that inform their spirituality. each day at a meal someone draws out a bag, opens it, and based on what is in there the group tries to guess whose it is), worship every day, and grace at meals. Plus, being out in nature, purifying our spirits with water, deepening our community - it's a beautiful thing.

Monday, August 4, 2008

At the headwaters ...

Wow - the headwaters of the Sacramento River. Cold water rushing out of holes in the mountain side. That's Thea, right there at the source. Our morning worship was on the banks of the headwaters, with the sound of rushing water mingling with the roar of a passing train, cars, and children playing on the playground. During worship several people shared poems and other writings inspired by these waters, I'll ask permission and upload some of them later.

We left there for the Shasta Dam. We had our environmentally-friendly water bottles stolen by security guards while we were on the Dam tour (seriously! Lindi got them back for us - hero points for her!). Shasta Dam is the second largest dam in the United States. Ospreys build their nests on power lines right near the dam - their nests weigh 2000 pounds. Those are big birds!

After the Dam, we gathered for snack time and we blessed to spend time with Mark and Calleen, community and spiritual leaders from the Winnemem Winto, a local tribe whose ancestral sacred grounds were flooded when the Shasta Dam was built. They spent a couple of hours with us, and we got a good grounding in dam politics from their perspective. Can you imagine if the government decided to flood out your sacred space and you got relatively little in return? There are salmon who cannot return to their original spawning grounds because of the Dam. There are ancestral burial grounds that are now underwater.

Right now there's a proposal to raise the Shasta Dam. At first, this may sound like a great idea, and maybe it is. It will create more water to be available to Californians. But what is some of the fallout that will come with raising the Dam? Things to think about are fish, wildlife, native people, and our water flows are changing because of climate. If we continue to develop land and use more and more water for agriculture, what happens in 50 or 100 years? Will we have enough water at that time for what seem to be unsustainable practices?

Today we head to Chico - learning about groundwater and jumping into the local swimming holes.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

all the way to mccloud, ca!!!

Sacramento, Sites, the Olive Pit, and finally ... McCloud!

With vans piled high with sleeping bags, snacks, backpacks and cool Unitarian Universalist people, we set off for the California far north.

Beginning our day with a beautiful worship service (thanks Samantha, Glenn, and Sonya), we then got a crash course in California water issues with Mindy from the Planning and Conversation League.

We jumped in our vans, made our first stop in Sites, CA which is the site (seriously) for a proposed dam which would flood the current valley and create a big lake. To keep the water in would require seven concrete dams in the area. Issues to consider are wildlife, will it really be a boon to the local economy, if so - what happens when the dams are built and those jobs are gone?

From there, we had to stop in at the Olive Pit - thank you, Thea, for the recommendation! Snacks for all, yum!

Then we ended up in the most beautiful town, McCloud, CA where we were briefed on the local water issues while eating dinner on a lovely big porch at dusk. Robin and Meadow gave us the info on how Nestle Company is trying to build a 1 million square foot water bottling plant, getting a sweet deal where they are paying less than a penny for every gallon of water they extract from the earth. Some of the issues are changing quality of life (600 big trucks would come in and out of McCloud each day, right now it's a very quiet, lovely little place), depleting local water source, harming trout in nearby rivers, and while it will create jobs, what kind of jobs? Probably not the kind of jobs that will allow local people to live a quality life.

Today we are off to have worship at the headwaters of the Sacramento River, tour the Shasta Dam, meet with a leader of the Winnemum Wintu, a native tribe whose ancestral lands were flooded when the Shasta Dam was built, and eat a lot of really good snacks.

Wish you were here!