California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim
It’s the largest water-rights dispute in California and one of the most expensive. It also appears to be the nastiest; it has forced farms and towns around California to fight over the same few cubic miles of water for decades. But it is the least noticed, partly because it is not in the headlines, partly because farmers complain that their water rights are being unfairly and unfairly treated. It might not rate much on the scale of the drought, but it is the tip of a much larger iceberg. The drought itself is only a drop in the ocean of California water disputes. It is the most extreme in decades, and the most extreme since 1879, when farmers were fighting the same issues again.
It all began in the 1930s with the enactment of the Davis-Bacon Act, a measure that established minimum wages in cities, to discourage the use of slave labor. The new law also called for the building of public buildings. The Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works responded by building public buildings. And the federal government stepped in in the form of the Bureau of Reclamation (or Reclamation as it’s often called). The Reclamation Act authorized the reclamation of land from the Trinity River delta and San Joaquin River to its delta. The Reclamation Act specified that the federal government had the right to divert water from rivers and creeks in California to the delta. One of the most contentious issues involved the San Joaquin River south of San Francisco Bay. The city of Redding insisted that it was entitled to the water that had built the city in the first place, and so it built its city to catch it. In 1874, some of the water was diverted to the city. Thirty-five years later, the city built a dam on the river to capture its water and divert it to its own city.
The San Joaquin River was not just a water source for the city of Redding. It was also a source of farm irrigation. In 1885, the state of California tried to build dams and reservoirs to preserve this water. But the California legislature found the Reclamation Act, which specified that Reclamation could divert water from rivers and creeks