The aqueduct makes perfect sense when taken in a logical, purely economic fashion. Food moves from places with lots of land and few people to places with lots of people and little land. Why not water? The movement of goods from places of abundance to those of scarcity is the very nature of trade.
Of course, this isn’t trade. In trade both parties make a conscious choice to enter into an exchange. What is missing here are both the ‘choice’ and the ‘exchange’. Which leads us to a term heard regularly in the Owens Valley, ‘Resource Colony’.
Barry said something interesting at a meeting today with LADWP. He told us that even without the aqueduct, the Owens Lake still would have run dry as a result of agricultural use in the valley. This complicated the matter for me in a way that was comforting. Maybe the injustices weren’t so great. After all, the end result would have been the same, right?
Well, not really. Were the area’s residents indeed the ones to have pumped the lake dry, they would have had the opportunity to do something about it. Maybe not at first, but I’m inclined to think that over the course of almost a century some busy-body environmentalist would have started a fuss, and parents would have begun to complain about their kids’ asthma, and pretty soon the local politicians would have had a movement on their hands. A group of ranchers, farmers, and bureaucrats would have gotten together in a room and said, “Well, what are we going to do about this water situation we have on our hands?”
Of course, the residents of Owens Valley never had that chance. That is the nature of the colony. An area’s inhabitants may be conscious of a problem, but powerless to solve it. The ruling power has decided it wants something from an area, and its extraction is what is important. The image of the resource colony isn’t the dry lake bed or the dust storms that whirl over it. It is the faces of the people who remain, embittered by their situation, powerless to change it. Or maybe it’s in their grown children who drive through Lone Pine, Independence, and the Reservation in LADWP trucks, happy to have a good job.