Susan Phillips, Interim Director, Robert Redford Conservancy – Welcome and Q&A
Eva Tiller, Sunrise Claremont – Speaker Introduction and Q&A
Camille Pannu, Director of the Water Justice Clinic – Lecture and Q&A
Susan Phillips: Hello, everyone, I’m just going to wait a few minutes for folks to start connecting and then we’ll get started. Just to take a few seconds to get everybody connected, but I see people rolling in. It’s St. Patrick’s Day, I’m just pointing that out. I wore something vaguely that has a greenish tinge. But apparently, it’s a wonderful coincidence also, because John D. Sullivan, aka Jack Sullivan, was Irish. So, it all kind of comes full circle today. I think we’ll go ahead and get started.
It’s my pleasure to welcome everyone today to the annual John D. Sullivan Lecture. We’re so pleased to have with us Camille Pannu, who’s a professor at UCI and Camille will be speaking about climate change and California’s water justice future. I’m Susan Phillips, and I’m the Interim Director of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability here at Pitzer. And while my colleague, Director Brinda Sarathy is on research leave, since 2016, the Conservancy has brought speakers and panels to the college for this event, which is named in honor of Professor Jack Sullivan. Jack was a political studies professor. He passed away from cancer in December 2014. He was an intellectually engaging and challenging professor who helped his students to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills. And as a scholar, he was known for his work in conflict and negotiation processes, and on policy analysis with a particular focus on environmental and water policy. And that focus is the reason that this series, which is also focused on water, is named for him. Jack was also deeply involved in the local community, and he served as a natural resource director for the League of Women Voters in Los Angeles County.
And this year, we’re pleased to welcome Professor Camille Pannu to join our Distinguished Lecture Series, along with Eva Tiller, a sophomore who is with Sunrise Claremont, who will be introducing Professor Pannu. Before turning it over to Eva, I wanted to extend some special thanks first to IT for helping us with all the logistics, and also to Mary Sophos, Pitzer Class of 1976 for her contribution to the John D. Sullivan Fund, which is intended to create public engagement around water in California and beyond. I’d also like to thank the Sullivan family, in particular Jackie Sullivan, as well as Sunrise Claremont for the inspiring work that they’re doing to combat climate change at the college. And finally, I’m grateful to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund who is sponsoring today’s lecture.
Camille is going to give her talk for about 40 minutes or so. And we’re going to be opening up after that for questions, maybe at about 4:45. The chat is open if you want to chat. But I’d like for you to put your questions into the Q&A so that we can track them and feel free to start putting them in at any time questions occur to you. And we’ll chitchat for a little while after the fact and the ending of today’s lecture at about 5:10, 5:15, something like that. Okay, Eva.
Eva Tiller: Hello, everyone. My name is Eva and I am one of the co-leaders of the action team at the Claremont Colleges Sunrise Movement. And currently, our project for the semester is working on a series of talks and lectures and we are particularly focusing on climate justice, and we’re really excited that this is our first talk.
Professor Camille Pannu served as the inaugural director of the Water Justice Clinic at UC Davis School of Law, the first clinic of its kind in the country, and is currently a visiting clinical law professor at the Community and Economic Development Clinic at UC Irvine School of Law. Her practice utilizes transactional legal tools to redress the impact of racial and economic inequality on access to clean, safe drinking water in California’s low-income communities. Prior to joining King Hall at UC Davis Law, Pannu served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the southern San Joaquin Valley where she partnered with low-income communities to address poverty and racial and environmental inequality through community on green collar enterprises. She then clerked for the honorable Stefan R. Underhill, of the US District Court for the District of Connecticut, and for the honorable Richard A. Paez of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Pannu received her undergraduate and law degrees from UC Berkeley. Please join us in welcoming Professor Camille Pannu to discuss climate change and California’s water justice future.
Susan Phillips: Thanks so much, Eva. Take it away, Camille.
Camille Pannu: Thank you. First and foremost, thank you, everyone, so much for coming, for attending. Thank you to Professor Phillips for inviting me. And thank you to Eva for the generous introduction. I’m very excited to get to talk to you all today about one of my favorite topics. And I hope that by the end of this, you’re excited about it, too. Excuse me, I apologize in advance, I have a bit of a sore throat. So you may see me drinking water, popping a cough lozenge every now and again. And I also have to apologize in advance for my very adorable but very mischievous dog who likes to whine in the background from time to time. So with those disclaimers, let’s jump in.
So, the structure of today’s talk is going to be as follows. I’m going to try to give you an idea of where California’s water comes from, you may know this already and so I apologize if it’s repetitive for anyone, but I think it helps to put us all on the same page, both as a state and regionally where our water is sourced, what the state of water quality is, or water equity is today, meaning the social justice ramifications and who has access to water. And I’m speaking very specifically in the context of drinking water. But there is some back and forth between water supplies in general and how that’s related to drinking water.
Then I’ll turn to how climate change is going to affect California’s future water security, and our ability to be resilient moving forward. And this is maybe a little bit of a big promise, but I’d like to offer some thoughts on how we could avoid a humanitarian water crisis, which is what will happen if we jump into the future without a really good plan for what to do with climate change and its effect on our water systems.
Throughout the talk, one of the animating principles of what I’m discussing is going to be that I hope you come away understanding that a lot of California water decisions are not solely engineering, innovation-based, or solution-based. A lot of our water problems can be assisted with the integration of science and engineering, but part of how we got here was through a series of political decisions. So, I want folks to be able to think about this in more of a system structure, where we talk about how the law and money and politics and development of land all kind of interchange, are interwoven to create the system we have today, and in many ways created the inequality we see today as well.
So for a quick orientation, we mostly get our water through two sources in California for an anomaly of legal reasons. We talk about surface water and groundwater as if they were not connected, even though they are. We know that 70% of California, wherein water falls in this top third, or perhaps even the top quarter of the state, but 80% of the demand is here in the south with the lion’s share starting right at Los Angeles. That’s not surprising, Los Angeles is the largest city, although the heaviest user of water that’s taken for human use in general is agriculture. Domestic supply is actually quite small as a proportion of the total amount of water that we appropriate or take out of the system.
Throughout the year, a lot of where we store our water, in addition to storing it in reservoirs and whatnot, is actually in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, and so the snowpack becomes a really important source for us. California is almost constantly in a normal state of drought in that we have a dry season and we have a wet season. And we rely on the snow from the wet season to carry us through the dry months that follow as snow melts slowly and replenishes our surface water systems. And so here’s the infrastructure we built. I think most folks, if you’re familiar with California, will know this part of the state is not the most densely populated part of the state. There’s certainly folks there in very rich culture, but the majority of people live on the coasts. And the lion’s share of California’s population lives in Southern California.
So, in order to irrigate what is essentially a series of deserts with some small river valleys, we built a lot of water infrastructure. This is a map. Some folks will call it the water highway because it’ll show you how we move water. And it’s overlaid with the major hydrological basins and watersheds that the state is divided into. Despite the fact that the coast is right by the ocean, it doesn’t have a lot of freshwater supply. So generally speaking, most of our freshwater that’s coming from surface water is coming from the east and being shipped out to the west. And what we did is we had a complex series of really fascinating river systems. Through the federal water project, which we call the Central Valley Project for the most part, we started moving water from what are called the headwaters of the state that are up in this region. The headwaters are what primarily feed the Sacramento River. And so, the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin River become a really important source of delivering water.
The other area where we pull a ton of water is from the Klamath River system, which is perhaps off map but up here north of Redding. And the Klamath water system is an integral part of the state water project. So, both of these projects had very different goals. The state water project’s primary goal was to bring water from the north down to the south primarily for the consumption of Southern California, and this was residential consumption. It could be used for irrigation but at the time we built the project, there was certainly agriculture in the region. But it was brought down primarily to help facilitate residential development and development of the city of Los Angeles, which was quite small at the time, all things considered, and was small because it was contained within its water system, so it didn’t have more people than what it could sustain. So, to get over the natural boundary of what its water could sustain, we started moving water down primarily through the California Aqueduct. And we also developed a series of dams and reservoirs to hold that water.
The Central Valley Project, which is these red lines that are all over the place, is a network of reservoirs, dams, and canals that are primarily focused on appropriating water from river systems toward farming. And so, although there were already river systems in the area, the Central Valley Project irrigates, along with the aqueduct, a very dry and a not particularly arable or not very great for growing part of the valley, which is in the west. So, the Central Valley Project distributions are primarily to agriculture. It certainly also distributes water for drinking water consumption, but the lion’s share of what it does is store water for agriculture and for irrigation.
And then finally, because we’re in Southern California, in addition to pulling a ton of water from the Klamath River Basin down through the aqueduct, we also are part of the complex series of multi-state agreements on how to distribute water that comes from the Colorado River. We are probably the last stop on the Colorado River train. And there’s over 50 years of significant litigation between all of the states who are parties to this compact, but essentially, they all work together to determine how much water is going to be allocated, who gets it where, whose water rights go where. And due to climate change, this has become an increasingly difficult issue to resolve. But also, we’ve seen as a result of the Colorado River Project, and the Colorado River watershed, we’ve seen significant growth in cities that I think we would say now with the benefit of hindsight, were not really designed to support that many people. So, examples of this would be Las Vegas, Phoenix, really large metropolitan areas that did not really have a water supply that was big enough to sustain the populations that live there right now.
But now I’m going to switch to groundwater. Although surface water is super important for how we distribute water, and we kind of divvy up the shares, we rely really heavily on groundwater as well. This map is a map of the basins that were considered to be over-drafted, meaning we’re pumping more than we’re replacing, or we’re otherwise at risk of collapsing under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which was a really landmark effort to try to deal with the issue of people over-pumping during periods of drought in ways that created a lot of negative side effects, which I’ll talk about a little bit later. These were the areas that were required to come up with sustainability plans. You’ll see a lot of Southern California is missing. Part of that is because there’s been a ton of litigation. So, a lot of Southern California has already gone through this kind of planning process before this bill was adopted. But it’s really important because over 40% of our water use is from groundwater. And in the context of drinking water, 85% of Californians rely on groundwater, at least in part, for their water supply. So even if you’re buying, let’s say, municipal water, you’re buying water from your city, it’s probably coming in part from a city well, and that’s certainly true in Orange County where I’m located. It’s somewhat true in Los Angeles County depending on where you are regionally, but groundwater is an important part of our water storage system. We store much more water underground than we do in any other area. And if you overpump all of the underground storage, capacities begin to sink, the land subsides, is what we call it. And when it subsides, it collapses these aquifers, these underground aquifers, and so we lose the benefit of storage forever. And unsurprisingly perhaps, the greatest amount of overdraft and the biggest kind of subsidence has happened primarily in agricultural belts of California.
So, if we look at where the orange is, it’s primarily areas that are growing food. In Southern California, our primary sources of water are a combination of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which as you can see is nowhere near Los Angeles, but which was the subject of a really famous lawsuit, the Mono Lake case. And if you’ve ever watched “Cadillac Desert,” this is what they’re talking about, or “Chinatown,” the fictionalization of that story. We also receive some water through the Bay Delta system; the Bay Delta is where the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River join. And we truck that water down using the State Water Project, like I mentioned before, and the Colorado River Aqueduct. Something that’s unique to the coast in California is that most of these areas, which have had issues with groundwater pumping historically, are now in a somewhat more stable position, in part because they do a lot of collaborative governance over their water infrastructure. And they also do a lot of water recycling, which is not for human consumption, but certainly for things like if you needed water to water the landscaping, for example. So, for non-potable uses, areas in Southern California also engage in water recycling. And we have at least two experimental projects now that are trying to desalinate water, so taking seawater and taking the salt out of it. I have feelings about it; I think almost everyone who thinks about it or deals with it does. But there are some regions that have suggested that they’ll be able to get around climate change through desalination. Me, I’m not really on board with that. But that’s okay. We need lots and lots of ideas to get here.
So, this is the backdrop of where California water is. California also did something that’s really significant and it’s very different from anywhere else in the country. In 2012, we adopted the human right to water. We had actually passed the human right to water before, but it got vetoed. And so, when it came back around and was approved, the governor had changed. That probably helped a little bit. But what it did was that California has this complex system of what we call beneficial uses. We go through an ordering and we say here are the different ways you can use water. Here’s the priority system. But we don’t tell people what the priority is until they’re in a fight, that we try to figure it out through a variety of different cases that have interpreted the California Constitution. It has a provision about water, and also cases that were related specifically to surface water rights. And part of what makes those cases so difficult to parse is that first of all, the prioritization is not always clear. And it’s not always clear if there’s a certain list of priorities in one place and if there’s a list at another place. And so, the purpose of the Human Right to Water was to change the lens or the framework for how we looked at water. Water policy tends to be wonky in the state and tends to be contentious. I think folks use really technocratic language when they don’t necessarily need to, and that helps keep a bit of a cabal around how water decisions are made. But the other thing that it does is that it encourages the best organized group to make a run on water. So, there’s this agency problem but we often talk about how environmental protection, for example, or in law, we talk about how environmental protection is difficult because the benefits of environmental protection are diffuse; we all benefit from having a healthier environment. However, the person who wants to pollute or who needs or who wants to use a resource has a very focused interest and is very organized in a very different way than the general public tends to be.
So, California has done a couple of things to try to cut against that. The first is that we have the famous Mono Lake case which provided that surface water, at least, is held in public trust, which means that you cannot privatize it using the property rights regime alone. And that can’t be the sole source of how we decide what’s important to give water to. Case law had already told us that human use or domestic use of water was the most important, the highest and most beneficial use and should be protected. But as a practical matter, it wasn’t being protected. And it certainly wasn’t being protected in the same areas where we saw these priority groundwater basins. So, for example, during the drought, we had literally hundreds of people who relied exclusively on what we call domestic wells, it’s a very small well that’s on your personal land, as their only source of drinking water, and almost all of those wells went dry due to overpumping of these aquifers. So, folks we’re essentially doing. I call it the “There Will Be Blood” method. So, if folks have seen the movie, there’s a point at which the main character says, “I take your straw and I drink your milkshake.” And the other character is very confused by this analogy, but the concept is, if I get a big enough straw, I can draw down the water such that your water is going to start moving over on to where I’m located.
So part of what ended up happening is we had a situation where we had over 1500 homes that completely lost water, for example, for over four years. And we had that kind of a crisis all throughout the state. It was primarily in rural areas and the one good thing, I think, about the drought was that for the first time, there was news coverage of this issue because it had happened before, and local government had told people we’re not going to really protect your right to have a well, even if you were there first, even if your well has priority and water uses, because we don’t want to get involved with water decisions and fights.
And so, the Human Rights to Water in part was created to help arbitrate those disagreements and to shift our lens on how we think of water issues and how we think of who gets water, and why should they get water, and how much and what for. And so, it established the policy of this state that every human being, not even every Californian, every human being in the state has the right to have clean, affordable and accessible water that is adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitation. And the way that the Human Right to Water is thought about or conceptualized and implementation in California is through these three kinds of issue areas.
So, one area of water justice and of trying to figure out how to get people safe and affordable drinking water, is to ensure that their water is high quality, and that it’s not contaminated. So, there’s a whole set of issues we have around pollution policy, essentially pollution and water treatment policy, then we have a whole other bucket that’s whether or not you can even access water. So that goes in our access Venn diagram that can come from things like your groundwater aquifer sinking, and all of a sudden, your well goes dry, or could come from periods where there’s drought. And so, the surface water allocations that are made every year are quite low. It could be that you don’t have safe drinking water where you live. So, you have to drive miles and miles to go buy bottled water, which is incredibly expensive. So, you’ve now paid in time, travel, gas costs, and you’re doing something that generally is not great for the environment. But it’s certainly going to be safer in most cases than drinking your tap water, although bottled water is not subject to the same requirements as tap water; tap water has higher standards. And then we also have water affordability. So, in a universe in which any technical solution was possible, it’s kind of bounded by whether or not anyone can afford it.
And so, in many cases in California, we have very low income communities who have been designed into place, they’ve been pushed into a region denied services for a very, very long time. Their infrastructure is failing or nonexistent and building water infrastructure is really expensive. And so, it makes their water incredibly unaffordable for them although they’re already paying what in the water justice world we call a triple tax. They’re paying for tap water they can’t drink because it’s dangerous for them. They’re paying for replacement water, usually at a much higher rate. And they’re paying for the health cost of not having access to safe water. And of course, the human ramifications of not having access to safe water are enormous.
First and foremost, your children can be taken away if you are not able to provide them with safe drinking water. Your house is not going to be easy to sell and it will be devalued if it doesn’t have access to safe drinking water. In some cases, you can’t get loans to fix problems because of a pre-existing water problem. I worked in a region that had suffered a catastrophic fire and no one could rebuild their homes until they could prove that they had safe and affordable water. So, lack of water access becomes a significant burden for low-income communities and for all communities. But in California, it tends to hit people in different ways. So, I’m going to talk a little bit about who bears the brunt of our lack of access to high quality water that is accessible and affordable.
This is a map that the State Water Board created. Their map is trying to track all of the systems in the state that have failed a public health standard. If you fail a public health standard, what it means is that you’re serving people water that is not considered to be healthy or safe for them from a public health perspective. But not all contaminants are made the same way. There’s a big difference between if you have E. coli in your water, which in theory can be treated by boiling it, versus if you have heavy metals in your water, which cannot be removed through boiling, or nitrates which become actually more toxic if you boil your water. So, all these different contaminants and these different stars don’t tell us really what the issues are. I can tell you that for at least this belt of the state right down the middle, the Central Coast, the Imperial Valley, the Coachella Valley/Inland Empire and down here (sorry, that’s the Imperial Valley, the Inland Empire and is here, Coachella in between). So, all of those agricultural areas have significant amounts, the systems that are there tend to have arsenic in their water, nitrates, which are essentially runoff from farm operations and manure, or from concentrated animal feed operations, and in some cases, uranium, and in many cases, pollutants that are related to industrial agriculture. So, things that come from pesticides, and rodenticides and all those other kinds of soil amendments or treatments that folks use when they’re growing crops, but that might be quite dangerous to people if they’re too close. And that can seep into their water or run off into their water sources and contaminate them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when we look at who bears the burden where, a study that was conducted by Reuters right after the Flint, Michigan disaster, this is several years after but there was a lot of interest in evaluating and assessing how many other folks were being exposed to lead and how much of that was a story about racial inequality. And in California, what they found was that Black children who are living in low-income communities of California were extremely disproportionately more likely to be exposed to lead. Now, that lead could have come not from their water sources, but they did pay special attention to failing infrastructure and pipes and any kind of degradation of old pipes that could result in someone being exposed to more lead. So, this factored in water and water was the primary lens through which they did the study, although of course there’s other confounding factors that could contribute to being exposed to lead.
And unsurprisingly, California’s African American population is not very diffuse, our African American communities tend to be clustered. There’s lots of historical reasons for why that’s the case. But where they’re clustered also shows us some hotspots. So, this community, this zip code in Fresno, has the highest lead exposure rate for Black children. That zip code is a historically black community in Fresno and its population is about 60-70% African American. If we jump down or if we look at Oakland and West Oakland, the area with the highest amounts, the highest exposure levels are in East Oakland and West Oakland, which is unfortunately unsurprising; those are both historically African American communities, West Oakland in particular. I’m not sure how Eureka ended up on the map, but it has a very high level as well, although not necessarily as correlated with race. And of course, in San Diego and Los Angeles, there’s a very high correlation of exposure to lead, vis-à-vis race in African American communities.
And hopefully folks know this, but lead is a neurotoxin, it never goes away, it bioaccumulates, and it has profound lifetime effects that can really destroy someone’s life before they even get started. Similarly, this was an assessment of public wells, so these are wells that provide water to public water systems. And it was tracking where nitrate contamination was located. I forgot to include my arsenic map, but it looks almost exactly the same. It’s perhaps unsurprising that Latinx children, Latinx communities and Latinx children tend to be exposed to arsenic and nitrates at a higher level. The Latinx population in California is very diffuse. We have relatively diverse spread of where Latinx communities are located, even though there may be pockets, they tend to appear throughout the whole state. And it’s unsurprising but not great that the greatest amounts of contamination, from what I think many of us would think of as a byproduct of agriculture are, of course, in agricultural regions in the state. And arsenic is a very common contaminant in groundwater in these parts of the state as well, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley. And up here, if you get into the high desert area as well, you have uranium and arsenic, you have uranium up here as well.
When we think of how climate change affects water, I think it’s really important that we think of climate change from many different angles. The most obvious way that climate change affects water security or water access is through the supply. But supply is not the limit, that’s not the only thing that creates problems. And so, some folks will advocate for the creation of more dams or more reservoirs, they’ll say, we should be storing more water. And it doesn’t really grapple with the fact that even if you stored more water, our supply overall is going down. As temperatures go up, California snowpack has shrunk significantly. This year, it’s about 40% lower than it was before, when we had an unusually wet year at unusual times of the year.
What we had a couple years ago, we had incredible amounts; I was living in Northern California, we had tons of flooding, we had tons of rain. And rain is lovely, but rain is not a great way to store water. And so, the snow levels were low, but our rain levels were high. And so, we had this really bizarre circumstance where we were in drought, but we’re having flooding, which just seems insane. But it’s a very common byproduct of climate change, because climate change shifts the weather cycle and the water cycle, the timing of when water comes down and how it comes down, whether it can be stored or not stored, becomes a really big issue. And so, it also shifts when we are in drought, which throws off how we’ve historically been able to manage it.
The other thing that’s really challenging with climate change, and it’s not climate change exclusively that’s done this, but generally speaking, we want what folks and what engineers, civil engineers in this field, we’ll call water redundancy, which only means we want you to have more than one source of water, so that if one of your sources fails, you have another option. And in general, California does not have a lot of water supply redundancy in low-income communities who are facing water challenges. And even in communities that are not low income and having water challenges, we just don’t have a lot of water supply redundancy. And so, climate change makes it even harder. During the drought, for example, people relied on groundwater because we didn’t have as much surface water. Well, if climate change proceeds as it has been, even if we’re able to curb some of the most egregious jumps that have already happened, we’re still going to see a lack of surface water, and we’re still going to see problems in that in the next 30 years.
The other thing that climate change does is it changes how contamination works for people. So generally speaking, the way that we determine whether someone can drink water, and the way we measure whether it’s safe or not, is by figuring out how high the concentration of the contaminant is. So, if your total amount of water starts decreasing, the concentration of the contaminant starts increasing in ways that become really dangerous. And we saw this happen as well during the drought, we saw folks beginning to fail water safety tests that they had passed prior to the drought, because the entire aquifer was shrinking, and the concentration of contaminants was increasing. For folks who are coastal, we end up with a really big problem around sea water intrusion as well. So perhaps one of the biggest political fights, certainly in the Bay Areas around the Bay Delta and how far into the Delta you can be, you can have what salinity level, how salty can you be and how far? And typically, the argument happens in a way that talks primarily about fisheries who are important and I think serve as a canary on whether or not that’s a healthy water system. But it also has a negative effect on groundwater wells that are close to surface water sources. So, groundwater wells that are close to surface water will often have surface water leaching in. So, if you have seawater intrusion, all of a sudden now you have a bunch of wells that have gone, that have been contaminated with salt. And although lead is a very scary thing to have in your water system, and arsenic is and it’s very expensive and hard to remove them, salt is the hardest contaminant to remove from water. Once you have salt in there, your costs of getting it out of there are really, really hard, and in many cases, it just completely destroys your water source.
The other thing that we’ve seen happening with climate change, shifting when water happens and whether it’s available, is that we’re also seeing shifts in waterborne disease pathology. So, we’re seeing waterborne diseases that we normally wouldn’t expect to see as a result of our climate changing and of our environment becoming warmer and more hospitable to pathologies, or to diseases that we associate with perhaps more tropical or temperate, more tropical regions.
And finally, the other place where climate change wreaks havoc, is on our infrastructure. So, for better or for worse, we know that climate change, for worse, we know that climate change will create extreme weather events and disasters. But for better or for worse, having seen now Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Rita, the effects on the water system in Puerto Rico, even just now recently with the freeze in Texas and folks going for weeks without any running water or electricity and people dying of exposure; those extreme weather events have a heavy toll on the system, on the water infrastructure system. And we don’t fund water infrastructure in a sustainable way. And so, once your infrastructure fails, you’re in a crisis situation. And that’s what we saw in Puerto Rico. We had a lot of outdated infrastructure systems that had not been upgraded, had not received the funding to be able to do it or had had corruption and how the funding was appropriated. And that’s not unique to Puerto Rico, corruption and how water funding for infrastructure is appropriated happens everywhere in the United States. But it was a really good reminder that climate change resiliency is not only about the water supply and actual water itself, it’s also about how we deliver water, and it can affect how we deliver water.
Okay, I’m in the homestretch. So, with that very dark and depressing series of parameters, there’s a couple of things that we could do as we go forward. This is where we kind of end up in what I was talking about as the world of a political solution, as opposed to simply scientific or engineering innovation. So, one of the things that advocates from these communities did early on and have finally gotten through is that they’ve gotten the state to require all the different water systems that it is able to regulate to do drought planning and prevention, meaning that we know whether or not someone’s system or someone’s water is going to fail. We’ve seen it before, we have a lot more data after the 2011-2017 drought. (Sorry, there’s a small dog knocking my laptop.)
And so, we now know what to anticipate, which means that we could do a much better job or perhaps be better in how we intervene before droughts become disastrous. An example of this for a community that I worked with was the community of East Porterville. They’re in Tulare County, California, which is in the middle of the state in the San Joaquin Valley. East Porterville is adjacent to the city of Porterville, and if you drive there, for a while, you won’t be able to tell the difference, you won’t know that you’ve left the city. And East Porterville is almost exclusively on domestic wells. The community went dry, they have about 2,000 homes, 1,500 lost access to water, their walls went dry. And when that happened, the state marshaled this really amazing intervention. And they marshaled all these resources to get people emergency replacement water, to fast track the process for getting them funding to build a connection to connect the city of Porterville system to these individual folks, so now they were on a water system instead of a well. And they were able to do all that in part because we had passed a huge bond package that had funding for it in there in the middle of the drought. But one of the things that was really difficult about it was that it’s even though it’s often pointed to as a success, it cost hundreds of millions of dollars to provide that. And it would have probably been significantly cheaper if we had done some strategic drought planning. Knowing that East Porterville had gone dry in 2007 because of a mini-drought, we probably could have predicted that they were going to end up in the situation they were in, and we probably could have helped people before it became a very dire situation for them from a public health perspective. And even though the project was fast tracked, it took over five years and I think they finally connected the last houses that were supposed to be part of the project about a year and a half ago. There was no drive around 2012-2013 so it’s a long time to wait to not have running water or safe water.
The other thing that California could do and that is it is doing in ways that I think are exciting, and I hope the federal government also supports, is that it can invest more in its infrastructure and its repair. Historically, we’ve spent a lot of money on repairing infrastructure that benefits the transportation of water, not always to residential areas. But we spent a lot of money on maintaining the state water project, for example, which we should, we shouldn’t let things fall into disarray, but we need an infusion. And this is true for most essential infrastructure throughout the state, whether it’s bridges, whether it’s roads, most water infrastructure, is beginning to reach the end of its life. It’s been around for over 20 to 30 years. And so there’s a really interesting and exciting bill that was introduced at the federal level that was put together through the People’s Water Project. So, if you’re interested in the political aspects of how you fund infrastructure, that’s a really cool and interesting case study. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes and how it goes.
Additionally, in California, we created what’s called the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. And it has an explicit rural justice focus, which I think is really interesting and unique. So it focuses not only on low income communities who have lacked access to water, it also tries to address the fact that many low income communities of colors, in particular, were deprived access to safe water as a series of political choices, and that that was motivated or animated by historical, racial discrimination and might continue to have racially disparate impacts because we’re kind of single legacy of those choices or decisions that were made earlier in time.
I personally think we should significantly reconsider our water uses, it’s hard to convince people to do this, but we have a shift in California towards what folks call a durable water demand. So, for example, if you had to choose between growing certain row crops, and grown trees, trees are always going to be heavily water demanding; they’re a long term investment. And most of our agricultural decisions in the state are based on the global market for food. So, farmers make their decisions; with the exception of very, very small farms, most farmers are making their decisions based on where they could get the best price for their product on the global market for food. And part of that in the last 15 years has been a big shift towards almonds and other kinds of nut trees, which already existed in places like the San Joaquin Valley. But we’ve just seen a lot of very water thirsty crops being planted, I guess. And it seems like an odd thing to do at a time when we know that water supply is waning. I think we have to really think about how we’re using water and how the allocation of water could perhaps be reconfigured. And there are areas, there are certainly farm communities, particularly in perhaps more wet areas of the state, that do this. They get together, they think through how can we do this in a more sustainable way? Or is our current use something that we can keep up and then they try to negotiate and a lot of the time, that takes a very long time. But there tends to be more cooperation as you go further north, and I suspect it’s because there’s more water, but something to consider. And there are certainly some interesting innovations in water conservation happening, and water planning and crop planning. So, I think there’s a lot of interesting things that are happening in the agricultural sector that could be helpful for long term water preservation and conservation.
You should conserve, we’re really good at conserving when there’s a drought. As soon as a drought order is released, we all go back to our old habits, particularly in domestic water. So, I think there needs to be a bigger conversation about conservation in general. Australia has had some really interesting changes in how they deal with conservation of water because they’ve had to deal with catastrophic drought for over 20 years. And I also think we should shift the lens of how we view these problems, instead of thinking of them as an issue of how much pipeline do we have and how much pipe per capita are we willing to spend? We have to think a little bit more holistically about our decisions. And that includes our land use policies or other policies that created the problem that we’re currently in. So, I’m happy to talk about any of these ideas further, I want to make sure we have time for discussion. So, let’s take a breather so that we can do questions and discussion.
Susan Phillips: Camille, thank you so much. That was wonderful and super informative, and I personally have lots of questions. I encourage everyone who has questions to go ahead and put them into the Q&A. We have a couple of questions lined up already. So, I’ll start with the first one and then Eva, if you want to take the second one.
Arsenic is the most common, but natural, groundwater water quality issue, but nitrate mitigation might be also? Might it be co-linked? However, how do we partition who pays? My guess is taxpayers since farming sources are often historic and historically permitted. Moreover, in the context of climate change, can we mitigate quality and protect groundwater when inputs might be declining?
Camille Pannu: I think it’s a really good question. So, I’ll start with the first part about who pays. So, this has always been, I think, the political struggle of how to deal with a sticky problem. So, there was a proposal; currently, we have the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, it’s funded through general fund appropriations, which is not a good way, it’s not that it’s not a good way, but folks are always nervous about appropriating out of California’s General Fund because our economic reality can be very volatile and the General Fund is the first place people go when we lose tax monies for essential programs. It’s also partially funded through the Climate Change Reinvestment Act that we created and programs we created. The original bill suggested that there should be a tax on fertilizer and a tax on dairies, and the tax was built into their operation. So, it wasn’t on the fact that they existed, it was a small tax added to the cost of fertilizer itself. It had a cap, and it was actually designed to cover the cost of nitrate contamination as it was understood at that time. When the bill was being advanced, agriculture consulted on the bill and seemed to be in favor. There were a handful of folks (I’m trying to figure out how much I’m allowed to say about it in my role as a professor at UC Irvine), but essentially, it came down to politics. There’s lots of different decision makers in the room. I think it was interesting that agriculture was willing to get on board to propose this, I understand the criticisms of why people were concerned about having agriculture funded, because there was a worry that they would try to get out of liability by saying that they had paid into the fund. So as a result, what ends up happening is the taxpayer ends up paying for it, even though there’s a very concrete industry that’s contributing to it. So, on the back end, I think what folks have been trying to do is a couple of things. So, in Salinas, the regional waterboard there did an enforcement order, which was pretty fantastic, in my opinion. And they acknowledged that, they were able to say, here are the folks who have contributed to the matrix contamination. It’s disproportionately affecting low-income Latinx farmworker communities in the Salinas and [inaudible] Valleys, you need to pay for their replacement water, and to get them a well that’s safe. And they’re doing it and it’s a confidential settlement. I don’t know what the details are, but I think it’s safe to say that if agriculture was willing to pay for the costs in a bill, it was probably less than what they have to pay through an enforcement action settlement. So that’s one avenue to think about is could the state, the regional water boards who are primarily charged with enforcement actions in their area, could they be more collaborative or thoughtful about how they’re doing enforcement and who’s paying for what?
There’s also an anti-degradation policy and an irrigated lands policy that were passed. And so, there are more hooks now to require regulation of farming. And California is one of the first states that started to regulate farming on water contamination issues. So, I think there’s actually quite a bit of promise there. I generally like to try to work with people with carrots instead of sticks, but it helps to have a stick sometimes.
And then I think the second question was, how can we mitigate quality and protect groundwater? If you can answer this question, you will be worth millions and millions of dollars, because right now what folks are doing is they’re trying to do these for profit water banks that are going to quote, unquote, “bank” water using surface water and having read some of the sustainability plans that were proposed, from what I can tell, I’ve been calling it voodoo water like math, because none of it makes sense. We know surface water’s coming down, I have no idea where they think they’re going to get extra water to pour on the ground to let it sink in and replenish underground aquifers. I think it’s a lot of magical thinking at the moment. And so, I think the protection of groundwater needs to be a more rigorous conversation. It’s a legally difficult conversation to have because the law of how we regulate water is dumb. And it’s particularly dumb in California; we’re the only Western State but doesn’t regulate groundwater the way that other arid states do.
Eva Tiller: I can ask the second question. So, this person asks, “I was wondering if Camille could expand on her ideas around desalination plants, and why she thinks there are problems around it and just talk more about her thoughts on those and why they might not be the best path forward?”
Camille Pannu: Sure, I’m happy to talk about it. A big caveat is that absent technological innovation, my opinion could change. But at the moment, desalination plants are incredibly energy wasting, they take a ton of energy. And California doesn’t have a grid that produces mostly clean energy, we have more clean energy than we did in the past, but we have fossil fuel-based energy production. So essentially what you have is your climate change, driven by all of this fossil fuel-related emissions, including CO2. So, if you’re upping the amount of energy you’re creating or using, you’re just contributing more to the climate change cycle, and you’re not actually fixing the problem, which is that we have climate change, and it’s affecting our water cycle. So, in my opinion, it makes the system worse. I know it’s a very diffuse effect; of course, it’s not localized, but it’s expensive. It can make the situation worse, and it doesn’t grapple with the fact that are we really going to… what are you going to do with the salt and are we really going to try to boil the ocean? Those are just insane concepts, or they’re not insane concepts, I don’t need to do pejorative, they’re places that do desalination because it’s the only thing they can do, especially globally, but you do it when you have no other alternative. And so I just don’t think it should be our first alternative, particularly because of the negative impact environmentally at this point in time.
Susan Phillips: That resonates so deeply in terms of how to, if technology, in a sense, created these problems in the first place, do you use technology to kind of write your way out of them? It’s always a bit of a contradiction.
We have a lot of, several more farming questions. I have a couple questions as well. But let’s go to the next one. “Farmers are price takers; to change, crop decision making can’t be reconfigured on a large scale. In other words, they’re just trying to make ends meet. So a lot of farmland has become speculative and land use is critical, but needs to be further articulated.” These are statements rather than questions. But kind of begging that, sort of like the question of land use is really a key thing that the Conservancy is thinking about right now in our region. The shrinking of farmland is really critical here; we’re losing farmland. And this is obviously happening all over the country but because we have land here, we have a historic agriculture district, we’re losing that farmland to development. And logistics, in particular, is a very real problem. For me, I also just want to throw in, I think, piggyback on Mark’s question about the idea of nature-based solutions to climate change. So Governor Newsom had his N-82-20 bill, these 30 by 30 calls, Biden is in on this, sort of a global movement around it. It includes working lands, and it includes farms as having the potential to kind of reverse this. So, I think that might be part of the further articulation that Mark is talking about. Do you have any thoughts about either Mark’s question, or the stuff that I’m bringing up about nature-based solutions to climate change and whether you think that farming can play a role in that?
Camille Pannu: Oh, definitely. Farming is a really important industry in California. And I don’t mean to sound in any way opposed to farming, I think there’s great dignity in growing food that nourishes people. And it’s an incredible thing to be able to do, and we should compensate people fairly for it. Right now, I think there are a couple of things that are somewhat abstract that affect why we’re stuck where we are. So, in terms of the price taker aspect, it’s true that they’re price takers. A great deal of that is because of our global market for agriculture. A lot of the kind of efforts at local and sustainable agriculture will not overcome that but could help blunt some of that to give folks greater choice. One of the biggest food deserts in California are located where we grow food, which is insane and unfortunate. And I think we could begin to kind of rethink about how we could support people in that. But I understand that you can’t change this vast, neoliberal global market overnight and you can’t push people to do it and that you have to be very thoughtful about it and that we have farms of all different sizes and the amount of volatility they can withstand is very different. And the reality is that the folks who are smaller or if they haven’t already been driven out of business are very much at the verge of that. And that deserves a bit of compassion when we talk about different policies. So, suggestions with respect to farmland and farmland speculation, so a lot of the speculation is happening because people want the groundwater rights. So, some of it comes back down to water again. I think there’s a lot that we should be thinking about when we think of land use. California finally passed a bill in 2010 that required you to prove that you had an adequate source of water that wasn’t going to decrease or otherwise diminish your neighbor’s water for the first time. It didn’t stop the growth of suburbs, though, there’s been tons of new developments that are in areas that clearly don’t have water, and it requires a little bit more buy in from local government, frankly, because most land use decisions, even if they’re mandated by the state, land use is local, and land use decision making is local. And so you have to be very engaged with your local government and often if we’re talking about the development of farmland, we’re talking about county government in particular, which operates in the shadows for a lot of folks.
And then finally, I think the last question was about the role that farms can play. Farms are currently doing a lot of innovation around water; they don’t have the money to get more and more water, either. There’s areas where there’s farming, and folks are doing really innovative things. There’s agro-ecological practices that happen in different regions that are really helpful. And so, I do think that there’s a role for farms to play in conservation and they’ve historically played that role as guardians. And as kind of, gosh, there’s a very specific word for it and I’m forgetting, stewards, as stewards of natural resources. And so I think there’s a great deal of pride around that in farming communities. And I think that we should tap into that and support it. I think the part where it gets a little tricky is that three families in California control 70% of farmland, and they’re major businesses, and they don’t live there. And it’s not in their interest for anything to change, at least.
Eva Tiller: And then Zoey asks, “Are there any water saving innovations in agriculture that you’re most excited about and think should be applied widespread?”
Camille Pannu: So, there’s a lot of really cool, actually tech innovations that are happening in agriculture related to water monitoring. And that includes real time analysis of what kind of groundwater they have. And so there’s some irrigation districts that are doing some really innovative and cool stuff. They haven’t shared it publicly because it’s all proprietary, and people are very secretive about groundwater data in California. I understand why they’re secretive. I don’t like that they’re secretive, but I get why they are. But I think those innovations are actually really excellent and that we should be thinking about how there are technological innovations around monitoring, reporting, assessing the health of their watersheds, etc., could be scaled up or leveraged to other industries or to include other uses, especially in groundwater. Agriculture is really ahead of the curve when it comes to figuring out how to apply tech to groundwater.
Susan Phillips: I’d like to encourage people if they still have questions, to write them into the Q&A for us. And I’d also like to shift the terms of the discussion just a little bit. Again, it’s been marvelous and very enlightening. I’m really interested; at the Conservancy, we’re really deeply invested in regenerative agriculture and thinking about solutions for our region and how that can make a difference. So this is wonderful for me personally, and I think for the Conservancy, just giving us a wealth of knowledge here and lots of things to think about.
I want to talk a little bit more about you. And about How did Camille Pannu come to be interested in these issues? You’ve done a lot of community work and thinking about how that’s not the case with everybody who does policy. It is the case sometimes, and usually the people for whom those two things kind of collide, it’s easy to do policy without ever talking to community. I mean, it shouldn’t be done according to us at Pitzer College, and you I’m sure, but I’m just curious about your work and curious about your particular practice of law, and also just curious about your background. So, if we can talk about that for a minute, and then we can shift back to the question and answer.
Camille Pannu: So what’s the concise TLDR version of how I got here? So I grew up in Richmond, California, which is super postindustrial, and very depressed. When we had the 90s tech boom and the economy was growing under Clinton, and the mid-90s, and whatnot, that did not happen where I lived. We were the murder capital of the country several years in a row. And for me, the big thing that affected how I saw the world was the Chevron Refinery, which is the largest oil refinery west of the Mississippi. And so that was kind of my orientation. I went to college, and I was very dedicated to the idea of working on the systemic causes of poverty. And so I started kind of chasing different things. My first theory was that education is the biggest lever of upward mobility. And it is, but you can’t really get a great education if you’re getting poisoned with lead, for example, or if the air you breathe, or the water you drink is putting you in a position where that’s not feasible.
Then I started working on juvenile justice advocacy, because there was all this stuff around the school to prison pipeline. And the reason I never did environment was not because I wasn’t interested in it but because none of the programs that I that I looked at when I was an undergraduate were talking about environment and human society, if that makes sense, and how environment… I really wanted to study environmental justice. I didn’t know that was what it was called at the time. But most of our environmental programs did not do that, and so I just kind of opted out. And I was a poverty studies kind of person, I was in that vein instead. But what I was studying was a lot of work around environmental devastation. When abroad (because I didn’t get to study abroad in college), my first job was overseas, working on rural water in one of the poorest states in Kenya. So, it was super rural, it was all about waterborne diseases and infant mortality. I came back to the United States and when I went to law school, what actually made the difference (he’s now my coworker) was my supervising attorney, Bob Solomon over at the CED Clinic at UC Irvine. I was working at Yale Law School the year before I went to law school, and Bob was there at the time. And I wanted to sit in on a lecture class on community development. So, I emailed him and he said, “Oh, we’re actually a clinical program.” And so I was like, “I’m not qualified, I don’t know what to do.” And he said, “No, come over, no one’s qualified. No one knows what they’re doing. They’re all new law students, you’ll blend right in, it’ll be fine. We have all sorts of non-lawyers from time to time.”
And working with Bob was really great, because community development is a lot about working directly with communities to help them plan and transform what they want to see. And it’s often working with people who haven’t had access to whether it was financing or capital or even just decision-making authority. And it was nice, and it was interesting to me and it felt very grassroots. And it was very local economy-focused, which I found very attractive. And so I went, when I went to law school, I had already decided I want to be an environmental justice attorney, I want to do the kind of stuff I got to do with Bob. I also had done, I had been a student organizer and a community organizer, as well. But my life had always been like organizing on one side, and then nerdy life pursuits on the other. What I liked about law, and what was good for me in law, was that it let my nerd mind and my community justice mind work together. And what I wanted to do is, I wanted to go to law school because law can be a very powerful tool for exclusion. Or, if you can give people access and help them navigate it, it can be a tool for empowerment and for shifting power. So, I felt like all the structures of the world were written through law. And all the structural inequality I was seeing had a lot to do with law. And if we could get people to have power over, or if we could get people to harness their own power to be able to change those structures, perhaps we could get to more innovative places.
So, I thought I was going to sue refineries and work on community development. My first year, I had a professor and she said, “Oh, you worked on water.” And I was, “Yeah, but I don’t know if I’ll work on it here in the United States, because most of the really horrible water stuff seems to be happening on federal Indian lands and in tribal lands.” And she said, “You should come with me to the Central Valley, we’re going to go down to the San Joaquin Valley and take a trip.” And I was like, “I’ve cousins in the valley, I’ve been to the valley over 100 times. There’s absolutely nothing you could show me that I haven’t already seen.” Well, I was wrong. We went to a community that was a mile from Madeira, which is where my cousins live. So, I’d been past that community at least 150 times. I’d never seen it; I didn’t know it was there. Very low income, primarily Black and Latinx. And they took us on a tour of their water system, and they were running their entire water pump off of a Cadillac engine. And that, for me, just blew my mind. When I was in rural Kenya where we didn’t have running water or regular electricity, the way that we watched the World Cup was we went to a bar that hooked its TV up to a car engine, and that was in one of the poorest counties in the world. And here I am in one of the richest states in the richest country in the world, and we have people who can’t get water, it was just profoundly disturbing to me. I did a huge 180 and became a rural justice person, and the rest is history.
Susan Phillips: Let me just say that Camille Pannu has worked with a project that is near and dear to our hearts at Pitzer which Huerta de Valle, so she was on the legal team with Bob Solomon and Carrie Hempel that is still the pro bono law team for Huerta that is the program that you teach in now as well. So it’s just really exciting to kind of come full circle, we can say we know you when.
Camille Pannu: Do you want to ask the next question?
Eva Tiller: Someone asks, how would you anticipate California and policymakers will prepare and react to the impending effects of climate change? In the case of Phoenix, groundwater extraction has become intertwined with the impacts of climate change causing natural and economic stress for agriculture, housing, etc. in the region. How will run off groundwater in eastern California and its importance for the rest of the state change in the coming years or decades?
Camille Pannu: Yeah, I think it’s going to be pretty profound. So one of the things that is difficult is that (and perhaps this is not true for this group because this is a group that’s particularly interested in these issues), I am embarrassed to admit that until my second year of law school, I didn’t realize that my drinking water didn’t actually come from the reservoir. I didn’t realize that it came from like the Sierra Nevada. I knew it did abstractly, but if you had said, “What’s your aquifer for your water supply,” I would have said, “Oh, it’s the Lafayette or the Richmond reservoir,” and people would have said, “Oh, okay.” and I said, “Yeah, I just fills up the water,” which is not true. I think a lot of it is that most of us are not, I think this is true when we think of food justice, also, right? Most of us don’t know where our food comes from, we don’t know where our water comes from. And we just turn on the tap, and we expect it to work. And if it works, it must be okay. But I think one of the downsides of that is that we don’t value the parts of the state that perhaps provide these kinds of essential resources to us. So, when I lived in the San Joaquin Valley for quite some time, if I could do the job that I want to do there, I would do it in a heartbeat. And that’s even though it was incredibly politically different from how I am and from what I believe, and things run very differently. Devin Nunes was my congressman at the time I lived there, so it was different.
But the feeling I got was that coastal California, especially like the Bay Area, LA, the kind of more concentrated metropolitan areas where there’s a great deal of affluence among also poverty, I think they take it for granted. Like the Six Californias proposal is a really good example of people not understanding the complexity of how our state is put together. And I think a lot of people treat inland California as flyover country, or as backwards or as somehow not worth listening to because it’s politically very different than it is on the coast, and I think that’s a mistake, and I think we miss an opportunity for engagement. In the context of policy, I think one of my favorite policymakers was Lois Wolk, she’s since retired because she termed out, but she was a senator from the Central Valley, but from the northern part, and she was amazing. She’s passed amazing amounts of legislation, and a lot of it comes from just treating people with some kind of respect.
But I will say that, for better or for worse, I think Professor Phillips actually asked me this, so I’ve worked on a lot of grassroots policy stuff with organizations that do grassroots policy, which for me, was hard to imagine at first. How do you take something from the grassroots and make it a statewide effort, and they did it and it was very empowering and very cool, and it was very much based in principles of community empowerment and community organizing. But their own elected officials don’t listen to them, a lot of the bills that have passed have passed because coastal policymakers are listening to people who are not their constituents about an issue that they are shocked exists. The governor articulated that drinking water was one of the most shocking things and he was really upset about it. So, when it comes to climate change, I think there’s a lot of political will to do something there. California tends to be ahead of the of the curve on it in some ways, and sometimes we’re a little behind the curve in other ways. But I think that if we want to continue to really move the ball and think and talk comprehensively, we need to be engaging the eastern part of the state and the central part of the state with a little bit more humility and a great deal more compassion.
Yeah, that’s what I would say. I’ve certainly been in meetings with policymakers and felt like they’re company men or women who have their own bias in what industry or they’re heavily influenced by something else. But one of the quotes that was very inspiring to me when I was a baby attorney was from Luke Cole who wrote a lot of the theory behind environmental justice lawyers specifically, so how to do rural justice as a lawyer as opposed to doing it as a community member or an organizer. And he said, there’s two kinds of power, there’s the power of people or the power of money. And so I like to think that if we invest in the power of people, we can get effective solutions passed and we can get more inclusive solutions passed and from a policy standpoint, that’s been happening. There’s been, as a result, over 30 years of grassroots organizing and effort. In the last 10 years, California has passed over 30 bills related to water justice, and to implementing water as a human right.
Susan Phillips: That’s fantastic. We have time for just one more question. And it is appropriate, I think, to the audience here, which is, what areas does Camille think that students can be engaged in these issues? So how can students get engaged in this? And I’m talking particularly about undergrads, because we’re all undergraduate here. So curious about your thoughts about that.
Camille Pannu: Yeah, absolutely. So the great news is, there’s a lot that students can do. And it also depends on the role that you want to play in your advocacy. So for example, there’s this Community Water Center, it’s probably one of the best known water justice organizations in the state at this point. And the Community Water Center will frequently host undergraduates, in particularly undergraduates who are juniors or seniors or right after they graduated. They hosted a student who had graduated her senior year, she was doing a year of service, and it was funded through a fellowship. And the report that she did for them was she looked up every single water district in California and tried to figure out when was the last time they had an election, and when was the last time anyone had a contested election. And she found out that something like over 70 or 80% of systems had not had an election in more than 20 years. That’s illegal, but no one was watching. And she produced this really compelling report that was super helpful. That’s a perfect example, if you’re more academically inclined, of the kind of work that they could use.
A lot of these groups that do the grassroots work and do policy advocacy, have really good and sophisticated relationships with research institutions to help them figure out where the data is. There’s a project that is shaping up right now that’s looking at California’s administrator program. It’s a way that the state wants to build drinking water systems out. And there’s a lot of questions about democratic control, and is that fair, but even at a local level, even if you’re not interested in policy, or you don’t want to do an intensive report or anything like that, there are a lot of opportunities to get involved with community engagement, and community organizing. Speaking personally, I think one of the best things you can do is spend as much time as possible with the community that you want to serve, whether that means living there, or just spending hours and hours and hours really just developing relationships and understanding the kind of perspectives of the folks who are there. And then there’s, of course, lots of internship opportunities and lots of organizations that do all sorts of work related to water justice throughout the state. So I think there’s a lot of different places where folks can plug in, we need scientists, we need policy folks, we need organizers, we need every kind of skill you have. Don’t feel like you can’t get involved.
Susan Phillips: I hope everyone will join me in thanking Professor Camille Pannu for such a wonderful presentation and for being our 2021 Annual Sullivan lecturer for today. Thank you so much, Camille.Camille Pannu: Thank you so much for having me and for your questions. They were all really good and really thoughtful.
Susan Phillips: I think someone has raised a hand. I’m not sure what that means. Jackie Sullivan has raised her hand. Jackie, I’m not sure how we can communicate with you. Jackie, hello. Can you unmute yourself and show us your face if you can? Are you there Jackie?
(IT: She’s gonna rejoin as a panelist give her one second.
Susan Phillips: Fantastic. Thank you so much, John.
Jackie Sullivan: And I’ve actually gotten you on my computer.
Susan Phillips: Oh, Jackie, you’re echoing. I’m wondering if you could do a single source for your, for talking to us. Yeah. If you mute your computer, you should be fine. If you mute your computer or step into the next room with your device, you should be fine. Yeah, that’s way better. Thank you so much. That’s perfect.)
Jackie Sullivan: Anyway, I just wanted to thank the speaker. I thought that Jack would have really been so interested in talking about those things, especially in terms of the kinds of things that ought to be, taken into account and solved. And the issue about the people without access to water is very disturbing. And he was very much into social justice in terms of access to water, and clean water, and so forth. I’m just glad that we had the lecture this year. And I have to say that I really do miss Jack a lot about a lot of things. But one of the things we always talked about was water. In fact, once one of my students stopped me in the hall and said, “Does Jack talk about water at home too?”
Susan Phillips: Oh my gosh, we miss Jack so much. He was a wonderful, larger than life presence on our campus as were you, Jackie. We’re so deeply grateful you could join us today. And again, the magic of Zoom and this time, we’re lucky that we can convene a group despite those limitations, through the power of technology, so I’m very grateful for that.
Jackie Sullivan: I hope we can do it in person again, I always enjoyed meeting the people that were doing the lectures. So thanks for letting me know.
Susan Phillips: Jackie, check your email because I just sent you a link, we’ll do a little debrief with Professor Pannu after the conversation. All right, everyone. Thank you so much for a wonderful lecture and for your attendance today. Really appreciate it.