The Deluge Was for Naught

One doesn’t work in state government if they’re actually hoping to feel, you know, “positive” about the future. Least of all in California, constantly held up as a beacon of non-light with regard to environmental collapse. A trailblazer in every way, including being among the first to show the rest of the world how fucking serious Mother Nature is when she says she’s pissed. Lucía Fernández was also pissed. And for once, the legislative council members that usually opposed her political party’s ideals were also on board with the profligate waste that was occurring in the wake of a deluge that had rained down on most of California throughout the month of January. But particularly upon the north, which was often expected to bear the brunt of “things” (read: catastrophes) despite SoCal’s frequent and at this point blasé cries of “earthquake” and “fire.”

The only way that the state was able to keep its residents from committing mass suicide during this Noah’s Ark period was the proposed silver lining that all of the “extra water” would be put to good use in combating the long-standing drought that had left many already-dry geographic locations looking especially apocalyptic in the style of 2pac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love” video (itself inspired by Mad Max). Assemblymember Fernández lived in one such already-dry milieu: the Central Valley. And as a representative for it, she felt very much obliged to fight for the water that was flowing into the Pacific instead of sticking around inside the state for valuable use. And all because of some presently absurd environmental rules that prevented “excessive” pumping from the delta—currently in an utterly overflowed state—during the first two weeks after a major storm. The restrictions were designed with “good intentions.” And yet, as most know, that’s what the road to hell is paved with. The purpose was to protect fish (namely, the smelt) in the delta from harm/the tampering with of their ecosystem and those in their ecosystem that depended on them. Which is all fine and lovely, Assemblymember Fernández was sure to note in her missive to the governor, but as of now, roughly ninety-five percent of the coveted water from the atmospheric river downpour into the delta had flowed not back into the lives of Californians, but into the Pacific Ocean. Where the water would then likely come back to bite California in the ass in some other way sooner rather than later (though coastal erosion is a theoretically lengthy process).

In this sense, it was clear that the California government, like God, favored the sparing of more animals than humans in its own present flood narrative. Whether the humans of California died from thirst and/or hunger due to a lack of water to irrigate its precious farmlands, Nature itself would survive (oh yeah, and the rich). Even if it had to mutate. This included mutations of the types of creatures that the “first flush” protocol sought to protect in limiting drainage from the delta tout de suite after a heavy rainfall. And yes, the laws had been put into place under the assumption that the conditions of California’s environment would always remain “steadfast.” But that hadn’t been the case in more recent years. And just when the government was starting to think it had a grasp of what the CA environment would do next—a.k.a. rage with another massive wildfire—it decided to up and incorporate torrential rain into its elemental rotation. No one had seemed to account for that. Not even somebody with as much foresight as Lucía Fernández, who rarely remembered that her first name was Lucía, for she was so often in the throes of being Assemblymember Fernández that she could hardly recall who she was during the scant few hours of her “personal life”—other than a raging disappointment to her two teenage daughters, Ana and Alejandra, the latter of whom had opted to Americanize her name to “Ally,” which irked Lucía to no end. It would be like if she tried to pass herself off as “Lucy” for the sake of making the gringos feel more comfortable, even though they never would so long as Lucía’s skin was such a pronounced shade of brown. But it hadn’t stopped her from rising to her current political heights. And yet, although she had once felt powerful in her position, she felt totally impotent in the wake of the atmospheric rivers that had commenced what was sure to be a brutal year in dealings with Mother Nature.

Just as many other Northern Californian legislators felt. Like Assemblymember Gilbert Rojas, one of the few people in the legislature that Lucía believed she was safe in communicating her fears and concerns to with regard to Merced and its small towns—most of which were hit with the deluge. The one that everybody self-soothed over with the “knowledge” that the water could and would be used for something meaningful afterward. Not to say that animal life and its preservation isn’t meaningful. But keeping the “first flush” rule in place after conditions like these was nothing short of egregious. Lucía expressed this much to Gilbert at the Black Bear Diner off the 99. There was always a Black Bear Diner off the freeway. Though maybe the next flood would wipe most of them away, along with everything else California held dear (oh fuck—the In-n-Outs! Since transferred to the Southern United States in a bid to make California seem increasingly like a “brand,” rather than a legitimate place). Gilbert, too, was extremely upset over the waste of this rare opportunity to repurpose a tragedy into a boon, as the Golden State so often did in the past. Lest anyone ever forget about the Great Flood of 1862—which many were obliged to bring up as a precedent for what was happening in California right now. History being a means to “comfort” the population rather than endlessly bore it, as it usually did.

In bringing up the Great Flood, however, most were wont to leave out the part where Native Americans had forewarned the white man of what could happen in the region during an intense, sustained rain. They knew full well that the Sacramento and Central Valleys were liable to transform into an outright “inland sea” when such rains were heavy enough. And from 1861 to 1862, the region was visited by the kind of precipitation levels that apparently only show up every five hundred to a thousand years. In the Central Valley, the extent of the flooding prompted water levels to become thirty-feet deep, submerging some recently-installed telegraph poles that added further issues to the state’s communication abilities for the next three months. The incongruity of it all was capped by then newly-inaugurated governor Leland Stanford taking a rowboat to get to this inauguration at the State Legislature office in Sacramento. The capital actually being temporarily transferred to San Francisco during the rebuilding process. A transfer that many of the present-day world feel should have remained permanent. For it’s rather easy to hate on places like Sacramento and the Central Valley. So “unglamorous” as they are, despite furnishing the state with so much of its life-giving sources.

As Lucía and Gilbert discussed these floods of California’s past and whatever might be its future, they started to come to a somewhat outrageous decision together. They would break into the control room of the Department of Water Resources, where the State Water Project controlled the movement and release of water to places like Merced and other Central Valley locations rife with farmland. “Fuck the fucking smelt!” Gilbert screamed at one point in his affirmation of wanting to help Lucía break in. Which made her feel guilty because she didn’t want to fuck the smelt. She wanted them to thrive, too. But she wanted her daughters and the generation they represented to thrive more. That “want” winning out over any consideration of the smelt or the delta ecosystems they aided in buttressing. Gilbert and Lucía’s decision at the Black Bear Diner came about one week and two days after the atmospheric rivers ceased. Sure, they could have just kept waiting, and that might have spared their jobs in the legislature. But they both agreed they were working in service of a higher purpose for the state. One that their limited powers as government officials couldn’t achieve. They could not “be” the law any longer. They had to go above and beyond it for the greater good of humanity, even if not animals and wildlife. On this Earth, there was always a “top dog” species that had to look out for number one. And humans like Lucía wanted to remain at the top of that pyramid. They weren’t going to do so by waiting around for the approval of the sixteen-billion-dollar tunnel at the heart of the Delta Conveyance Project. Waiting for that to get going would further stall the movement of much needed water for regions like the Central Valley and its farmlands. Which California just had to nurture at all costs if it wanted to survive.

“Breaking in” the following morning was easy enough. They were legislators, after all, and could use the pretense of wanting to show this, that or the other layman how things worked. The drive from Merced to the Banks Pumping Plant near Tracy (specifically, in Byron) was roughly one hour and twenty minutes (or two hours and twenty minutes with traffic). Well worth the time to unleash and redirect the water supply that Lucía and Gilbert were about to. The thing was, once the former Assemblymember got into the control room, in front of that wide array of computers and knobs and buttons, it was a roll of the dice. Lucía really had no idea what she was doing, and Gilbert was no assistance to her, being positioned as the “distractor” of the operation, keeping the DWP worker (or “power distributor,” as he probably preferred to be called) occupied for a small window while she decided which proverbial lever to pull. Delaying to the last second, when she saw the DWP worker grow bored with Gilbert and start to walk back in, Lucía made her “best guess” about what to push before the man could see her do it. Which meant it would take him a few minutes to notice something was off about the switchboard. Minutes for anyone within the DWP, and subsequently, the state legislature to realize that what Lucía had done was actually funnel even more excesses of the atmospheric river water into the Pacific Ocean. Her and Gilbert’s plan had thusly backfired in the most horrifying manner possible.

Needless to say, both parties were released from their positions immediately. While each one had been prepared to sacrifice their job for the cause, it was under the assumption that the sacrifice would have been for something. Instead, like the deluge being for naught, so, too, was their attempt at selflessness. They ought to have known better, though. For if Missouri is the “Show Me State,” California is the unofficial “Me State,” with everyone’s focus being to look out for themselves. When the water scarcity grew ironically bleaker amid increased floods like this one, that would only reveal itself in more appalling ways. And it was hard for Lucía, as she drove home from the State Assembly office for the last time, not to envision Ana and “Ally” rabidly barking and biting at people in the flooded streets for a dram of drinkable water in the future.


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