After analyzing nearly two hundred documents in the form of letters between water leaders, riparian maps, and vivid speeches by passionate politicians from the Prendergast Collection over two months, my time with the CLIR Water Project has come to a sudden and unexpected close. I would like to thank my coworkers and Tanya for putting up with my constant questions and making my experience with the project a pleasant and informative one. I enjoyed donning the detective’s hat and putting together the whos, whats and hows of documents over half a century old. It has given me an understanding of what it takes to work in the field of history and more confidence in my decision to be a history major.
This archival position was also gratifying to me because I felt as if I was honoring and preserving the legacy of those who toiled so hard to ensure that we Californians have the most basic and essential resource, despite living in deserts and other barren areas. The overarching story of putting aside Northern and Southern California rivalries and cooperating to preserve the booming population centers for generations to come is inspiring and impressive, especially in our day and age.
While I will no longer be working on this project, I will retain this appreciation of a pivotal moment in our state’s history, as well as the practicalities and importance of archiving which I learned from Tanya, for years to come.
Within the past few days, California farmers have been protesting the newly-proposed and updated California Water Plan (which the State alters every five years) because of its requirement to double the water flow in the Low San Joaquin River to protect declining salmon populations. Farmers claim that they would lose thousands of gallons of water, while environmentalists and fisheries argue that the farmers are corrupt and without this increased water flow, the salmon would likely go extinct. This recent controversy made me realize that environmental concerns are basically nonexistent in the Prendergast documents I have been reviewing. These water politicians and engineers of the 1950s were blissfully unaware of the consequences in their attempts to fuel the growing urban California areas, thus leading to such dilemmas today. Thankfully, our state’s mindset has broadened, and the most recent California Water Plan is full of ecological rhetoric.
While reading through the myriad of statements on the California Water Project given before various water committees in the early 1960s, I was struck by one in particular entitled “Without Vision — and Unity — the People Perish.” This speech was written by William E. Warne, the Director of the State Department of Water Resources, and, as you can probably tell by the title, is quite dramatic for an address given at a regular Town Hall Luncheon. What stood out to me the most was the apocalyptic imagery Warne used to describe a future California in which the California Water Project had not come to fruition. He compares this desolate potential reality to previous civilizations like Persia, as “four times as many people lived in Persia years ago as are the same area in modern Iran today” and the Persian canals are but the merest traces in the desert now.” Being a (tentative) history major, reading for this project provided me with the realization that because I take water for granted, I never considered the copious amounts of engineering and labor that must have gone into projects like the Roman aqueducts and Persian canals. Warne’s persuasive speech has engendered in me an interest in the history of water transportation that I’d like to read about in the remaining days of summer vacation.
I have at long last finished the first steps in digitizing the Prendergast Collection! Hallelujah! After scanning through 139 documents and 1118 pages of largely bureaucratic reports of Californian water, it was refreshing to read this 1959 address by a SoCal district engineer…
“We must keep our eye on the primary objective here–the supplying of water to people. We cannot–we must not–permit other issues to become obstacles in the way of reaching that objective. In conclusion, I can only say that no matter what answer is evolved to any of the questions, there is going to be dispute about it. One thing is assured. The better part of wisdom would dictate that those decisions be based upon an informed and considered judgment. I know that some will attempt to interpret what I have said as an excuse for a lack of action. I want to assure you that such is not the case. It is the reason for taking time which is necessary in the public interest and which will permit sound answers.”
It was an inspiring sendoff to the Prendergast Collection. However, I’m not out of the woods yet, as completing the archival process will require deeper analysis. Looks like Prendergast and I will remain close for a good while longer…
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In this week’s analysis of the Prendergast Collection, I found an interesting 1959 poll that revealed the “the geographical interests and prejudices” of Northern and Southern Californians on the proposed water program of Governor Brown Sr. (the father of our current governor). To summarize the results, Northerners felt that they would be cheated by the plan as Southerners would be given an unfair amount of Nor Cal water, while Southerners believed that the Northerners were being stingy and heartless. This document was particularly fascinating to me because it demonstrated the deeply rooted rivalry between the two parts of the state. I would be interested in seeing the results of this same poll done today, especially with the next drought looming around the corner…
See you next week,
I was about halfway through the fourth folder of Prendergast’s second box when Tanya and I found an interesting and mysterious small piece of paper buried between several documents. How the note made it there in the first place is a mystery in itself as it seemingly has nothing to do with the Prendergast Collection. It refers to Pomona College Professor and Judge Charles G. Neely. The brief message discusses a society known as Mothers’ Circle and people’s plans to meet to vote next month on amendments to the California State Constitution. I did some cursory research and found nothing about Mothers’ Circle, so please let me know if you have any of the pieces to this puzzle!
Until next week,
This week, I continued reading and scanning through the Prendergast Collection, which so far has included heated debates over the future of water from the Coachella Valley in the 1960s and contemporary newspaper clippings detailing these exchanges. I also took a “field trip” to the Upland Library to pick up more documents for the project. I was impressed by the interior architecture and depth of their local historical archives, which I felt rivaled our own Honnold Mudd Library.
Until next week,
My name is Nick, and I just joined the CLIR Team last week. I’ve been spending my first shifts analyzing and scanning the Joseph J. Prendergast papers, which so far have included surprisingly impassioned speeches on water regulation in the Coachella Valley. Some of these speeches were given by the father of California’s current governor, Edmund G. Brown Sr. I admit I am curious what solution exactly emerged from these fierce governmental discussions of 1961-62, but I’ll have to wait until next week to find out. Stay tuned.