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Mt. Diablo offers panoramic view of unfolding disaster

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POSTED March 30, 2009 3:58 a.m.
Mt. Diablo isn’t among Mother Nature’s highest peaks.

Even so, the summit that towers 3,849 feet provides one of the most awe-inspiring views you’ll ever see.

Sunday’s strong breezes cleared the skies to allow you to see one of California’s two volcanoes – Mt. Lassen – some 180 miles to the northeast. Between Mt. Diablo and Mt. Lassen lies the vastness of the Sacramento Valley. You can spy the Delta, much of the East Bay, and the Northern San Joaquin Valley as well. If aided by a telescope and skies are clear, you can catch a glimpse of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park some 125 miles to the east.

The view from the grand peak of the Diablo Range is among the most vast in the western Unified States. Mt. Diablo was used in the mid-19th century to establish the survey lines for most of Northern California.

Mt. Diablo offers more than just an awe-inspiring view. It gives one a reality check of what is unfolding beneath its summit to both the east and the west.

The first European to ascend the summit were those in the exploration party led by Juan Bautista de Anza and Father Pedro Font of Spain. They reached the top on July 4, 1776 and looked eastward where they saw a vast body of water. They came to the erroneous conclusion it was nothing more than an inland sea. The snow that winter had been exceptionally heavy in the Sierra and the spring weather mild. Those two combinations plus the complete absence of man’s handiwork to keep rivers within their banks created a massive run-off that has been estimated at 30 miles in width at various points.

Standing on the summit you can see exactly how man has molded what Mother Nature created. Many of the 1,000 plus miles of the levees in the Delta are visible. The California Aqueduct is seen snaking its way to Southern California. It’s an amazing feat of engineering to take run-off from the watershed as far north as Shasta Lake 200 miles away from where you stand and dump it into the California Aqueduct near Tracy. From there, 660 miles of canals deliver the water to 23 million of California’s 38 million residents plus 755,000 acres of farmland.

It should qualify as the 8th wonder of the world as what you see transformed California into the equivalent of the world’s seventh largest economy and made its Central Valley – the world’s largest ranging from 40 to 60 miles wide and more than 450 miles long stretching from Redding to the base of the Tehachapi Mountains – one of the richest agricultural regions on the planet.

As you stand looking out from the wind-swept summit of Mt. Diablo, it is hard not to contemplate the unique geography that formed the land we call California and the amazing foresight and resourcefulness of generations before us. You can’t help but wonder what they would think of what California is today in terms of its richness and its ignorance when it comes to how water is captured and redirected throughout the state.

Over a century ago, the Central Valley was locked in an endless cycle of flooding in the winter and then turning into a virtual desert during the waning days of summer and fall.

Water management changed all of that.

The Delta, where numerous fish spawn, often would retreat much farther than it is today as many rivers – including the San Joaquin River – were barely trickles as summer wore into fall.
We thrive and survive today because of California’s water system that is so vast that even on a summit like Mt., Diablo with panoramic views as much as 200 miles in some directions you can’t take in even half of the area transformed by redirecting water or even see the bulk of the enhanced natural conveyance system of rivers kept within their banks by levees or manmade canals.

Yet below there are countless people wasting that resource as we enter the third year of drought by hosing down concrete and letting water flood into gutters and down storm drains.

That wanton waste will cost Us dearly in the coming months perhaps even more so than the fallout from the foreclosure mess. It will mean tens of thousands of lost jobs for poor families in the Southern San Joaquin Valley where farms are now being allowed to go fallow. That, in turn, will mean higher food prices for all of us.

We are spoiled and we are the biggest threat when it comes to our future prosperity.

Ignorance of the value of water and how it gets to our spigots isn’t bliss. It can easily become catastrophic if we – as a collective state – don’t start treating water as the valuable resource that it is especially in a continuing drought.
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