Saturday, May 17, 2014

Water in the Antelope Valley (Part 2)

A Continued Look at the Infrastructure That Makes Life Possible

To follow up from the previous post, when you go to take a shower, where did that water come from?

In a previous blog we looked at some of the ponds and dams around the Antelope Valley. It was suggested that while people often say, "Oh, I live in the desert," for many of us, judging just by our houses and lifestyles, we don't really. We're as "wet" as any other suburb in America.

Now, let's connect up the flow (pun intended). If you fill a glass of water at the sink, where does it come from? (Well, out of the faucet, but where, before that?)

Well, okay, it came to the house from the street, via a water main --- unless of course you're not "on the grid." Some local families use wells on their own property, and that means they need storage tanks. This homestead site near mine seems ready to forgo the usual options and remain self-contained, even though housing tracts on each side have normal water lines.

 And just because a government agency provides water, that doesn't mean we always can use it for showers, cooking, and drinking. One problem with our current distribution networks is we lack easy ways to use secondary-levels of treated waste water for gardening.

But let's stick to just the main experience that most of us have. We live in a traditional neighborhood with a traditional water supply. The water goes from the main supply into the house and hence into our hot tubs and ice makers. Before that? To the mains it came from a treatment plant and pumps and distribution networks. Here is part of the treatment plant for Palmdale Water District, where I live. They spend a million and a half dollars a year just on activated charcoal alone.

Sure, fine, but where did THEY get their water?

In Palmdale, some of it comes into Lake Palmdale from Littlerock Dam, which means the water starts as snowfall in Angeles Crest. From Littlerock Dam (shown in the previous blog), it flows down the partially-underground, partially above-ground Palmdale Ditch. This only happens when the Dam is full, so it runs just in spring usually, but isn't this fun? Look at it shoot along, like a flume ride at an amusement park.

This is drinking water (though it has not yet been treated) and as such, part of "critical national infrastructure." Don't mess about with it, or I am sure you face ten consecutive life terms in the worst jail in the world. Still, just as an object of visual beauty, doesn't it seem like a miracle?

Even when it's dead calm, there's a certain strange, inexplicable charm.

Another way we get our local water is through wells. Sometimes this is called drawing down fossil water: it is pumped up 200+ feet from the water table, which in essence means it comes from an aquifer that was 10,000 years in the making. In banking terms, we are spending down principal, not interest. In pioneer times, the water table was much higher --- hence the term, "Barrel Springs Road": there were springs many places in the Antelope Valley. Now one has to go deep and use a pump to get the water under our feet.

As a guess, and I may be misremembering my tour of the Palmdale Water Treatment Plant, but in Palmdale between 10% and 20% of the drinking water comes from wells. There also are other districts and authorities, such as the large water storage tank recently refurbished by the onramp to the North 14 from near the mall. If I am way off on my numbers, please somebody send me a cranky email. Here is a shot of a well close to my house. Which one is it? Apparently it is Well 16.

As far as I know, most agriculture in the Valley is using pumped well water also. If I am wrong, let me know on that, too, at the address below. As part of a conservation program I once hand-watered newly planted oak trees all summer, using buckets of water filled from a swamp and carried up a steep hill. Looking at this monster of an irrigation system below, I am a touch envious. (This shot immediately below also reinforces my thesis that in many ways, the Antelope Valley is NOT a desert.)

Looking out more broadly, some of Southern California's water comes from the Colorado River --- or past tense, it used to. This body has always been over-allocated, and recent droughts make the fight worse. I quote from The New York Times, January 05, 2014:

These new realities are forcing a profound reassessment of how the 1,450-mile Colorado, the Southwest’s only major river, can continue to slake the thirst of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. Agriculture, from California’s Imperial Valley to Wyoming’s cattle herds, soaks up about three-quarters of its water, and produces 15 percent of the nation’s food. But 40 million people also depend on the river and its tributaries, and their numbers are rising rapidly.

The labyrinthine rules by which the seven Colorado states share the river’s water are rife with potential points of conflict. And while some states have made huge strides in conserving water — and even reducing the amount they consume — they have yet to chart a united path through shortages that could last years or even decades.

I wrote my MFA thesis on John Wesley Powell, a manuscript that became my first book, Red Sky, Red Water. Civil War hero John Wesley Powell was the first person (Anglo or Native American) to follow the Colorado River down its whole length, and helped establish Grand Canyon National Park with his reports. In researching the book, I spent a lot of time hiking off trail and exploring the Colorado River drainage and its tributaries, as the shot below shows. The Colorado is many things, but what it can't be is an endless faucet for Los Angeles.

Most of the local water though comes not from Littlerock Dam or from wells, but from the state aqueduct system that flows down the western side of the Sierra and past our Valley. (That one is not to be confused with the one that drains the Owens Valley; that aqueduct is for Los Angeles.) This is water that collected as snow in the High Sierra and made its way as meltwater down into the Sacramento Delta, from which it is diverted towards us. Here is our aqueduct from the air.

Although bike riding is banned, it's a great place to walk, think, fish, or just watch colors change as twilight merges with true dusk. Most people take it for granted, yet it's a special place, and one of the hidden treasures of the Antelope Valley

At times the gravity-powered aqueduct needs to cross a valley and so goes underground for a while, regulated by sluice gates and helped by electric pumps. Here, the early-evening lighting at one of these transfer stations looks a bit like the moonrise in an Ansel Adams photograph.

The water at times leaves the system in ways not usually intended. During the terrible Station Fire in Angeles Crest, fire crews refilled their helicopters directly from the aqueduct.

This of course is an unusual circumstance. More typical might be the fire that comes from a vivid sunrise. I took this picture of the California Aqueduct in Palmdale earlier this year.

So from the aqueduct it goes to a treatment center, is processed and filtered and supplemented with well water and local snowmelt, and from there it goes to your faucet. After you do whatever it is you do with it, it goes to the sewage treatment plant at Ave. D, and from there, Piute Ponds or Apollo Park. It evaporates, joins the clouds, falls as rain or snow, and circles back around again. We will close with a brief suite of pictures from Piute Ponds, the marshland on Edwards Air Force Base. (Caution --- this is military property; permission to enter must be given by the Base Commander. It's worth knowing about though, and they have a good website.) Water in the desert? Yes indeed --- and often in surprising and visually stunning ways.


Photographs not credited to an outside source were taken by the blog curator, Charles Hood, Language Arts. He can be reached at This blog does not represent the views of the Board of Trustees nor the District as a whole. To leave comments, you need to be logged into some kind of blogspot or gmail account, or so it seems. Sorry about that: it's just how the system is set up. Hood also can forward comments through email.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Water in the Antelope Valley

A Tour of Sprinklers, Waterfalls, Gullies, and Sewage Ponds (Part I)

To quote one of my own poems, "For a desert, there sure is a lot of water here."

Do many people recognize this view, below? It's looking southwest from Piute Ponds, the marsh on Edwards Air Force Base. This is kept full and thriving by treated outflow from the big sewage plant on Ave. D. If we think of the Antelope Valley not as flat (since it isn't), and instead more like a pool table with one leg propped up on a small phone book, we can picture why this marsh is here. Historically there was surface flow of water from the Palmdale foothills where the landfill is now, up past the Mall, down through the Valley, collecting in a natural marshland near Edwards. To keep the lake bed dry for aviation, now dykes and berms collect that runoff into the wetlands called Piute Ponds, and natural drainage is supplemented with input from treated sewage. Don't laugh: all of Apollo Park is filled this way too.

For most of us, water comes more often in a package like this backyard shot below, and given the homes many of us prefer to have, we no more live in a desert than do the people in Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, or, for that matter, Des Moines. We take long showers and keep green lawns. Ours very much is a water-rich lifestyle.

I am not saying it's wrong to have a green lawn (not least of which, because this happens to be my own backyard); it's just the "desert" aspect is kept pretty far at bay, moreso than some people like to admit. We take pride in being "desert rats," yet are we really?

This motel below is named after a bigger desert even than ours. The water feature installment seems not to be going well.

God bless Sierra Highway. Without it, wouldn't you feel a bit let down? It makes all the rest of our neighborhoods seem so much nicer in comparison.

Besides pools and motels, we even have a goodly amount of wet weather, if we take the year as a whole. Pretty soon we can start looking forward to the late-summer Monsoon. Here in the AV it's not as reliable or drenching at Tucson's, but at times, we do get some picture-perfect clouds.

Don't you just love the smell of it, when summer rain first starts falling?

Winter rain tends to be colder, harder, longer, and more likely to wreck the commute to L.A. with piled up car crashes. I probably should not have taken this picture while driving.

Summer or winter, the rain causes flooding, and doesn't that always seem like an odd contradiction in the desert? For a while, this car had a "for sale" sign waggishly added.

What about this intersection? A lot of water moved through very quickly.

Ultimately our drinking water comes from snow --- more on that in the Part 2 post --- and usually once a winter the snow comes to us, direct delivery, no intermediary steps involved. Some day we will wake up on Christmas morning to this view.

Even more rare than snow is fog. Whenever we get a foggy morning, I like to find roads that go straight up into and disappear, just for the novelty of it. Some deserts, including Chile's Atacama, have fog and no rain; the neblina-based plants learn to accrue moisture right from the fog droplets.

Water is good for marketing. We do name schools and streets after desert plants, but a secret part of us still covets marshes, fells, lakes, and sinkholes.

Water lives in our folklore too. Does anybody remember the legend of Lake Una? One nickname is "bottomless pond." There would be a lovely picture of it here, except the AVC Blog believes in following all signs, even one that says "Keep Out."

Find a good lake, there is bound to be a sign. Welcome to America, land of "No Trespassing" signs. This is Holiday Lake, on the west side of the Antelope Valley, home in spring to a significant population of an endangered bird, the Tri-colored Blackbird.

You want lakes? Welcome to the Antelope Valley, Land of Lakes. Some days Lake Palmdale looks very properly green. This marks the San Andreas Fault and would have collected water naturally, where springs intersect with folds of the bedrock. Dams as far back as 1900 have added capacity. These days is a combination of a private hunt / fishing club and a water-storage site.

Alas, poor Lake Elizabeth, also on the San Adreas --- this was NOT a green day for it. You know it's bad luck when your lakes start to burn down.

As mentioned above, Apollo Park does have a lake and it is kept full from your toilet. Flush away: it all ends of at Ave D, and from there, either Piute Ponds or Apollo Park. The geese like it too.

 Do quarries count? Here's the view from Littlerock. All the groundwater fills a hole that has become the aggregate for somebody's freeway or lovely concrete driveway. To be honest, there might have been a "no trespassing" sign that I conveniently didn't read too closely.

Next, staying on that side of the Valley, see below. Littlerock Dam Lake looks a bit shoddy these days too. Drought and reservoirs don't match up. It took has endured a lot of fires. If it is possible for water to look ugly, that might be how to describe this view:

In good water years, the dam fills up so high that the water spills over the top.

 How small can a lake be before we call it a puddle? At least it catches the sunset nicely.

There's a secret part of Little Rock Creek I nearly don't want to share. Shot 1, "Secret Place." (Well, not secret to the taggers.)

Same place, different view. Shot 2. Call us a desert. Hah! We defy "desert." Do you like the artistic blur of falling water in this version of Secret Place Pond?

Up next? Palmdale Ditch . . . but first we need to let the Blog server catch its breath, given how many images have been uploaded into this stream. Part II of this subject will be where the water comes from and how we move it around.


Photographs not credited to an outside source were taken by the blog curator, Charles Hood, Language Arts. He can be reached at This blog does not represent the views of the Board of Trustees nor the District as a whole. To leave comments, you need to be logged into some kind of blogspot or gmail account, or so it seems. Sorry about that: it's just how the system is set up. Hood also can forward comments through email.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I Cut Off My Wife's Head (And Other Photographic Trends)

How to Become Trendy Without Even Meaning To

Last weekend my wife ran a race in Lone Pine, and while she was on the course, I did the important things, like paid the hotel bill and fed the dog sausage smuggled from the breakfast buffet. I intended to take my wife's picture at the end of the course and am well-prepared for this, since I own approximately 127 cameras --- none of which I had brought with me.

As the old joke goes, "What's the best model of camera?" Answer: "The one you have with you."

So I said, okay, dear, let me use your iPhone. The thing is, I am probably the last person in America who doesn't have an iPhone, and with the phone I do have, I don't take pictures. I don't even know how to turn on the camera feature that my phone does have (assuming it has a camera at all, which I am not sure about), and if I did take a picture, I wouldn't know how to send it to somebody. That's because I use phones for talking and cameras for making pictures: separate functions for separate tools. Even if Nikon offered a new model, the D-15,000 X, a camera that could send a fax, launch a weather balloon, and write haiku in four languages, I would not make use of all those features. Fuddy duddy that I am, I still would just use a phone to talk and a camera to take pictures.

That's fine, but ignorance has consequences. Later, when we got home, my wife said, "You dolt, you cut off my head!"

Hmm, well, nearly so. (Luckily, the next shot was better.)

But that made me think about the trend lately of headless bodies in fashion and editorial photography. National Geographic favors a "you are there" style now that loves to thrust the camera right into the middle of the action. That means bodies explode off the page in all directions, in a compositional style that makes me feel like I am in the middle of a rugby scrum. Look at this example from the current issue, May 2014, page 89.

It's hard to see in this blog format, but the implied action in the top shot is further reinforced by what's called a full-bleed layout. That means there's no white border: the image runs right up off the top of the page. These pictures were taken by Mike Hettwer, from an article called "The Ship-Breakers."

Here is another example, this time from a few issues ago. This is from National Geographic, June 2013, from an article about whalers in Norway.

The photo credit here goes to Marcus Bleasdale. Art classes still talk about the rule of thirds. In this style of photography, I guess that means "try to have at least a third of your subject jutting into the frame one way or another. Heads optional."

Fashion too now can dispense with a lot of the normal head-and-shoulders-ness of expected cropping. A magazine called PDN (Photo District News) runs award spreads of top images. Here is one they highlighted this week that first appeared in "The Cut," an online feature of New York magazine.

The caption on this is "scenes at Fashion Week"; photographer is Landon Nordeman. Here is another photo taken in New York, from a series titled "Skin on Parade in Central Park." This too was in New York magazine --- apparently, if you want to be in PDN, that's the place to start --- and the photographer was Christopher Anderson.

The caption notes that it was a day of 79-degree weather, which in New York must be so eagerly earned for after winter that if the thermometer reads anything north of 70, everybody flings off their clothes in joy. Should somebody tell them that here in the Antelope Valley it can be 80 degrees on Christmas morning?

With this photographic trend in mind, I pulled off the road in Acton to grab a shot of this billboard, shown below. It's by the train-themed restaurant, Vincent Hill Station, on the other side of the freeway from the Metrolink stop. Am I the only one who loves this? It just seems so refreshing.

When I took the picture a few days ago my sample ballot had not come, and I wondered if the billboard were a hoax. Near as I can tell, this is a shot of a real person, Navraj Singh, who is a 2014 Republican candidate seeking election to the U.S. House to represent the 25th Congressional District of California. He has run before (2012 and maybe 2008?), perhaps in other districts, and if he has a website up yet, I didn't find it. 

The photographer who took this is named John Milios and he assures me the "REAL" in the design is not irony. Here's what his email said: "The man on this billboard is a very kind, loving and caring man who came to this country with no money and built an empire.  He wants everyone to have the same opportunity he was afforded.  When elected, he has pledged to donate 100% of his salary to servicemen injured in Iraq."

John Milios also told me, "I spent years as a fashion/celebrity photographer where my subjects were staged as per corporate directive, thereby exposing only a small fraction of my talents.

By shooting REAL PEOPLE, it gives me the freedom to be creative and think outside the box."

I can admire that sensibility. Will it work in this case? Will it get the candidate elected? That I am less certain about, since I am not sure we can show any person in a turban and not have to address issues of ignorance and bias. As a society, America has been strangely slow in becoming able to distinguish between other religious traditions, be they Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, or any other faith. Personally, I think turbans are fabulous, and wish men wore them more often. Here is a photo I took in Rajasthan one winter morning. Pink never looked this good.

As for what all this means for the rest of us, I am sure we've all had that experience where you take a picture and it doesn't come out because one person has his or her eyes closed. There are bad hair days (we've all had them) and redeye from flash and expressions that make an otherwise sober person look drunk as a skunk.

Headless trends, carry on! What a relief not to need to get the face centered and smiling. 

A year ago, I had been trying to do a triggered-by-remote self-portrait in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada (home of Burning Man), and hadn't gotten the framing figured out at all. You can see the remote trigger in my hand, or you could, if it was in the picture better. Even my truck isn't centered well. I thought this should have been a reject shot, but instead, now I can add it to my portfolio to show National Geographic

Until they call, I have made a vow to my wife: "Next race you run, I promise to have my camera. In fact, just to make sure, I will bring four. Just don't ask me to use that fiendishly complicated iPhone again."


Photographs not credited to an outside source were taken by the blog curator, Charles Hood, Language Arts. He can be reached at This blog does not represent the views of the Board of Trustees nor the District as a whole. To leave comments, you need to be logged into some kind of blogspot or gmail account, or so it seems. Sorry about that: it's just how the system is set up. Hood also can forward comments through email.