It’s out: the latest state plan for moving Sacramento River water south to California’s biggest cities and farms. Also just out and almost as long in the making: my history of such ideas and efforts, which now go back a century. I hope my work for the California Water Library will help readers of all viewpoints understand the background of this pivotal, never-ending water controversy. (Do you think the north-to-south transfer is some brand-new “water grab”? Do you think the Bay Area is not among the users of Sacramento water? Think again.) This round of planning is the first to take place against the background of undeniable climate change. Whether the planners have really confronted the new realities is open to question.

A project two years in the making gets off the ground this month: a comprehensive environmental history of Marin County, California, a landscape and habitat of national value, the scene of thorny debates past and present, and my home turf. I’ve been writing pieces of this story since 1970; now I want to tell the whole of it, building a resource all can use as arguments continue about the county’s future. It’s a multi-year effort, far beyond the scale a traditional publishing contract could sustain. With the fiscal sponsorship of MarinLink and the support of the Marin Conservation League, including a generous seed money grant, I am starting a quest for knowledge—and, of course, funds.

In Sausalito, 6 PM, I’m joining an IN PERSON panel, with Marin City activist Terrie Harris Green, Dalia Adofo of Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates, and Sausalito Mayor Janelle Kellman, to explore the overdue melding of social justice and environmental concerns. I’ll be the old white guy. It’s at 750 Bridgeway (old B of A) and hosted by Sausalito Books by the Bay. Free, but registration helps the planners: Eventbrite/Environment & Social Justice Forum.

Wading Knee Deep

The Knee Deep Times is a lively new newspaper—free and online—about people facing off against sea level rise and other menaces of climate change. The excellent Ariel R. Okamoto, also of Estuary News, edits. In the fall I joined Ariel in reporting on sessions of the 2021 Climate Adaptation Forum, a grand caucus of experts in government and out. My vignettes covered forest repair in the mountains draining to Lake Oroville; a Southern California water district reducing its draw from the Delta; an LA community devising ways to keep cool in heat waves; and Bay Area cities and counties striving to plan for rising tides without tripping over their jurisdictional boundary signs.

The Golden Gate Oil Spill

Oil spills, large and small, blot the history of San Francisco Bay, but for old-timers there is just one Great Oil Spill: the disaster of January 18, 1971. Two small Standard Oil tankers locked hulls in the foggy Golden Gate,  releasing over a million gallons of heavy “Bunker C” fuel mixture to foul shores from Ocean Beach to Point Reyes.  As official response sputtered, local volunteers rallied to de-oil birds and keep the goo out of Bolinas Lagoon.  Still, 20,000 grebes, scoters, and loons are thought to have died.  Safety systems and spill response were revamped after that, but couldn’t prevent or contain the next big spill, the Cosco Busan accident of 2007.  It’s good to report that the Bay has not been oiled on this scale since then.  Half a century ago I helped cover the big spill for the Pacific Sun newspaper; this spring I revisit it for Estuary News.

Hart poetry blog

John Hart, caricature by Geoff Bernstein

I’ve begun blogging about poetry at Why? As a poet, editor, and teacher, raised in the craft by my father Lawrence Hart and his “Activist” colleagues, I have some things to say that I hope will be of interest. Not always nice things: for I think the current poetry “scene” is drunk on positivity and reflexive, mutual praise. W. H. Auden gave poetry the baseline definition of “memorable speech,” hence the blog’s address. How much of what we read and hear under the flag of poetry meets that minimal standard? As I go on I hope to arouse comment, even controversy. I’d love to have feedback at the site, of all and any kinds.

2020 water stories

Still on the Bay-Delta water beat. In late 2020 I wrote about a highway and a town menaced by sea level rise; interviewed leading Bay scientist Julie Beagle for the  new podcast series Science-in-Short; and reported on the iffy condition of the “research fleet,” the multi-agency armada of about 100 specially equipped boats that brings in vital data on the health of the San Francisco Estuary. With a new administration in Washington, 2021 should be an interesting year.

Viruses come and go (soon, we hope), but the tug-of-war over California water is always with us. In a piece for Bay Nature, I trace the latest twists as Governor Newsom seeks compromise and President Trump seeks, well, nothing but maximum water for the San Joaquin Valley. The hope of a negotiated truce seems to have gone glimmering. Will the powerful State Water Resources Control Board pick up where it left off at the end of the Jerry Brown years, mandating that we let a bit more water flow down rivers for the sake of fish, the Delta, and San Francisco Bay?

So begins my lengthy article on the poets of the Activist Group, which formed in the 1930s around my father Lawrence Hart and achieved national profile in the 1950s. The piece appears in the online journal Talisman: A Journal of Poetry & Poetics. I describe Hart’s critical ideas, his unique approach to nurturing poetic talent, and the very diverse styles his students evolved. Concluding with work by contemporary poets working in this tradition, the article is a down payment on a pending Activist Anthology. Here’s more about the background and current publications and readings.

In October in Oakland, scientists met to share research results on the health of San Francisco Bay and the Delta. Diagnosis: condition guarded and trending the wrong way. Getting from knowledge to timely action is the challenge I write about in two longish pieces for the excellent Estuary News, December issue. Can a little more water be allowed to flow down overtapped feeder rivers to nourish Delta and Bay? Can a mishmash of shoreline governments really form a common plan to deal with sea level rise? Hope is in the air at such conferences, but inertia is a mighty force in the world outside. See my “The View from the Precipice” and “Regional Science and Governance.”