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Editorial: Dead Dogs and Toxic Fish: Welcome to Stockton, a City Choking on California Water Policy



Photo of man drawing a water sample in Stockton, CA
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Stockton is a city simultaneously in recovery and under stress. The municipality of about 300,000, some 50 miles south of Sacramento and 80 miles east of San Francisco on California’s extraordinary inland delta, became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy in 2012 (Detroit followed in 2013). It was then, and remains today, one of the nation’s most violent cities, and it still struggles with deep poverty, even as its emergence from insolvency sparks civic renewal and innovation.
The city’s fate is linked inextricably with the San Joaquin River, which runs through town after its long trip down the western slope of the Sierra and a sharp turn north through the San Joaquin Valley. Much of the water upstream is diverted for agriculture, although a legal settlement ensures that the river no longer runs dry. Additional diversions at the downriver end — this time for urban as well as agricultural use — greatly reduce the amount of water that actually makes it through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the San Francisco Bay and then the Pacific. It is as if one of the state’s two great arteries (the other being the Sacramento River) is detached from its heart.

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