GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

In praise of “Aqua Blog Maven”

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 2, 2013

Emily Green, environmental writer for the LA Times and owner/editor of the popular Chance of Rain blog, has given me permission to reprint her wonderful tribute to Chris Austin, founder of the Aquafornia California water news blog.


Chris Austin@Owens Lake

“Aquafornia” founder Chris Austin photographs the salt crust of Owens Dry Lake in the Eastern Sierra.

Last week Aquafornia quietly changed editorship. Its founder, Chris Austin, stepped aside and the Water Education Foundation, the blog’s owner since 2010, took over compilation. This post is to thank Austin, known better around the Internet as “Aqua Blog Maven,” for creating a website that every day for the last five and a half years provided a dazzlingly comprehensive news feed linking to stories big and small, sober and silly, about water in California.

Her accomplishment demands recognition for many reasons, not least because when Austin started the blog in April 2007, she did it unpaid. At the time she was a citizen journalist writing about local issues of Santa Clarita, the northern Los Angeles County suburb where she lives with her husband Rick and two sons Joshua and Noah. Paucity of online sources about California water gave her the idea for a daily news feed that would eventually become a meticulously indexed and easily searched library.

Austin jokes that she adopted the Internet handle “Aqua Blog Maven,” later shortened to “Maven,” because “back in 2007 people didn’t blog a whole lot under their own names.” And so it was Aqua Blog Maven and not necessarily Chris Austin who became admired by members across the water world ranging from engineers to economists to utility managers to speculators to regulators to policy wonks to save-fish environmentalists to screw-fish libertarians to he-said/she-said reporters. By November 2009, as California legislators argued late into the night over a raft of hotly contested water bills, Aquafornia flashed close to real-time updates throughout the night. When last July Governor Jerry Brown unveiled plans for his twin “punnels” across the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, Austin not only had every breaking story linked on her site, the same day she also had sought, received and published comments from every interested environmental group and water agency. That day, Aquafornia got more than 3,000 hits.

C. Austin @Fossil Falls

During a trip to Owens Lake, Austin stopped at Fossil Falls near Little Lake in Inyo County to photograph volcanic rock smoothed by glacial meltwater.

Beyond the news service, Austin produced a series of remarkable photo essays explaining the often complex workings of California’s water infrastructure, including the Los Angeles Aqueduct, State Water Project and Imperial Valley’s supply. One of her points of pride in the years she ran Aquafornia, she says, was giving voice to the Eastern Sierra communities tapped by Los Angeles, including chronicling the challenges in dust suppression and assiduously linking reports from long-ignored Inyo County papers in her news feed.

In 2008, the prestigious Water Education Foundation began sponsoring Austin’s blog. Two years later, it purchased it. As the foundation now folds editing of Aquafornia into its Sacramento office, Santa Clarita-based Austin has begun several new websites, including the generalist Maven’s Manor and the decidedly more wonkish policy report Maven’s Notebook. Any student of California water would be well advised to seek out the Notebook’s resource page.

Chris Austin isn’t going anywhere and the Water Education Foundation is no slouch, so there’s no call for an obituarist here. However, for those of us who study water, there’s no adequate way to acknowledge the curiosity that drove Austin to found Aquafornia, then the flair and stamina she showed in building it. It speaks both to the inestimable value of Aqua Blog Maven and of water itself that Austin rose daily at 4.30am to begin triaging the day’s news for her readers — even on Sundays. As Maven refines the scope of her work to serve as a policy translator for a complicated new century of water management and the Water Education Foundation takes over custody of her nifty first creation, a bow to Austin. A deep one.


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