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Journalists of every stripe, in search of drought stories, have crawled this valley over several years in numbers reminiscent of Egypt’s Biblical locust plague. Farming friends and I have been dogged by the major TV network trio, New York Times reporters, plus
German, French and Norwegian film crews. If all voyeurs had brought an acre-foot of water each as tribute, we might have broken this epic dry spell. California’s inscrutable plumbing works, arguably the world’s most sophisticated, combining snow pack, river systems, reservoirs, canals and groundwater basins under myriad jurisdictions is difficult enough for local experts to get heads around. Senior and junior water rights, riparian vs. appropriative, pre and post-1914 entitlements, are a bewildering muddle for unlucky journalists sent here for a few days. Fresno resident and sometimes T&D Willey Farms CSA member Diana Marcum enjoys an insider’s perspective. Since relocating here from her native Southern California in 2001 to accept a Fresno Bee staff assignment, Diana has evolved towards “becoming native to this place”. Marcum’s narrative strength shone in periodic “Edge of Town: Tales of real life in the Valley” pieces, which brilliantly illuminated the lives of average San Joaquin Valley citizens. The Internet age presses print journalism to the economic wall, particularly newspapers; and our Fresno Bee underwent waves of layoffs, downsizing of type, page numbers and paper size in desperate efforts to survive as ad revenue dwindled. Marcum and the Bee separated in 2009 when she sailed for the Azores to research a book on many SJV dairy farmers’ homeland. On return, the freelancer stayed hungry until she landed an LA Times staff writer position in 2011 covering our Central Valley, an assignment Diana had dreamed of since childhood. Marcum’s 2013 Rim Fire series was overwhelmingly the best of much I read on that catastrophic Sierra conflagration. Throughout 2014, Diana sleuthed our Valley’s periphery, reporting from the drought’s hardest hit, out of sight communities, Huron, Terra Bella, Stratford, Fairmead and East Porterville. In five poignant, Steinbeckian vignettes Marcum paints word portraits of people she encountered in these off the beaten path settlements, whom she somehow charms into revealing intimate life histories and current struggles absent water. No one was more astonished than my friend Diana, last week, when Columbia University’s Pulitzer Prize board cited her LA Times SJV drought dispatches as 2015’s most distinguished feature writing. American journalism’s brass ring, plucked by one of our own, bravo! – Tom Willey