Rhetorical Analysis of Madrigal’s “American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga”

Access to fresh water is essential to people that live in cities, and crucial for sustaining California’s large scale agribusiness industry.  In “American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga,” Alexis C. Madrigal argues successfully in his article that having access to water will require sacrifices and compromises from all industries, municipalities, and homes within the state, but the big picture that Madrigal deftly shows is that the San Joaquin Delta is in danger of becoming overused.

Madrigal clearly shows throughout the article that even though the Delta is being overused, current and future diversions of water to cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose, in addition to the large scale agribusiness of the southern San Joaquin valley would not have access to fresh water.  Madrigal builds his credibility through the statistics that upwards of 20 million residents in Southern California depend on the Delta for their water needs, and that without the planned diversion tunnels of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, tens of millions of people could be without water in the near future.

Lake Perris in Southern California serves millions of municipalities in the arid southern part of California 

The San Joaquin Delta itself requires a sufficient water flow to maintain a healthy fresh water ecology.  Early in the article Madrigal clearly states the worries of the residents, fishermen and food producers around the delta, that “too much is being asked of the delta” and that “native fish species are on the brink of extinction in part because of this massive water-transfer apparatus.”

Madrigal does a great job at showing the fears and emotions of these residents by writing that the locals “..worry that the tunnels will used to drain the Delta’s fresh water – in effect, wiping out the farmers here in favor of bigger southern producers.”

Using the opinions of people that live, farm, and fish in the San Joaquin Delta, that will be affected by the new water diversion pumps, Madrigal build an emotionally relevant story by illustrating how the towns close to the proposed tunnels will become more industrialized – something many residents oppose.

The Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta Watershed

To build on the credibility of the article, Madrigal uses quotations from Governor Jerry Brown and President Barack Obama to illustrate that the issue of California’s water has the attention of federal and state governmental interests.  Governor Jerry Brown, who likens the new project, which the state has named the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to the great infrastructure projects of the past that have altered nature to serve the needs of a growing society.  During the unveiling of the tunnel diversion plan in 2012 Brown said: “I can say that the proposal that we’re unveiling today is a big idea for a big state for an ambitious people that since the Gold Rush has been setting the trends and tone for the entire United States.”

In essence Madrigal uses Brown’s words to appeal to the passion and pride of Californians, despite the serious concerns of the effect the new diversion tunnels will have on many communities.  President Obama’s comments were used to galvanize credibility for the article that the federal government has become involved in California’s water issues.

In a 2014 visit to the Central Valley, Obama said “California is our biggest economy.  California is our biggest agricultural producer.  Whatever happens here happens to everybody.”


Farmers in the vicinity of the delta that fear water will be diverted away from their own farming businesses and sent to the larger agribusiness in the southern part of the valley, and Madrigal uses their stories and struggles regarding future access to fresh water to great affect.  And that additionally the construction of the diversion pumps disrupt their daily lives for upwards of 10 years.

In building a great piece on the the overuse of the San Joaquin Delta, Madrigal illustrates a complex picture of the water needs of Californians, while giving space to explain the enormity of the infrastructural and ecological impacts, striking a balance between human interest story and the politics of a new public works plan.





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