In praise of ‘Aqua Blog Maven’

Posted on | January 24, 2013 | 8 Comments

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 AqueductState 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.



8 Responses to “In praise of ‘Aqua Blog Maven’”

  1. MIchael Campana
    January 24th, 2013 @ 7:54 am

    You nailed it, Emily!

    Thanks so much, Chris. We all owe you much and I am glad you’re not going away!

  2. David Zetland
    January 24th, 2013 @ 8:12 am

    Hear hear! Aquafornia is an amazing resource. I hope that WEF can keep up Chris’s standards!

  3. George J
    January 24th, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

    Chris WAS Aquafornia. It’s now an imitation. Best bet is to keep an eye on Chris.

  4. Maven (Chris Austin)
    January 24th, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

    Thank you Emily and everybody who has commented, tweeted, and facebooked your support.

    Aquafornia was my passion and my obsession, and I always strove to create the most complete and interesting website to the best of my abilities. No matter where I was, I maintained the blog, 7 days a week, including holidays, barely missing but a handful of days in more than five years.

    I miss it very much, but I am gratified that I could share my passion with those who really appreciated what I worked so hard to put together every day.

    Thank you to all who were readers and supported the blog over the years. As I have written before, above all, a blogger blogs to be read, and I am honored that so many chose to read me.



  5. Alec Mackie
    January 24th, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

    I agree what a great voice for water in the LA region you’ve been Chris. I can’t wait to see what you do next. There’s a whole new world of water coming at LA, we need great water communicators like you now more than ever.

  6. Nancy Rss
    February 4th, 2013 @ 11:52 am

    I’m late to the game, but have to chime in in agreement: Chris’s Aquafornia has been dynamite, and I’ll be looking at the Maven’s Notebook — because you are the Maven, Chris! Thanks for your powerful voice.

  7. Gayle Leonard
    February 5th, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

    Another late-comer, but no less grateful for this post, and for what Maven-Chris has created and contributed. Thanks to her work, I know more about California water issues than I know about what’s running through my own backyard. It is mind-boggling to imagine the level of drive and commitment that was required to make Aquafornia was it is today. Thank you, Maven, and thank you Emily for this fitting and well-deserved tribute.

  8. Jerry Cadagan
    February 7th, 2013 @ 7:42 pm

    California water issues are among the most poorly understood major issues of importance in current times; and that’s partly because the “mass media” simply doesn’t cover it any depth. Advocates on all side of the various water issues (and I confess to being one of those) communicate their views on a regular basis. But there is a desperate need for objective information to be disseminated to as many in the general public as are willing to assimilate it. Maven, aka Chris Austin, provides that kind of objective information in a timely and accurate manner. I encourage all to pass the word that provides that kind of information.

    I make this post with confidence that if more people truly understood the facts, politics, motives, players, and stakes involved in our water issues things would ultimately work themselves out in a reasonable fashion. Whether or not the phrase “knowledge is power” was first coined by Sir Francis Bacon or not, that phrase is germane here. Maybe a better translation would be, “public knowledge results in good results.”

    Again, I encourage all who read this blog to encourage their colleagues, friends, relatives, etc. to educate themselves and start with

    Jerry Cadagan

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