McGeorge School of Law

Cases & Places Day Four

Recall that hill we had to come down last night? Well ... today we had to get back up it. While some of us cleaned up the remnants of our final camp breakfast, a group full of brave souls went to rescue our convoy's sole minivan which because of its low clearance was stranded halfway up the hill. It soon became apparent that getting through so many exams at McGeorge taught many of us at least one thing — how to push! That minivan was up the hill and waiting for the rest of us more quickly than anyone could explain the different types of preemption. Our group and our vehicles all made it safely up the hill and after a student presentation on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act we were once again on the road.

Sudents stand aroud one of the group's SUVs.
Coming out of the BLM campground, the caravan stopped for a student presentation on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Perhaps as a reward for surviving the perils of the last three days, Dean Carr directed us all to a splendid oasis in Yermo. We were all skeptical of this place called Eddie World, but when we saw the giant ice cream cone from the freeway we knew we were in for a treat. All of the treats as it turns out. Willy Wonka would have wondered at the splendors of Eddie World. Not only did they enough candy to drive even the most stalwart dentist into therapy, they had slushees and beef jerky and restaurants with pizza AND sushi. Did I mention they have ice cream? And really clean bathrooms? What was this miracle in Yermo? Eddie World. If your travels ever bring you near Yermo, go to Eddie World. You won't regret it. I take that back, maybe check to see if your dental plan is up to date first.

Refreshed by our stop at Eddie World we continued on our way.

Students in front of Eddie's World

Students in front of the giant ice cream sundae outside Eddie World in Yermo, Calif.

Remember the movie "Erin Brockovich" starring Julia Roberts? We stopped in Hinkley, CA the town that movie was based on. PG&E used hexavalent chromium to prevent corrosion of its equipment and discharged the chromium-tainted water into the open, unlined cooling ponds from 1952-1966. The contaminated water spread into Hinkley's supply of drinking water. Ultimately about 650 plaintiffs filed a suit against PG&E claiming that PG&E failed to warn them of the potential health risks associated with hexavalent chromium. In 1993, the suit settled for $333 million in an undisclosed arbitration agreement.

SEGS at Kramer Junction

Standing in the PG&E parking lot in Hinkley, Calif., students listened to a student presentation on Erin Brockovitch's fight against the hexavalent chromium that infiltrated the town's groundwater.

We made our way to Kramer Junction where we stopped to learn about SEGS (Solar Electric Generating Systems). The roar of traffic speeding tested presentation skills, but ultimately we all walked away knowing more about how solar energy facilities could threaten recovery and survival of endangered Mojave desert species such as the Amargosa Vole, the Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, and the Desert Tortoise.

The San Joaquin River
The San Joaquin River.

Stopping along the San Joaquin River, we learned about how construction of the Friant Dam adversely affected the fish species that inhabited the San Joaquin River, including the threatened chinook salmon population. Water is now being released to support the fish stock, and only recently did salmon have their first spring run since the 1940s. This stop served to powerfully illustrate how laws drive changes in the land. It was, as Prof. Börk pointed out, an important reminder that the "law we enact impacts the land that we see."

We made our way back up 99 to Sacramento and arrived at the McGeorge campus a little more dirty and weary, but nevertheless wiser.

Getting out of our SUVs was bittersweet. During the trip we'd developed a great sense of camaraderie, both as a group as a whole and within our individual vehicles. We learned things about each other that there isn't usually time for in a typical law school class. We also had the luxury of having the time to do our own silent reflections. Ultimately, the trip taught us about the importance of our relationships with each other and with the land. When we turn on the tap and use water, our resource use has an impact on our society and the future of our society. The trip demonstrated how humans create problems for our ecosystem, often with disastrous effects such as those experienced by the residents of Hinkley. Leaving the parking lot, I walked away with a greater awareness of our responsibility to our environment and how that's really just a responsibility we all owe each other.

Cases & Places Blog Posts

About the author: Anna Lisa Thomas is a third-year law student at McGeorge. She has a MA in History from UC Davis where she studied Early American and Environmental history. She also has a current National Parks Pass and has road tripped from San Diego to Seattle on the West Coast and from Acadia National Park in Maine to Key West on the East Coast. She has crossed back and forth across the United States by car four times (always different routes) and is looking forward to a fifth trip after graduation in May. She has been to Europe, but she still abides by the advice that her professor of History of the West offered her sophomore year at UCSB which went something like: "this is an amazing and beautiful country, go get in a car and see it."

About the course: The McGeorge course "California Environmental Cases & Places" centers on a four-day field trip that takes students on a camping trip across California, exposing them to a broad range of natural resource issues. The 2018 trip traced a 1,000-mile loop from Sacramento, east over the Sierra Nevada to South Lake Tahoe, then down I-395 to Mono Lake and then southeast to the dustbowl of Owens Dry Lake, Death Valley, and the Mojave Desert, and then finally back to Sacramento via the farmlands of the Central Valley.

Day Four Photos