This article from the Wall Street Journal really captures the predicament all too many people in the Great Central Valley of California find themselves in regarding water.
A must read.
When Americans think of California, they tend to think of Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the golden coast—”a place where the grass is really greener, warm, wet and wild” as Santa Barbara native Katy Perry swoons in “California Gurls.” Or they think of the liberals and environmentalists who dominate state government.
Yet there’s another California, set back from the left coast, in the abundantly fertile Central Valley, which produces half of America’s fruits and vegetables; more than 98% of its almonds, pistachios and walnuts; a third of U.S. dairy exports—and Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck wine. This California has come under siege from the California of politicians and regulators, a siege that has been especially harmful during the current prolonged period of drought and water shortages. The storms that hit the state a couple of weeks ago didn’t make a dent in the water shortfall or in the farmers’ larger problems.
Just ask Mark Watte, a second-generation dairyman and nut grower from rural Tulare, who doesn’t mince words. “Everywhere you turn, they are coming at us with this nonsensical b.s.!” he says. Who are “they”? Environmentalists, though the beleaguered California farmer cautions against using that word: “Most of them don’t really care about the environment. They are obstructionists.”
The 61-year-old farmer tends to speak with exclamation marks when he’s revved up—and that’s often these days. Mr. Watte sat down to chat recently at the Tulare Golf Course restaurant, where the dress code is jeans-and-flannel and the music strictly country. He was joined by Rep. Devin Nunes, who grew up working on a family-owned dairy farm that is still managed by his 95-year-old grandmother.
The congressman rolls out a large map of California’s sprawling irrigation system showing its rivers, canals, dams and lakes. The ultimate aim of the environmentalists, Mr. Watte says, is to wipe out 1.3 million acres of farmland and return the valley basin to its once-swampy state.
West-side growers have already taken tens of thousands of acres out of production. This year they plan to leave fallow half a million more acres, a drastic move spurred by a depletion of aquifers and suspension of state water deliveries. Harris Farms alone is taking 9,000 acres that would have grown melons, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce out of production. One result of farmers scaling back is that 72 million heads of lettuce won’t be produced in California and likely will be imported instead from Mexico.
Mr. Watte explains that west-side farmers in the Central Valley are idling all their crops except for high-value nut trees, which the farmers are paying a premium to keep on the drip. An acre-foot of water (enough to submerge an acre of land in one foot of water) can cost up to $1,300 compared with about $40 a few years ago. Meanwhile, some farmers are drilling deeper wells at a cost of $1 million per hole. These wells may last only five years, and the groundwater is often too salty to irrigate crops.
East-side farmers like Mr. Watte who were blessed with rich aquifers are also having to pump deeper. Later, on a tour of his farm, he drops a rock down a well. The “plunk” that reverberates is music to his ears since it means he still has groundwater. But he expects many pumps to break by this fall due to heavy use, which could force him to leave some land fallow. He also worries that farmers are causing “long-term permanent environmental damage” by depleting aquifers. “Once an aquifer is gone, you can’t restore it.”
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