This is the second post in a series examining the 2014 drought in CA. Follow this link to the original.
Usually, the winter months bring forth endless, green, grasslands. However, the drought has stolen that color palate. Yellowish brown grass covers the impossibly flat, cow specked, plane. The air is bone dry and heat radiates from the pavement in steamy waves. Apart from a few plots of dead looking trees, tired, smoggy, sky, and a concrete encased trickle of a stream all is relegated to a shade resembling a cross between oatmeal and scrambled eggs. Welcome to the impending dust bowl of Central California.
Though it may sound like something out of a John Steinbeck novel you were forced to read in the 7th grade, the Central Valley is fading. The water supply is low and farmers are angry about it. Just check out the highway signs:
Did congress create the dust bowl? Is the drought man made? Sort of… and all the contention derives from one source: the river.
The San Joaquin was historically a mighty, rushing, spectacular, river which provided sustenance the all who surrounded and lived in it. Then everything changed when the farmers attacked. Well, not so much attacked as diverted the river to water their ever-expanding crop fields. However, by the 1940′s, 95% of the the river’s water had been diverted and large expanses had begun to dry up. Fish and birds began to die off, the once healthy river became undrinkable in places, and it began to put a strain on the local economy. The river was pushed to the back of people’s minds.
Then, in the late 1990′s, something incredible happened: a coalition of fisherman and conservationists decided to restore and reclaim the river and the fish population. Their efforts culminated in 2006 when an agreement was reached to help restore water flow and revitalize the river. These efforts are still ongoing.
But what do fish and a river have to do with drought and farmers? A LOT.
Remember the part about farmers diverting the river to water crops? Well, when the rain falls, its not such a big deal to use other water sources. In drought, all bets are off. Because of conservation laws governing usage of the San Joaquin, farmers are no longer allowed to divert large amounts of water from it. Saving the river now is stressing farmers even though conservation of the San Joaquin will actually help local communities in the long run. However, none of this matters if farmers continue to see to government as placing fish above people. So yes, conservation efforts are partially responsible for exacerbating the drought.
next up, we’ll take a good, hard, look at everything through the lens of government…