A slow-motion natural disaster which directly affects at least 40 million people – and indirectly affects all 320 million USAians, as well as having international implications – is bound to create a little emotional tension. It’s bound to lead to finger-pointing and blame-games, but those are worthless (even if accurate, which they’re mostly not) unless in turn they lead to actual solutions.
Yes, turning off the fountains is a good minor solution; Las Vegas is criminally wasteful. Turning off the agricultural output — which has up till now been larger than the output of entire countries such as Mexico, Germany, and Canada — is not a good solution. However, turning off CA agriculture has already happened in some degree, and we’re just waiting to find out what fresh disaster that causes.
We’re going to see renewed unemployment, worsened poverty in the already poorest rural counties, plus widespread child malnutrition due to unavailable/unaffordable produce.
The massive federal, not state, Central Valley Project has notified all customers that it must deliver zero water to farms this year (in hopes of being able to provide about 25% of contracted allocations to drinking-water utilities and to wildlife refuges). That missing irrigation water would have gone to about 3 million acres of vegetables and fruit in six out of seven of the most productive farm counties. Last year, some fields were fallowed and some – particularly orchards which are too expensive to replant – were kept in production or at least kept alive by drawing on new deep groundwater wells, This year, who knows. Already, so much groundwater has been pumped that the land is subsiding as much as a foot per year. It’s not sustainable. Imagine the damage to bridges, levees, buildings’ foundations. Worse, the water table in some areas has been sucked dry below the reach of residential wells and we now have thousands of scattered homes without running water.
I’m not a farmer. I know some ranchers but I don’t personally know anyone who farms. As they say, I don’t have a horse in this race … except that I’m a human being, a fellow citizen, concerned, or to be honest, rather panicked about the welfare of all the parents and children who have nowhere else to go. That, and the only reservoir from which my town can draw its water is filled not by rain but by the CVP. I don’t expect to see people in my town lining up at the water truck for their water ration this year, but it could happen someday, and will almost certainly happen to other CA communities of as many as 10,000 people by next month.
That’s going to be quite a picture.