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No water for agriculture is slow-moving disaster

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  • There are no gut-wrenching photos or blaring headlines chronicling the slow moving catastrophe that is the California water disaster.

Earthquakes, floods and hurricanes are visible disasters with heartbreaking human consequences.

No less consequential is the water disaster in California. However, there are no gut-wrenching photos or blaring headlines chronicling this slow moving catastrophe.

God-forbid, but if the San Joaquin Valley were to be inundated by floods or wrecked by a massive earthquake, the federal and state governments would be there to help in a New York minute.

It rained a little recently and the mountains received a dusting of snow. It was encouraging. Reality is farmers cannot count on federal or state irrigation water this season. However, the government is nowhere to be found.

It is challenging to get the attention of urbanites and politicians to the water disaster now slowly crippling California.

A group of farmers, business people and city leaders tried to put faces and costs to the impending 2014 agricultural disaster in the making.

Steve Malanca, general manager of Thomason Tractor in Firebaugh, Calif., with the help of Gayle Holman, from Westlands Water District, gathered more than 200 people and 90 pieces of equipment in an alfalfa field west of Firebaugh to visually show the economic impact for one field of alfalfa if there is no water to farm it.

"The reason for this event was to create a visual for people who don't understand the ag economy we have here in Central California with the help of water," says Malanca.

"It isn't just farmers who are bracing for a rocky year," says Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

 

(See related Looming 2014 California water crisis strikes fear in farmers)

 

"It is the local tractor dealer, irrigation pipe supplier, auto dealer, financial institution and other businesses who are fearful of the economic consequences thrust upon their businesses from a suffering ag economy."

"When there is water flow, business is great," says LaVonne Allen, owner of The Farmer's Daughter restaurant in Firebaugh. "The last year I'm probably down 25-30 percent on my business because a lot of people are unemployed. When water and agriculture hurts out here, it hurts everybody."

"The ag industry for the city of Firebaugh is the main provider of jobs, revenue sources and, really, the whole existence for the city," adds Ken McDonald, Firebaugh city manager. "If we didn't have agriculture, there probably wouldn't be a need for the city to exist."

The slow moving disaster began last year when most all irrigation districts did not have the water supplies for a full season for the farmers.

“I think we all know the challenge we have in front of us to get people to understand the importance of the ag economy in Central California. We hope this message will be a way to convey a visual for people to understand what we do out here. Central California grows some of the safest food in the world. Without water here, it can’t happen.”

A video of the event, entitled “Farm, Water and the Business Crisis,” is on YouTube.

Hopefully, the rains and snow will come to get agriculture through another year. However, a wet winter will not make the California water crisis/disaster disappear. Trying to keep the issue before the public, politicians and bureaucrats with information like the video is commendable and absolutely necessary to began creating solutions rather than annual disasters.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Steve West (not verified)
on Nov 7, 2013

This is a lost battle... As much of an impact as we in Ag, and California's place as leader in a zillion commodities... Ag still is 5% or so of California's GDP, and uses 80% of the water. This is as Peter Drucker termed it "The future that is already here". Smart money now is finding ways to agressively do more with less, focus on crops which will pay the high water costs of the future, and moving to places where cheap water will work for the other crops. I'm a 5th generation CA guy, but we lost this one years ago... We have cried wolf so many times over the years we have no credibility... and there is always food at the supermarket... Sure we can push things off a little bit, but in 50 years, it is hard to imagine a central valley with lots of cotton, corn and alfalfa...

Anonymous (not verified)
on Nov 18, 2013

Steve, Your figures on water usage may be correct. However the fact that 5% of the California GDP is Ag is a moot point. California and Arizona account for a great deal of US food production. California has a large population that relies on agriculture for its food supply. Take that away and what do you have? You have an expensive, less abundant, and unreliable supply of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. People absolutely have to eat.

With cheap energy comes desalinization. Urbanites can't grow enough food in their localities. But they should be able to desalinize sea water if energy costs are low. This is the new paradigm for California.

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