Sacramento Valley rice farmer J. T. Thompson said in an interview that he could farm rice without burning straw and even without chemicals.
“But I do not even get out of the blocks without water,” he says.
The obvious is more insightful than ever before.
Put aside water for agriculture and farmers like J. T. and his father John. Without water, the entire state of California will not get out of the blocks. This year alone, 95,000 people will be out of work in agriculture due to a lack of water. The price tag for the third year of drought will be $3 billion in the midst of an economic crisis that is already shuttering businesses and foreclosing homes by the thousands.
California’s water crisis is not new. It has been debated, dissected and deliberated upon for decades without definitive actions toward a solution. The latest drought emergency declaration and water bond proposals are more of the same things heard in the past, resulting in nothing so far.
The politics of water have become so absurd that Abel Maldonado, Santa Maria, Calif., state senator and farmer, says he will vote no on the next water bond issue he sees, unless it contains definitive funds for additional storage. Heresy from a farmer? It’s reality. He is as weary as are most other Californians of watching bureaucrats and head-in-the-sand environmentalists think they can extract massive amounts of water via conservation measures. Thirty-seven million people relying on a water system designed for 20 million says we have gone far past solutions by putting bricks in toilet bowls.
It is disheartening to realize that I or anyone else reading this likely will not see new, significant water storage in California in our lifetime and maybe in the lifetime of our children. I hope I am wrong. However, every time I look toward Sacramento for leadership on any issue, all I see is pathetic political partisanship. Term limits we approved and the resulting gerrymandering are literally bringing the once great state of California to its knees on many more issues than just water.
If this water crisis is not aggressively addressed now with strong leadership from somewhere, we can all enjoy ketchup and lasagna made with tomato products from China, the same place that has given us lead-laden toys for our children and grandchildren. We can enjoy fresh vegetables from Mexico, a country better known for drug smuggling and civil upheaval than safe food production.
It is a senseless crisis that has grown far beyond water for farmers. Truth is, there are solutions to the problem. Significantly more storage is the first step, but it is almost too late for that to get California out of what is almost certain to be at least a decade-long drought. The peripheral canal or other flow improvement work in the Delta should begin immediately. Urban water users must be made economically accountable for the water they use — and waste. It is insane to talk about a water crisis when a city the size of Fresno and countless other metropolitan areas have no water meters. The solution list goes on and on.
California has long been a world and national leader. No longer. It is a state in chaos searching for unwavering, bold leadership.