California’s Detroit

Like Atrios, I view this partly with the awe of watching a massive slow-moving trainwreck.

About a year and a half ago, well before Mendota started making headlines, things had gotten bad enough that Riofrio stopped selling fresh milk at his store. Too few could afford it anymore. In the last few months, the downward spiral has greatly accelerated. Farmers in Westlands, who’ve yanked about 100,000 acres out of production since 2000, say they may now be forced to idle as many as 150,000 more for lack of water.

The issues at play are complicated. They’re also fraught with bad blood. Farmers are set to receive only 3.7 million acre-feet of water this year from federal and state plumbing systems–about 2 million acre-feet less than in a normal year. Some environmentalists, however, have been quick to accuse the growers of overstating the problem. They say farmers have extra water stored both above and below ground and have gotten supplies transferred from other locations.


What’s critical for policymakers to keep in mind is that, in the end, none of this squabbling matters. It’s simply a distraction from the one thing they should be focused on: The people of Mendota are suffering terribly — and steps need to be taken right away to bring them relief.

First, U.S. officials have to resist pressure from environmental groups and others and allow, at least temporarily, for the partial lifting of the fish protections. It won’t completely solve things, but it will help. It will also send a crucial signal of support to Riofrio and his customers, who are fast becoming a more endangered species than Chinook salmon or delta smelt.

Second, and most important, federal, state and local officials need to coordinate on a long-term economic development strategy — and put some serious dollars behind it. This must go way beyond the $260 million in federal stimulus money that’s been promised by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to patch up ailing irrigation infrastructure across the state.

The real question is what emerges after the almonds, tomatoes and cantaloupes disappear. What happens as ever more Central Valley farmland is retired, as is inevitable? What does the future look like for the northwest corner of Fresno County? Will the usual solution — building a new prison — be all that’s conceived? Or can the sun-baked San Joaquin Valley become a hub of solar power and alternative energy, as some have suggested? If so, who will prepare workers for this new field? [my emphasis]

But I also view it with the irony of someone who spent months hearing about how stupid my state was, and then, more recently, hearing the very same people talk about how, three years into a drought, maybe they’ll be allowed to use rain barrels to collect water for landscaping needs in the near future and won’t that be all progressive.

Our town (admittedly a hippie outpost) instituted discounts for water customers who had rain barrels last year. But I need to water so infrequently–every time I plant something and maybe 4 other times over the summer–that I haven’t gotten around to getting a rain barrel yet. It probably helps, of course, that I put in native species about 6 years ago, so I would only ever need the water for my food garden. My friends in CA are talking prospectively about losing their lawn, too, though they’re not ready to do that yet, either.

And sometimes when I get really cranky of the lectures, I note that MI is likely to pick up the Ag that CA loses–we already have the second most diverse Ag after CA–as it becomes more and more unsustainable to grow food where water is limited. Meanwhile, as CA experiences the kind of budget crisis we’ve been having for years, it’s looking like we’ll be housing some of CA’s prisoners–so much for the hope of a new prison in San Joaquin Valley.

The thing is, as stupid as MI has been and as stupid as CA has been, they are inextricably linked. You can’t make the desert feed the country without a trucking network that follows the combustion engine culture. We’ve got to stop the approach that pits states against each other for funds and–just as importantly–industries and use the twin ostrich-sized canaries of MI and CA as a wakeup call to start making our entire lifestyle more sustainable.

  1. NelsonAlgren says:

    We’ve got to stop the approach that pits states against each other for funds and–just as importantly–industries and use the twin ostrich-sized canaries of MI and CA as a wakeup call to start making our entire lifestyle more sustainable.

    Bing!, Bing!, Bing!! You hit the nail on the head, Marcy. But it will never happen as long as our elected officials are corporate whores.

  2. oaechief says:

    As the human animal developed of several million years, they wandered to what ever food stuffs were available, supplementing fruits, nuts & veggies with some meat.

    Maybe the human body does not need every piece of the food pyramid, in gov’t set amounts, every day.

    Maybe, supporting local farmer’s markets are a place to start.

    Maybe, home gardens, container gardens will work for some (not apartment dwellers).

  3. Rayne says:

    Cannot understand why states which regularly have drought (let alone those with actual desert climate zones) are such dorks about water usage. It’s easier to see how Michigan ended up hosed over its lack of diversification with regard to automotive business since much of the root cause was public policy and legislative in nature.

    But water use in California? Jeebus. They’re literally sitting on top of desert.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      If you skim a sample of water-related studies, whether they’re from Corps of Engrs, or from BPA (Bonneville Power Admin), or from local counties, you tend to find:

      1. The assessments are so cautious as to be almost useless.

      2. The assessments are so fragmented — due to jurisdictional limitations as to be nearly useless. (For instance, a large river system or irrigation system passes through multiple counties, often multiple states, often includes many sub-basins within its larger watershed. FEMA doesn’t rule the roost; coordination is expensive, requires a lot of time, requires more resources than I’ve generally seen coordinate. So you get a fragmented information too often; or if someone sees the Big Picture, they aren’t able to get all the jurisdictions on the same page to take timely action.)

      3. The laws are about as useless as tits on a boar in terms of actually addressing long term problems, because the policy discussions are based on cautious, fragmented information in too many cases that I’ve seen (and reviewed).**

      4. Add to that level of confusion the multiple electeds (and appointeds) charged with making decisions, and then toss in elections where people run for a different office, or lose… the revolving door of policymakers creates opportunity for special interests to get a foot in the door if only because the learning curve is so huge that people are prey to private interest explanations. (Having been prey to this myself, trust me it’s an underreported factor.)

      5. Particularly Out West, the growth rate has been so fast the past 60+ years that problems have spun far out of control as government has become less and less able to address them. Lots of reasons:
      5. a. Culture: government = evil tax collectors who ‘over regulate’ and ‘interfere with markets’. When you have that kind of culture, even the best, finest public employees are too often treated like shit
      5. b. At least in my region, it’s verrrry ‘multicultural’. People who know zilch about hydrology, local history, etc, etc, etc, look at land simply as a means of extracting wealth by getting permits to build subdivisions and commercial strip malls; see 4.a. “Culture” to understand part of why private interests generally have the upper hand in determining outcomes.
      5. c. Legal decisions take years to work through the system, and are extremely expensive to pursue. So the people most likely to litigate are
      — (i) corporations, who are about the only people who can afford it
      —(ii) occasionally, groups of non-profits who are literally holding garage sales to fund their legal challenges in some cases, and often simply become exhausted
      — (iii) a legal system stacked with conservative judges, none of whom has any depth in what might be called ’science’. IF you are lucky enough to get a really thoughtful, analytical judge who tries to really understand the issues, for that judge to go overturn any existing judgments is h-u-g-e; it rarely, rarely happens.
      5. d. At least Out West where I am, State Supreme Court judges run for office — guess who’s funding them? Property rights activists and deep pocket mega-developers who use that libertarian individualist philosophy as a mask for vast private interests.

      Anyway, that’s only about 1/40th of what I could say, but my comment is already too long.

      It’s not so much a matter of ‘idiocy’, although that does exist.
      It’s a matter of INCENTIVES.

      And frankly, if our pricing system actually reflected the true costs of things, this problem would solve itself. But we have so many hidden subsidies that we end up with externalities that we don’t pay for directly.

      That local produce looks expensive up front.
      But if prices were actually reflecting the true costs of energy and lifecycle costs, we’d see more clearly that the local produce is actually much cheaper than food from distant places.

      This is something, BTW, that many evangelicals are ahead of electeds and ‘libruls’ in understanding.

      Basically, we’re in a situation where we’re ‘beyond the headlights’.
      The growth rates are so rapid that the predictions don’t fit reality; therefore, the planning isn’t adequate.

      Because of the political culture (extremely pro-property rights, fairly libertarian), government is kind of looked upon with disdain by far too many people. INCLUDING, I might add, too many electeds, who have nicer salaries and perks as electeds than they would **ever** be earning in the private sector (!).

      ** Gore the US politico who recognized that the problem of fragmentation only partly explained nearly useless, weenie, feckless laws, which could not possibly be fixed without much better coordinated planning on a Big Picture level. Then again, Al Gore had the science background to understand what the reports implied and dig deeper.

  4. BoxTurtle says:

    This is what’s stupid: We’re spending billions to create farming in Calif and doomed to fail, yet within walking distance of my house there are at least a dozen farm fields for sale for development. We can grow about anything here in Ohio, but the land is worth so much more as development.

    Heck, one of the fields for sale the dirt is black as coal! For those outside the midwest, the darker the dirt the more fertile the soil. Next year, that field will probably be McMansions on quarter acre lots. Hrrumph.

    Calif is going to have to decide who gets water. They’re going to have to decide who gets power at what price. And they’re going to have to accept that NOBODY in their right mind is going to build a generating plant in their state under the current regulations so they’re going to have to keep importing power.

    Both the Dems and the GOP have plans that will work, though they will produce very different end results. But neither plan can get passed under their current budget laws. And the patchwork they keep coming up with only makes things worse.

    Boxturtle (They promised us Calif was going to sink into the Ocean…WHEN?!?)

    • Rayne says:

      You realize they are going to strip that top soil off those lots and sell it, don’t you?

      They did that in my neighborhood, a mixed condo/single-family home development sitting on top of what used to be a farmed field ten years ago. I had to pay for top soil to be applied to the top of the clay my house is sitting on as the developer had stripped it all off.

      That’s one hidden reason why property is more valuable as development.

  5. perris says:

    Second, and most important, federal, state and local officials need to coordinate on a long-term economic development strategy — and put some serious dollars behind it. This must go way beyond the $260 million in federal stimulus money that’s been promised by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to patch up ailing irrigation infrastructure across the state.

    see that there?

    those are JOBS right there, THAT’S the type of programs ALL the “stimulous” should be directed instead of free money to casinos pretending they are banks and bailing out their rediculous gambling debt


    that’s all this economy needs, some gainful “help wanted” signs

    you want to see the economy turned around overnight?

    you want to see the housing industry rebound?

    you want to see people start spending again?

    here’s how to do it;

    JOBS GENIOUS (I am talking to YOU obama!)

    put out a frigging help wanted sign ga damn it!

    this guy hired the WRONG people to fix the economy and as krugman said it perfectly, obama has NO PROGRESSIVE economists on the panel that know how to fix the problem

    CORRECT progressive economists are a dime a dozen and there happy to serve this country, yet this president squanders the only resource he has to fix the problems CAUSED by the very people he has hired

    JOBS obama, got it?

    GAINFULL middle class, living wage JOBS

    • fatster says:

      And there is very little oversight over what is being done with our tax dollars, and certainly no enforcement.

      Bailout Overseer Says Banks Misused TARP Funds

      By Binyamin Appelbaum
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Monday, July 20, 2009

      “Many of the banks that got federal aid to support increased lending have instead used some of the money to make investments, repay debts or buy other banks, according to a new report from the special inspector general overseeing the government’s financial rescue program.”

      The report is due out today.

  6. SaltinWound says:

    If you want to know why water use in California is so messed up, read the book Cadillac Desert. Corruption and insiders played a big part in this, going back a hundred years. And while I understand the crowing from Michigan, the auto companies did receive billions. What exactly has California gotten? There was an odd incentive in this crisis for problems to come to the surface early, when help was still available.

    • emptywheel says:

      The auto companies, not the state, received billions, and only after radical reorganization.

      Are you suggesting big Ag in CA hasn’t received that kind of money? Or that we should give the money to CA without it fixing its Constitution/tax policies?

      • emptywheel says:

        And the larger point–one absolutely sustained by Cadillac Desert–is that we as a nation need to make better choices. Growing food in a desert is not sustainable over the long term. So we ought not be spending the money put into making the desert bloom (another huge federal subsidy of CA Ag), but rather into making things in places that make sense.

        That’s what this post is about. CA can whine and MI can whine–but when you get down to it, both states have been really stupid for the last half-century. So what are we going to do about it? All the whining is simply continuing the habit of pitting state against state, and not trying to solve our country’s horribly unsustainable economic system as a whole.

    • Rayne says:

      Does it feel like being slighted? Because that’s how it’s felt for over a decade here. The billions come after the horse is long gone from the barn, after a collapse of the manufacturing industry here, after a near-generational shift in work force.

      It’s going to take yet another generation to fix this mess here, and in California, they’ve only just begun their change since they can’t even articulate what the problem or problems are. Welcome aboard.

      By the way, you should seriously consider watching this video. The first part is a bit graphic, but it makes two very important points: we often make mistakes in our assumptions and must be prepared to rethink them, and work has been devalued in this country, to our detriment. How do these two points relate to the changes California and Michigan must make?

  7. SaltinWound says:

    Wheel, I’m suggesting that no California industry has received the emergency billions in the past year that the auto industry did. Is that not true? I agree with your other points.

    • emptywheel says:

      Right. But the Ag industry in CA is the way it is bc it has received those billions in direct and indirect subsidies over decades.

      To say nothing of what CA’s big manufacturing sector–Defense contracting–has gotten over the years.

      Yes, my point is that right now, it is state against state. And so long as it is, we won’t be making the decisions that make sense, not just from the perspective of helping the people in Mendota and Detroit survive and transition into something new, but also making sure we’re using our resources well.

      Some of the support for the auto industry made sense. Some–like the cash for clunkers deal as passed–do not. A lot of the support for the banking industry (which was after all one of the precipitating factors behind the need for the urgent subsidies in auto, but it forced auto to finally fix its crap) make no sense either, not least because no one is asking whetehr we really NEED a Wall Street that looks as it does today. We’ve got to start asking those macro questions.

      • Rayne says:

        The macro questions for both Michigan and California are entwined, too.

        How did a state with so much water not end up as the biggest producer of crops rather than a state challenged with water?

        How did California’s sprawl contribute to the excessive concentration on autos in Michigan?

        It was easy enough to go off in the wrong direction; Michigan became home to the auto industry because it was a source of so many raw materials used in carriages first and cars later (forests here supplied all the floor boards for both), and the materials could be readily shipped over the lakes to a city which was readily accessible by rail (one can nearly draw a straight line from Detroit to Chicago).

        And it snowballed, developing a life of its own.

        California’s highways drove demand for the cars we made here; at one point there were 5 cars for every person in that state.

        But where did California take the wrong turn? was it “going off the rails,” shifting to cars rather than building a rail-based transportation system? Did a little success with agriculture snowball like Michigan’s auto industry?

        The snowball has to be melted and new assumptions need to be made based on sustainability and facts on the ground. California needs a state-wide reset on its self-perception, like Michigan has had over the last decade. It’s going to be painful; there will be casualties, and the money shouldn’t come from taxpayers until the bottom has been reached and a real plan has been hatched.

        I’m not certain that Michigan has a solid plan yet, even though they’ve clearly hit bottom.

        • emptywheel says:

          Well, clearly we need to change the scale of our lives (including plane flights), and we need to change the way we eat.

          I made it through the year eating about 85% of my veggies locally (50 miles), bc of a summer CSA, a winter CSA share for storage veggies, growing my own storage veggies (I appear to be a master winter squash producer) and a winter CSA.

          Of course, my winter CSA is one of two or three in the country, so this is not possible for the vast majority of people unless they’re very diligent about canning/freezing veggies.

          BUt it’s gonna take both radical changes in states and big industry, but also changes in individual lives.

          • Rayne says:

            It’s going to take systemic thought, which at one point in time the business world was keen on, but has clearly not penetrated the meta-dialog in our country. (Remember Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline and all the drive towards Six Sigma quality design? never became part of the public’s consciousness…)

            I’m very concerned right now about the move to increase solar energy production, because the inputs required are tremendous and the public is clearly unaware of them. Most commercially produced solar panels utilize silicon generated from polycrystalline wafers; production is extremely energy intensive since it is the equivalent of melting sand in furnaces in order to product the high level of purity required for currently popular technology.

            The cheapest and most common source of energy to power the furnaces is coal-fired electricity — and one of the biggest producers is here in Michigan. The firm is the single largest user of electricity in the state, and at least one executive has told me it will only stay here in the state as long as it can have cheap electricity (read: new coal plant) or it will leave and take its jobs with it.

            (Guess which state has the twin facility built about the same time as the Michigan facility? Sen. Corker must be so proud…)

            So while California is flirting with becoming a solar farmer, it does so at a time when it will rely on product made here in Michigan at a cost to our local environment.

            Sounds just like the toxic co-dependency of these two states when it comes to the last fifty years and cars…

      • fatster says:

        There is (or was) a counter-trend. Haven’t seen an update on it for a year, though.

        Farmers Crossing The Border – To Mexico
        Is The Land Of Plenty Shifting South? Call It Reverse Immigration

        By John Blackstone

        (CBS)  “The Mexican state of Guanajuato has fertile land and a mild climate. For years, however, poverty there has led many north to find work on farms in the United States.

        “But now there is movement across the border the other way, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone. Steve Scaroni is an American farmer who has moved to Mexico.’


    • phred says:

      Just to reiterate what EW said, the problem in CA was created by federal policies and subsidies going back to Earl Butz and the Farm Bill in the ’70s. I don’t know the numbers, but I would not be surprised if the car companies’ bailout was comparable to (perhaps even less than) the cumulative federal underwriting of CA ag.

      • fatster says:

        There have been many mistakes, but some were made decades ago when the population was smaller, global warming wasn’t yet happening, and so on. But CA (as do many other large states) continues its subsidy contributions to other states.

        If you’ll go here, for example, you’ll see that CA received $0.78 cents for every $1.00 we paid in federal taxes in 2005. Compare that to AL which received $1.66 for every dollar their residents paid, Alaska which received $1.84, Louisiana which received $1.78, Mississippi $2.02, and so on.

      • SaltinWound says:

        This is apples and oranges. You’re taking cumulative subsidies to California versus a recent bailout. You would also have to count cumulative subsidies to the auto industry since the 70s. This would include tariffs on imports, and the cost to society of delaying the raising of fuel efficiency standards.

        • Rayne says:

          Yes, you point to policy and legislative problems which weren’t dealt with effectively in the 70’s-90’s which would have forced the American auto industry to be more competitive, and perhaps forced the issue of health care even sooner.

          But some of those same subsidies also “helped” California — I’ll point to the 5-to-1 ratio of cars to owners in CA. What if all cars had adequately reflected the cost to manufacture them? Would CA have spent so much time and resources on a toxic transportation system? Would it have experienced the toxic rate of growth it’s had for 40+ years? How would Californians have reacted to paying the real price of autos?

          The entire challenge of CA emissions standards pitted CA against MI, underpinning this entire discussion. How is it that the fifth largest economy in the world, the state of California, didn’t have the political clout to influence this dynamic?

  8. SaltinWound says:

    In terms of state against state, one of the biggest problems in California is runaway production. This is achieved by other states giving tax breaks. So how do we get around that? It is state against state at this point, isn’t it?

  9. nomolos says:

    Israel seems to have solved a large part of their need for water as have a number of other countries

    With a capacity of 320,000m3 per day, the plant produces around 13% of the country’s domestic consumer demand – equivalent to 5–6% of Israel’s total water needs – at one of the world’s lowest ever prices for desalinated water.

    It would seem to me that California should be moving a little more rapidly toward desalination. San diego is not expected to have their desalination project on line until sometime in 2012!

    • tejanarusa says:

      Acually, The World (BBC & PRI)had a long piece just today on the increasing water conflicts in Israel and between Israel and the West Bank & Gaza.

      And don’t get me started on the number of golf courses here in semi-arid, edge of the desert South Central Texas.

  10. plunger says:

    “Cadillac Desert” is a great read for those connected to the land in the west. When I read it, I was living on a 70 acre ranch on Colorado’s western slope that relied on flood irrigation to raise alfalfa and green the pastures for horses, sheep, goats and cattle to feed on.

    Water rights determined everything about how the west was settled – as the book depicts – “Water flows toward power and money.”

    When Las Vegas finally uses up its ground water in the not too distant future, that ghost-city will stand as a testament to American get-rich-quick schemes, at the expense of a sustainable future.

    • fatster says:

      Who uses CA’s water?

      FACTBOX: Water scarcity and agriculture in California

      Fri Mar 13, 2009

      “– Farming accounts for 80 percent of the state’s water usage, according to the Pacific Institute, but the farm industry and government put the number much lower at 40 percent to 60 percent.”


      • TarheelDem says:

        Does that figure allow for the fact of evaporation during the transport through hundreds of miles of irrigation ditches?

        Does that figure allow for use and reuse of water each place along the way?

        Does that figure count the water requirements of urban/suburban Southern California?

        Does anyone know how farmers apply water to their crops? Spraying, as in center-pivot irrigation, ditches irrigating between rows, or trickle or subsurface irrigation?

        Is it true that nut and avocado groves are irrigated? By what method?

        What means of water conservation could these farmers use that they are not using?

        What is the average size of farms in the Central Valley?

        • Petrocelli says:

          Many Vineyards are irrigated … something which is quite appalling to the wineries of Europe …

  11. mainsailset says:

    We are attempting to Buy Local. But what happens when scarcity drives up the price of produce and then the next shoe drops and a bidding war begins where non local buyers simply out bid the locals? There’s no cherries from my local orchards because the water is limited and the buyers from the big grocers out of area can offer more coin than the locals.

    • Rayne says:

      A big part of the problem is that we ship food. The size of local crop production for fresh consumption would match local demand if we didn’t ship it all over the place. The price of local crops is dictated by demand outside of your area because we ship crops (not talking about canned goods since those are a bit different in terms of the product quality expectations and can change other dynamics like timing).

      Believe me, we have the same problem here in Michigan with our cherry crop, although it’s generally a weather-related problem than a water-related problem.

      edit: It’s probably time to look at what our predecessors did when they couldn’t predict crop production from year to year. They learned to use dried or otherwise preserved products made of local goods until they could get fresh.

      • mainsailset says:

        So true. I talked with some of our strawberry people as well and they are in the midst of changing their crops…from those that can or freeze well to those that niche the ‘fresh’ market. Generally the organic discussion seems to be that the organic is doing well in the fresh market and the BigAg has been solely dumping into the non fresh, but now that’s changing as people are looking to buy fresh. Interestingly, (and obvious)is that the lines which freeze or can well seem to have short shelf life and don’t translate well into sharing the shelf with organic lines so there’s lots of discussion on transitioning over.

        • Rayne says:

          One thing I’d love to see fruit producers doing more of is drying. Strawberries are so fragile, and dried strawberries are easy to handle, ship, tasty — but they are bloody expensive because there’s simply not enough of them. Ditto for cherries. Any berry crops are candidates and have had increasing demand because of studies showing their value as anti-oxidant foods.

          Funny this topic came up today; my spouse and I had dinner Saturday night with the second largest processor of pickles here in Michigan, may be in the top six across the country. You’ve eaten his pickles if you’ve had a sandwich at Burger King or Wendy’s. We had a fascinating discussion about the credit market and what it’s done to many Michigan firms — including his pickle business. Not good at all. Think I should talk with him further about pickle production since cutbacks in crops in CA could be of some benefit to his business, still opportunities here for improving productivity without increasing cucumber acreage.

  12. druidity36 says:

    Just to add my 2 pennies…

    i’d say that the biggest problem with big Ag is Mono-cropping. If you manage the land well, build swales, intercrop, develop Forest gardens, mulch like heck, use native species, drip irrigation in early morning, compost everything, etc… the land will hold water just fine.

    Also, it’s fairly obvious to me that California was a logical place to have miles of farms because of the year round weather. Many things can be grown there… from Southern to Northern crops. How many Hardiness zones does CA span? Despite the water issues, it’s dream weather for most farmers.

    • fatster says:

      “[California] supplies over half of U.S. fruits, nuts and vegetables and over 90 percent of U.S. almonds, artichokes, avocados, broccoli and processing tomatoes. Grapes, lettuce and almonds are the biggest crops in cash value.”


  13. fatster says:

    Try going here for answers to at least some of your questions. Be sure to use the little search box up in the upper right-hand corner for the specific questions you have.

    Also, do note that the largest cash crop in the state is marijuana but only four articles pop up if you use the little search box for it. Gee, I wonder why that is.

  14. Petrocelli says:

    I think logic and wisdom went out the window when they decided it was a great idea to grow Rice in the middle of the Desert. Hopefully, there is enough political courage to reverse this mindset but it prolly won’t happen without a lot of public input.

    Great post [again], Marcy !

  15. auntialias says:

    This was meant to be a response to oaechief @ 2

    Maybe, home gardens, container gardens will work for some (not apartment dwellers).

    You’ll be happy to know that there are gardens that will work for apartment dwellers! I just came across Windowfarms — indoor vertical farms, suitable exactly for apartment dwellers.

    Britta Riley & Rebecca Bray have gathered a network of New Yorkers who are building Window Farms in their apartments. Right now, the initial group of window farmers is creating a variety of design and DIY innovations that you can build off of. How-to instructions will be released to the public in mid-July.

  16. SaltinWound says:

    Without those subsidies (and the tariffs on imports), I imagine Californians would have bought more foreign cars.

  17. freepatriot says:

    y’all got NO CLUE what you’re talking about

    you do good work with government documents, ew, but you should stay out of our water wars

    the “Westlands” water district isn’t really “in” the Central Valley

    westlands water district is on the western mountain fringe of the southern valley, AND THEY ROUTINELY POISON THE ENVIRONMENT

    westlands water district is a collection of desert mountains where the soil has a large concentration os SELENIUM

    when you irrigate the land, the SELENIUM leaches out of the soil

    the farmers in westlands water district don’t want to spend the money to build a drain, to remover the TOXIC SELENIUM from the delta, so the SELENIUM ends up poisoning the wildlife of the Central Valley

    read about Kesterson Reservoir and San Luis Drain

    fuck the westlands water district

    it’s land that should never be farmed in the first fucking place

    we have millions of acres of land that don’t poison the environment

    why should we give a shit about a bunch of people who think they got a right to poison our planet ???

    • Rayne says:

      Love ya, freep, but I don’t think you’ll really find too many of us arguing about the problem of water in CA, including issues with leachate like selenium.

      • freepatriot says:

        fair enough

        I sensed some sympathy for the westlands water district that they don’t deserve

        and this hits close to home (about 100 feet, to be exact)

        • Rayne says:

          While the irrigation may be highly sophisticated, the fact that soil needs irrigation should begin a dialog about the merits of that area for farming. Unfortunately, we don’t have holistic discussions about what are systems in this country, failing to look at all inputs, all outputs, and total real costs.

          Same thing here in flyover country, though, although it’s a completely different discussion especially in the Great Lakes State. We have areas in the state where the groundwater is very salty, others where there is a lot of arsenic, and yet others where the water is so good it’s being “mined” for bottled water suppliers, sucking the aquifer dry.

          • freepatriot says:

            you’re outta your league here

            the fact that soil needs irrigation should begin a dialog about the merits of that area for farming

            it’s not about soil, it’s about weather patterns

            we get most of our water supply in the winter. it doesn’t rain much during the summer, in the central valley

            so we store the rainfall and the snow melt until we need it in July and August

            we get plenty of water, but the timing needs work

            at least, most of the valley works that way

            westlands water district farms land that receives very little natural water (almost no accumulation in that specific district). they rely on water that is transferred across the valley.

            if it were not for the irrigation, no selenium would wash out of that area, because there is no water flowing naturally thru that area

            most of the irrigation in the valley takes place in a natural way, and produces little or no toxic runoff

            westlands is different

            it’s like comparing a pinto to a corvette

            westlands is the “pinto” of irrigation districts

  18. freepatriot says:

    westlands water district is one VERY SMALL and fucked up part of California’s agriculture industry

    people in this thread are making way to much inference based upon a non-representative sample

    most of the central valley is very different in it’s soil composition, and in it’s irrigation needs

    don’t try to understand our irrigation and agriculture by this one small and unusual district

    and about that irrigation system, the Egyptians would be amazed …

  19. Stephen says:

    As well, lets kick the birth control into high gear. Almost every problem on the planet relates to overpopulation. Big Corps hate population management. More people more customers.

  20. john in sacramento says:

    Sorry to say it, but, the Times editorial is pretty much propaganda

    For one thing there is no drought – there’s been below average rainfall the last two years and that average is an average of the last hundred years, which is less than an eyeblink in geologic time

    And The Westlands Water District (corporate farms) is the Darth Vader of California water policy. They’re getting 86% of water deliveries, which is more than fair. And Free patriot is completely right about the selinium

    The editorial mentions almonds which taste good and are very lucrative for the growers but use an incredible amount of water – iirc, something like three times as much per acre as something like rice or tomatoes

    And the propaganda of the ‘enviros’ v. jobs is false. It’s jobs v jobs. Yes, environmentalists want clean water, and safe wildlife, but the meme is neglecting the fishing industry. Sales generated by the commercial fishing industry last year were at $9.8 billion and recreational fishing was at $1.9 billion and 23,000 jobs. With damages to the fishing industry last year estimated at $290 million because of the effects of inefficient wasteful water policy. There are also the seaweed harvesters, abalone divers, Native Americans, Orca (Killer Whales) watchers … etc

    There’s a balance that can be struck, but you can’t come as easily to solid conclusions if there’s bad propaganda floating around

    My friend Dan Bacher writes extensively on these issues

    • Rayne says:

      Wow, if memory serves, almond growers are BIG Republican donors. A relationship with Parsky also comes to mind. Ugly; wish I could recall all the stuff I read about this nexus back a couple of years ago.

      Also seems like there was some weird nexus between the water policies John Doolittle was pushing in Northern Cali and the offshore fisheries, think it was salmon related, had to do with dams, electricity generation and fish spawning.

      Throw Cheney in the mix, too, along with Abramoff and Dept. of Interior.

      Thanks for the link to Bacher; he’s got a crapload of stuff to write about, doesn’t he?

      • fatster says:

        Yes, Doolittle was a damned big dam man. Before he got caught in the Abramoff, etc., web.

      • fatster says:

        California Almond Growers Exchange
        “California Almond Growers Exchange, doing business as Blue Diamond Growers, operates as a tree nut processing and marketing company. It engages in the production and marketing of almonds. The company provides snack cans; almond breeze, non-dairy beverage; gift packs; nut thin crackers; and cello bags. It also markets hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, and pistachios. California Almond Growers Exchange was founded in 1910 and is headquartered in Sacramento, California with an additional office in Japan. The company has plants in Sacramento, and Modesto, California; and Salem, Oregon. California Almond Growers Exchange operates stores in Sacramento, Chico, and Salida, California.”


        This is kind of amusing.

    • PJEvans says:

      The delta is sport-fishing country – stripers, catfish, and sturgeon, IIRC. It’s necessary to have some water flow, or it will turn into saltwater.

      I don’t see why almonds should require more water than other trees.
      I do know that pistachios are more of a desert-type crop: they’ll grow in areas where other nut and fruit trees can’t do well.

      The really heavy-water-need crops are corn and cotton. They need a lot of water throughout the growing season. Really, they shouldn’t be grown anywhere that doesn’t have the equivalent of at least 30 inches of rain a year. (Cotton also needs at least a 180-day frost-free period.)

  21. john in sacramento says:

    On second thought I’m probably wrong about the seaweed harvesters and I’m not sure what the abalone eat. Thought I saw both of those mentioned in one of Dan’s posts.

    On a break and typing too fast I guess

    • fatster says:

      “Abalone eat marine algae in the wild and on some farms. The adults feed on loose pieces drifting with the surge or current. Large brown algae such as giant kelp, bull kelp, feather boa kelp and elk kelp are preferred, although most others may be eaten at various times. For cultured abalone, many farms now use high quality manufactured food, which is healthy, efficient and produces very high quality meat.”

      [source is a consultant firm]

  22. PJEvans says:

    They’re missing that Westlands was funded by taxpayers, and that the water they’re getting is subsidized by taxpayers, and that those farms are well over the size limits that are set by law for receiving that subsidized water.

    I feel sorry for the farmers that are within the rules and are getting hurt, though.

    I don’t feel sorry for people who are hurt by not being allowed to water their lawns every day, or even every other day. And I wish that more golf courses had to live with watering limitations – the ones in the deserts are obscenities.
    (I have cactus, and other potted plants. They’re getting watered twice a week at most, and in this weather that’s not enough for some of them.)

  23. joelanickerson says:

    Let’s do the math on a rain barrel:
    typical capacity is 50 gallons
    that’s about 7 cubic feet, which will provide 1″ of water to 85 sq ft of ground
    being very charitable, you can set up a rain barrel for $25
    that works out to $500 per 1,000 gallons of storage
    even at the most expensive retail rates, municipal water can be bought for about $10 per 1,000 gallons
    the economics for large cisterns aren’t any friendlier

    California’s problem is billions upon billions in sunk costs for huge water transfer projects that benefit agriculture above all else, and produce strikingly little value, even planting high-profit cash crops, when accounting for the true cost of that water. Rain barrels won’t solve that problem.

  24. Rayne says:

    freep, were you not complaining about the toxic drift of selenium up thread as well as your last comment? That means the soil isn’t fit for irrigation without advance planning for control and remediation.

    Climate will only dictate how long irrigation takes place during the year. Doesn’t matter what the climate is, it shouldn’t be irrigated by humans unless the selenium can be dealt with to prevent drift and contamination.

    I worked for 13+ years for one of the biggest chemical companies in the world. I have had a few years of experience with regard to toxic substances and the legal issues related to the industry, having worked in legal department. As I type this I am sitting about 500 yards from a river loaded with toxic chemical waste generated by the same company. The river’s not fit for fishing, the flood plain around it isn’t fit for habitation, the game that lives in it is not fit to eat. Doesn’t matter what the climate is here: the river is bad, bad, bad, loaded with what is characterized as one of the most toxic substances on earth. I definitely get it, and there are lot of places across this country which are like this whether natural (as in the naturally occurring arsenic found in areas here) or man-made (as in the selenium disturbed by irrigation, or perchlorate from rocket fuel, or methyl bromide soil fumigant).

    Frankly, if Westlands can’t support a crop without irrigation, it’s not suitable for SUSTAINABLE farming. Ditto the man-made problem I’m sitting next to at the moment: no matter how fertile or readily, naturally irrigated the floodplain may be, if farming in the floodplain stirs up the toxin and redeposits it in food-river-game, it’s not viable. There’s plenty of other land to farm, and there’s plenty of opportunity for improving yields elsewhere.