Water wars in the Central Valley

In my work in the Central Valley, I’ve focused more on problems with drinking water, which comes from groundwater, than I have on water for agriculture, which comes from highly contested surface water.  Nonetheless, in my travels I see many signs of struggle over agricultural water allotments.  “Congress-created dustbowl” signs appear on land next to the freeway and in some rest-stops trucks have been turned into giant political water posters.

So I enjoyed reading Matt Black’s article about recent agricultural water restrictions over my morning tea today.  He  speaks to the way water allotments are a zero sum game in our state: cuts for agriculture take farmland out of production in favor of preserving healthy riverine ecosystems further upstream and vice versa.  Mostly, Black focuses on the impact of the agricultural cuts on the poor who live precariously on the fringes of the agricultural economy.  This paragraph was particularly eloquent:

“As I watch this ersatz abundance turn to dust, I’m left conflicted.  When a group of farmers and politicians pose for news cameras in front of destitute housewives in a bread line, it feels outrageous.  Don’t they know that families here have relied on food handouts for years?  Are they really using their workers’ poverty – a poverty born of decades of exploitative wages – to get more subsidized water?” 


I was also pleased to recognize one of the photos in this essay as the cover photo of the inaugural edition of Boom: A Journal of California, which I also published a piece in.  You can see more of Black’s photos on his personal website.

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