Adam Gray’s dismissal from the state’s Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee has given him near-martyr status, at least locally. Gray tried to argue against reducing water allotments in the San Joaquin Valley. When he was removed from the Committee after a small initial success, the dismissal brought about what’s become a default water rant throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
The theme? Blame the state. Subtext? Blame the “enviros.”
“Yes,” say Valley leaders and media, “if not for the state and the enviros, we’d be able to fulfill our mission of feeding the nation.”
Unfortunately, arguments that we’re losing “our water” for all the wrong reasons aren’t viable. For one thing, local water districts routinely sell water or try to sell water outside the region. That doesn’t exactly send the message that we’re in need of all the water we have.
These same water districts sell water to local farmers at prices below the cost of delivery. Try telling residents in the rest of the state that selling water below the cost of delivery encourages wise use.
In Stanislaus County, as is the case throughout the rest of the Valley, we’ve added tens of thousands of acres of nut orchards solely dependent on groundwater. Selling water and promoting unsustainable agriculture tell residents elsewhere that we’re not the most deserving stewards of our once-bountiful water resources.
Things are worse in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley. Planting permanent crops there has resulted in saline soil, overdrafted aquifers, land subsidence, and an insatiable demand for water that’s needed for fish, the delta ecosystem, urban uses, and sustainable farming farther north.
Even state Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger, one of the most ardent advocates for farmers anywhere, has drawn the line on planting permanent crops on unsustainable ground.
“They shouldn’t be growing almonds or walnuts in those areas,” said Wenger recently, and he ought to know.
Wenger is a resident of Wood Colony, one of the last strongholds of true family farming. Wood Colony farmers often use flood irrigation to water their crops. Though flood irrigation is routinely criticized as wasteful, a study by the United States Geological Survey has shown that flood irrigation is a major factor in the recharge of local groundwater.
In other words, Wood Colony farmers are among the last practitioners of truly sustainable farming. Not only do they produce sensational crops, in so doing they also “bank” groundwater for use in drought conditions.
As for the “feeding the nation” claim, it’s losing force almost daily. More and more California residents know that the almond boom has been fueled mostly by foreign markets. Not only does most of the almond crop get shipped overseas, the proliferation of nut orchards has put a squeeze on crops that really do feed the nation. Prices for crops like tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, kale, lettuce and others have been driven upwards as acreage for these food items is gobbled up by almond groves.
The “enviro” label doesn’t fit either. Everyone’s an enviro when rivers and wetlands are drying up, fish are going extinct, the land is subsiding, and state residents are repeatedly required to use less and pay more for their water.
Adam Gray has done his level best to speak for his constituents, but his failure to prevail shouldn’t be surprising. The simple fact is too many of his constituents have provided more arguments against his case than for it.