The latest production of the San Joaquin Valley water follies issues from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, who’ve taken it upon themselves to ask Governor Brown, “to take even more stringent actions to be directed at reducing the state’s water consumption by imposing curtailments [of?] water supplies currently dedicated to the environment and fishery habitat that are comparable to those now being mandated and burdening urban and agricultural contractors and users.”
Given Fresno County’s long history of environmental destruction, asking for reductions in water for the environment and fisheries is like a mugger asking his victim to donate to a criminal defense fund. It’s like asking a patient on life support to stop using so much air.
Fresno County is the site where an iconic photo was taken to document one of the largest incidents of land subsidence known to man. In the photo, geologist Joe Poland stands next to a telephone pole marking increments of subsidence totaling 28 feet. Land subsidence comes from overdrafting groundwater, an activity for which Fresno County is justly famous.
Fresno County’s largest city is Fresno. Though it plans to convert to surface water to sustain an ambitious growth plan, the city of Fresno currently relies on the aptly named “Sole Source Aquifer” for 85% of its drinking water in the summer months and almost 70% in the winter. Where it will get more surface water given current drought conditions remains a subject of speculation.
Average annual rainfall in Fresno has been less than 12 inches over the last thirty years, which is 54% less than the state average overall. Put simply, just like about every other water user in the southern San Joaquin Valley, Fresno has been spending groundwater resource savings accrued over millennia.
Keep in mind that this is not some little cow town. Fresno’s population is over half a million people. It’s the largest city in the Central Valley, larger even than Sacramento―and virtually all that growth has been fed by groundwater.
Like other local water users, Fresno County has been oblivious to the destruction of local rivers, lakes, and wetlands. For decades, a sixty mile expanse of the nearby San Joaquin River ran dry every year. After years of litigation, federal courts finally ordered flows restored enough to support native salmon and steelhead populations, which disappeared when the river dried up.
Just south of Fresno County, the Kings River has been diverted almost to the point of total depletion, except in extremely wet years. Tulare Lake, formerly the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, was obliterated long ago, and well over 90% of the Valley’s historic wetlands are gone.
To the north, salmon runs on the Tuolumne River are nearly extinct. In the San Joaquin Delta, salmon, steelhead, Delta Smelt, and sturgeon species are severely imperiled. Delta farmers face crop losses due to rising salinity as a result of diversions of fresh water south to places like Fresno County, where urban and agricultural demands on groundwater have resulted in environmental degradation of global significance.
But dying fish, dead rivers and lakes, and an imperiled delta apparently aren’t enough for Fresno County Supervisors. They claim Fresno remains at “Ground Zero for the state’s most serious economic and social water supply reduction impacts.” Bizarre as it seems, they apparently don’t realize their own county’s role in abusing water resources almost beyond recovery―and now they want more.