Sign of the Times

by Curt Burnett on August 12, 2009

No Water = No Jobs, No Food, No Future

Sign on I-5 near Fresno

Driving up I-5 yesterday along the western edge of the Central Valley was a fascinating experience for a water wonk. About every half mile there was a sign fastened to a fence, a farm trailer positioned for maximum visibility, or a building. “Congress Created Dustbowl” was the most popular. This was typically in dusty, fallow fields, presumably due to the absence of irrigation water.

I got to talk with some folks in operations at the Westlands Water District. This is the largest irrigation district in the US, and certainly among the hardest hit by the water situation here in the Central Valley. They have resigned themselves to the apparent reality that 50% of the original Bureau of Reclamation water allotment (from the start of the Central Valley Project) is the new “normal”. However they and the growers were caught off guard by the 10% (up from 0% originally proposed early in the summer) that they are actually getting. They and the growers are piecing together sufficient water for some crops in some places through limited transfers from other areas plus unsustainable groundwater pumping. We saw some some bumper crops of tomatoes ripening in the fields, as well as healthy-looking almond and pecan trees. But as always, the pain is spread unevenly. Some farmers are doing moderately well, others are being ruined.

I was impressed with the folks at Westlands. It doesn’t appear to me that they have ever taken the water they manage for granted. They had universal metering long before other districts, and they seem to have a good grasp of how much water is being used by whom, which believe it or not is unusual. They are hoping to obtain stimulus money (decision pending) to further upgrade their monitoring and control ability to nearly realtime (daily), through telemetry. Of course, all of this is to some degree an act of faith. It assumes there will be at least some water in the future, which is by no means certain.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: