Misty Tienken, contributor to The California Review and volunteer for the San Diego Republican Party, writes about the woes of no water in California’s Central Valley. This telling issue is best grappled in the following article as some California politicians ignore this issue and let the U.S.’s bread basket die before our eyes.
On October 9th, 2009 I drove along Interstate 5 through the Central Valley. Right after the grapevine there are usually green farms for hours on end, however this time I instead was treated to scenic brown dust bowls and withering pistachio trees. It was a scene out of The Grapes of Wrath, which was written during the Great Depression. While pondering the cause of the transformation, I happened to notice signs all along the highway stating “Congress created dust bowl.” It was in this moment I grew angry and decided to write about this new congressional dust bowl and how it affects so many citizens of the Central Valley.
In 2007, a federal judge ruled that state and federal pumps in the central valley in and around Kern County could have the potential to wipe out a tiny fish called the Delta Smelt. The federal judge ruled that water usage had to be curtailed by about a third, until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could figure out more details about the situation. Later it was mentioned in a 400 page “Biological Option” to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that the pumping was “likely to jeopardize the existence of the Delta Smelt and its habitat.”
In 2008, with two years of droughts continuing in the Central Valley, farmers in and around Kern County were facing tough choices. In a normal year the farmers would have irrigated around 850,000,000 acres. In 2008 about 45,000 were idle costing the farmers about 46 million dollars. In addition to that economic disaster, another 100,000 acres were under irrigated leading to an additional 59 million dollars in losses that year. In July of 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services changed the status of the Delta Smelt from threatened to endangered species. Jeff Miller from USFWS stated: “Delta smelt are an indicator of the health of the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem, and the smelt population has plummeted since 1993 when it was listed as threatened. Smelt abundance this summer is the fourth lowest on record since surveys began in 1959. Federal and state agencies have allowed record levels of water diversions from the delta in recent years, leaving insufficient fresh water to sustain native fish and the delta ecosystem.”
However the Central Valley, formerly known as the “Breadbasket of America” is entering a critical phase of suffering from this federal ruling concerning the delta smelt. Since the ruling that shut off the water pumps, the Central Valley has hit an all time high of 15% unemployment, which is about 33-40 thousand workers out of work. People now have to going to food banks to keep food on their families tables.
Water that used to be diverted to the farmers is now being sent to the San Francisco Delta, and instead released into the Pacific Ocean. This is a major problem since 12% of the agriculture in America comes from California. California derives more of its income than any other state from its agriculture, and with California’s current economic crisis, this isn’t a time to reduce income in the state.
However, having two-thirds of the farms in the Central Valley shut down has gotten this crisis national news. Sean Hannity from Fox News did a special called “The Valley that Hope Forgot.” In this special report Sean was able to speak to the comedian Paul Rodriguez about the suffering that is going on. He explained that people want to work, and urged people to turn on the water. Congressman Devin Nunes from the 21 District was also present, and he explained that legislation was brought to the table 7 times in Congress and that Nancy Pelosi has killed these bills every time. He further stated that this issue isn’t just affecting the Central Valley farmers, but also 38 million people with rising food costs. Governor Schwarzenegger stated that Obama’s administration wrote letters to him, scolding him on his position with this issue.
In the past, California has been a state of progress and has often been seen as setting the standard for the nation. We are now in an era of government both on a state level and nationally that does not care about the people and merely tries to find a way to promote its own agenda; an agenda which puts the livelihood of people behind that of fish. California’s water crisis is nowhere near over, as it is in fact only just beginning, and the real question we Californians should all be asking is “What is more important: people or fish?”