The backbone of California’s economy is the agricultural sector of the Central Valley. This flat plain that sits between the coastal and eastern mountain ranges is blessed with some of the richest soil in the world. Unfortunately it is naturally dry and arid, unable to sustain life without a man made irrigation system. Fortunately, when Americans settled in the Central Valley during the last century, they built reservoirs and irrigation systems to turn the dry, brown landscape into a lush green valley providing all types of food products for the entire world.
I spent a day with one of the valley’s multi generation farmers, Jeremy Freitas of Freitas Farms. Jeremy is a 4th generation family farmer who gave me a full tour of his family’s agricultural operation.
He showed me just some of the crops that are produced there. It was a warm sunny day at the end of September with a brisk wind blowing across the plains as a small cold front passed through the night before. Temperatures were in the 70’s, about 20 degrees cooler than the previous week when the temperatures hovered around 100 degrees in the last gasp of summer.
We drove along the straight, flat roads for miles to our first stop, a collection pond that captures well water to irrigate the fields. It is protected by a windbreak of eucalyptus trees as the wind whipped across the plains.
Well water is not as good as the water from the aquaduct due to the higher salt content and it is ususally more expensive. Wells are not cheap and there is no guarantee of success when drilling. It is also more costly as it needs to be pumped with diesel or electric motors.
Not only do the farmers use the collection ponds for well water pumped from deep below the surface, they also use these ponds to collect runoff or tailwater from their irrigation ditches.
Efficiency is essential when water allocations have been cut back to 10% by the Federal Government because of the Biological Opinions that protect the salmon, smelt, and whales. The farmers have been declared expendable by judges and environmental groups so they resort to whatever methods they can use to survive. Water is used instead of herbicides as they have developed ways to reuse tailwater to eradicate weeds before planting a crop of organic tomatoes. Without water, weeds win.
We then drove further west to a well site next to a Pima Cotton field. As the wind blew steadily, Jeremy described how well water is limited in its ability to provide for all areas available to grow.
Pima cotton is a superior blend of cotton, that is extremely durable and absorbant. Sometimes referred to as Egyptian cotton, it’s origins date back to its cultivation in Peru, but it is named after the Pima native Americans who first cultivated the plant in the U.S. The long fibers make it the highest quality cotton in the world and it is mostly grown here in California’s Central Valley. So it is not just our food supply that is in danger. Every commodity grown is rapidly being out-sourced to foreign nations.
Jeremy then showed me where the water supplies from the aquaduct are distributed to these fields. The aquaduct contains the water that comes from the northern part of the state. This is the water that is being restricted due to the politics that values fish but not people.
The water allowances for the people were reduced to 0% earlier this year. That is correct, the people were cut to zero as the fish were given 100% of the allocations. When the farmers screamed the politicians gave in and allowed the farmers to have 10% of their allocations. So the fish are now valued 9 times greater than the taxpayers. This is the definition of environmental extremism in all of its nonsense.
We continued through the valley driving for miles past dusty fallowed ground until we eventually found one of the areas that is currently in production. A lettuce field was attended by a crew of dedicated workers who labored for hours in the strong winds and blistering sun of Central California. Methodically they hand picked every weed away from the crop to maintain the highest quality. Jeremy described this laborious process:
You certainly cannot grow food without water. This fact is the weapon used by environmentalists who are actively trying to destroy our economy. The environmental groups have banded together to wage war on our farmers. They falsely claim they want to restore the environment when in actuality they want to wipe out the family farmers by cutting off their source of revenue. Fallowed land produces no crops. It becomes an economic drag on balance sheets and financial stability. It is criminal for these so called do gooders to be allowed to wage economic war against our people and our country. The financial burdens are unnecessary and the damage can sometimes be irreversable.
Stay alive Jeremy. We the people hear the cries of our the heros of the Central Valley. The dams and irrigation systems were built for you. The were bought and paid for by the taxes and lives of your ancesters. The environmental organizations have no right to take the water away.
Fish cannot gain human rights with the legal shenanigans of these groups. Our Constitution was written by men for the human race not the fish. Cutting off the water to our farmers and using smelt as an excuse is completely unconstitutional. Any politician who supports such nonsense must be thrown out of office for incompetance.
Jeremy’s ancestors are the heros of the last century. They turned the land green and made it valuable. With proper management and common sense there can be Water for All. It is time to put the management of California’s precious resources into the hands of responsible people who have not sold us out. The needs of the people come first, and with good leadership we can irrigate our farms and restore value to this state.
Next time: Eastside water, the Friant Dam, corn, walnuts, and salmon. Also an update on the efforts of Governor Schwarzenegger to get the water back for the farmers.