As atmospheric rivers blow in from the Pacific and threaten to prompt public amnesia about the West’s continuing drought, the cost of re-engineering California’s water systems over many generations is coming due. The history of the torquing of the state’s natural systems has been vividly recalled by Mark Arax, a reporter and San Joaquin Valley native, who understands every misappropriation of rivers and how we drained California dry.
His vivid reconstruction of — and somber lament for — California water grabs focuses on the remaking of rivers and aquifers to support the San Joaquin Valley’s mighty agricultural industry. To make money and to feed the country, farmers in the Valley need predictability and a regular water supply in a part of California where extremes of water are routine. In Arax’s words, “the water whose too much can destroy us, whose too little can destroy us, whose perfect measure of our needs becomes our superstition and our story.” The extremes led farmers to look to underground aquifers to ensure predictable supplies. MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
The demands for water, wherever it can be found, continue and animate a new Los Angeles Times investigation into the frenzy of well drilling by California farmers that has left taps running dry. As the piece makes clear, the 2014 law designed to ensure California groundwater is used sustainably has failed to protect hundreds of lower-income homeowners whose wells are dry because the aquifer has been drained by large agricultural pumpers.
Of course the stories about overdrafts have appeared for several years, but now a new collection of stories are showing that the state is mindful of past abuses and won’t accept groundwater plans from two dozen different basins in the San Joaquin Valley. The plans appear to allow aquifer levels to go so low that more domestic wells could run dry. The question state regulators face: will the controls of the much-hailed 2014 groundwater law take effect soon enough, or do the decades of built-in delays ensure sustainability will be unattainable? SJV WATER CALMATTERS LOS ANGELES TIMES
Staff and Contributors
Syler Peralta-Ramos is a member of the Stanford class of 2020. He has lived in Wilson, Wyoming his whole life and developed a keen interest in nature photography and conservation from a young age, inspired by the multitude of photographers that congregate in the Teton region as well as his parents who also share a love for photography.
‘& the West’ is published by the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, which is dedicated to research, teaching, and journalism about the past, present, and future of the North American West.
Bruce E. Cain