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Food Grows Where Water Flows

By Wes Rolley

I have never driven down the Central Valley without seeing sign after sign that reminded me that "Food Grows Where Water Flows". They are posted along both I-5 and Rte. 99, covering old tanks and stacks of cotton bales.

There is a truth in that statement that we all understand. California's major food producing areas are all valleys: Imperial Valley, San Joaquin Valley, Salinas Valley. They all rely on irrigation. It is mostly through irrigation that California has become the number 1 agricultural state in the country, producing $36.6 Billion in revenue in 2007.

That is a big argument for maintaining the status quo. We are a growing population to feed, and there is pressure to extend agriculture to even more lands, some of which are totally unsuitable. The environmental consequences of that are routinely ignored.

The only problem is that nothing can maintain the status quo.

Things are always changing, becoming something different. That is the lesson of ecology, a lesson that Greens have learned even if others have not. We all live in a complex system of things that are created and things that die. Our hope is that we are not the ones who will die.

Currently the major change is climate. The most recent forecasts indicate that we may not be able to avoid a temperature increase of 6° C. by 2100. Such a change would entirely disrupt all of our natural systems and California's agricultural industry is rather ground zero in this.

That is why I call attention to those signs: "Food Grows Where Water Flows." They are no longer a simple description of California's agribusiness. They are a political slogan. Perhaps they always were. You will hear the same story repeated again and again.

California's agriculture needs water. The environmentalists think a fish is more important than people. Let's set aside the environmental laws so we can build more, develop more, pump more, grow more.

It is never that simple. There is not going to be much more water. The water that we will get will not be stored in the mountain snow pack to melt for summer use.

Building more damns and more canals to store and carry less water does not make sense, but that is what almost every politician in the San Joaquin Valley wants to do.

The campaign to flush the San Joaquin Valley with Delta Water is well organized and picking up more force every week. It has now taken on the overtones of ethnic conflict.The California Latino Water Coalition are doing all that the land owners ask, showing up at organized protests as though Cesar Chavez were still leading them.

This has the makings of a major split between the interests of farm workers and urban dwellers, though both are Hispanic.

California's State Legislature has failed time and again to make the substantive changes in how we deal with water. Each time the problem is recognized, they end up negotiating some compromise like Cal-Fed that solves nothing. Cal-Fed was billed as a compromise and promoted as such by Senator Feinstein.

In reality, it was a capitulation to agribusiness interests.

In a similar manner, the Delta Vision process initiated by Governor Schwarzenegger was directed to define a comprehensive solution for our water needs with a concentrated focus on the Delta.

Once delivered, every interest group is picking and choosing from a menu of solutions, choosing only those that they were looking for at the beginning and ignoring the rest.

Schwarzenegger wanted the peripheral canal. San Joaquin Valley Agribusiness wants more guaranteed water.

The Metropolitan Water District wants to keep supporting unlimited growth. We can't have it all. There is not now enough water to do that, even in a good year and we have had three dry years in a row.

Unless the people of California decide to tell their legislature to get serious about our future, we won't have a very good one.

If our legislature is not ready to apply real science and ecological systems planning to the management of our watershed, then it is time to elect someone who will.

Two Green Party candidates for the State Assembly, Lisa Green (53rd AD) and Jack Lindblad (39th AD), have started their campaigns with strong positions about the changes needed in our water management systems.

The Green Party of California is the only real option if we want to secure a future before our economy dies of thirst.