via press release:
CRACKED California – Why California matters
Walk into any grocery store in America and there’s a good chance the fresh produce you see there was grown in California. Up to one half of the nations fruit, nuts and vegetables are grown in the Central Valley, one of the planet’s most fertile growing regions between Los Angeles and Sacramento. Now, for the first time this century, the entire state is in severe to exceptional drought. Farmers there say they’re in uncharted territory and on the verge of catastrophe. Hundreds of fields have been left fallow this year and if these conditions continue, many farms will be forced to shut down all growing operations.
The San Joaquin River runs through the heart of this arid growing region and in a normal year would flow with fresh snow melt from the Sierra Mountains. But there’s little snow in the mountains, and little water in the river. The consequences are staggering. Dried up fields blow dust into the sky, river beds and canals once full of water are now full of dead weeds and rattlesnakes. Fruit orchards along Interstate 5 look like burned piles of firewood. Workers who used to make a living picking fruit and working machinery now stand in government supported food lines to feed their families. No water means no jobs.
To combat drought conditions, farmers and cities use water wells to tap underground aquifers. But those aquifers are overused and the rapidly declining water levels are causing the once water rich cavities to collapse. It’s called Subsidence, and many areas are subsiding a foot each year. One area near Mendota, CA is nearly 30 feet lower than it was in 1926. Recent satellite measurements paint a grim picture; a valley the size of Rhode Island is sinking.
Farms Hit Hard
The San Joaquin Valley is the largest fruit and vegetable production area in the United States. Extreme drought conditions have forced many farmers to fallow large sections of their property. This not only hurts their business and drives up nationwide costs, but it also prevents them from hiring workers. Unemployment is at an all-time high.
Towns Drying up
Mendota, California Mayor Robert Silva says his town is “ground zero” for drought in California. A town dependent on the farming community, unemployment is above 40% and rising. Jobs are gone and lines at government supported food banks are getting longer.
America’s Most Endangered River
A profile of the San Joaquin River. It provides drinking water to 4.5 million people and has now run completely dry in some areas. Much of the remaining water has high levels of contamination and cannot support the natural fish and wildlife that once flourished there. Because the river water is unreliable, cities and farms are drawing large amounts of ground water to sustain their livelihood. This dramatic withdrawal from the water table is causing the valley floor to sink. According to the USGS, some areas are sinking up to a foot per year. An area near Mendota, Ca has dropped more than 28 feet this century.
Drought Affecting World Class Vineyards
Paso Robles, CA was named “2013 Wine Region of the Year.” Drought conditions are affecting grape production and have forced vineyards to employ cutting edge technology to conserve water. Many vineyard owners have begun disaster planning in the event their well run dry or the quality of water is no longer usable.