Less than a year after my grandfather arrived, the raisins went bankrupt. Farmers in Armenia and Japan planted so many grapes and sun-dried them into raisins, so that the Maid of the Sun could not sell half of them. Who would buy the other half turned into such a wonderful drama, tragedy and comedy question, even Fresno’s saint William Saroyan (William Saroyan) will also participate. If we can only persuade every mother in China to put a raisin in her pot, we will deal with the excess, he mused.
Just as the depression approached, the drought of the 1920s also hit, exposing the stupidity and greed of California’s agriculture. It is not enough for farmers to occupy these five rivers. They are now using turbo pumps to capture the aquifer, the ancient lake below the valley. In an oversupply of land, they planted hundreds of thousands of acres of crops. This larger footprint is not the main farmland, but the barren salty soil that the river cannot reach. As the drought worsened, the new farms pumped so much water from the ground that their pumps could no longer be lowered. Their crops are withering.
The farmers shouted to the politicians: “Steal a river from us.” They watched the flooding of the Sacramento River in the north. If this plan sounds bold, then the city of Los Angeles has completed such theft, reaching out over the mountains to steal the Owens River.
This is how the federal government began to build the Central Valley project in the 1940s, damming the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and installing huge pumps to deliver water to the dying farm in the middle. This is how California built state water projects in the 1960s, installing more pumps and a 444-mile aqueduct in the delta to transfer more water, plant more farms in the middle, and build more in the middle Houses and swimming pool. Southern California.
This is where we are today. In the driest decade in the state’s history, valley farmers did not reduce their footprint to solve the problem of water shortage, but added 500,000 acres of permanent crops—more Almonds, pistachios, oranges. They have lowered the pump hundreds of feet to chase the diminishing aquifer, even as it shrinks further, sucking millions of acre feet of water from the earth, so much that the land is sinking. This subsidence is collapsing canals and ditches, reducing the flow of the aqueducts we built to create water flow.
How do the locals explain this madness?
No civilization has ever established a larger water transportation system. It spreads over farmland. It spread to the suburbs. It enabled the rise of three world-class cities and became the fifth largest economy in the world. But this has not changed the nature of California. The drought is California. The flood is California. Our rivers and streams produce 30 million acre-feet of water a year. In the second year, they produced 200 million acre-feet. At an average of 72.5 million acre-feet per year, this is a lie we lie to ourselves.
I was sitting on the porch of a century-old farmhouse, eating kebabs and pilaf with David “Mas” Masumoto. We looked at his 80-acre orchard and vineyard not far from the King’s River almost without a word. His small team has gone home. His wife Marcy is a volunteer overseas, and their three dogs are stinky. The whole place looked exhausted, like a farm where a farmer died. However, Maas, who is nearly 68 years old, is still alive.
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