California's Growing Water Problem
Preparing to fly over the Valley with Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea
Over the past year, I have visited dozens of farms and ranches to learn more about the State's $40 billion dollar agriculture industry. No region of the State has been hit harder by our current water deficit than the San Joaquin Valley.
To get a first hand understanding and learn about prospective solutions from local lawmakers, I visited Madera, Fresno and Kings Counties this past week. Flying over the Valley you can see the 300,000 acres of land laying fallow with no water.
The fallow land has caused unemployment to jump as high as 40% and thousands of people across the San Joaquin Valley are waiting in food lines to feed themselves and their families. To make matters even worse, dust from the dry dirt becomes particulate matter in the air, thereby causing some of the worst air quality in recent memory.
As goes California, so goes the Nation. When California suffers from lack of water to irrigate its farms, the country's food supply becomes jeopardized. We will face a National Security Disaster if we cannot grow our own food and feed California and the rest of the nation. Thus, we must act to resolve this water crisis.
California alone is responsible for producing over half of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables, much of which is produced in the water-starved parts of the state. Burdened by three years of drought, California's reservoirs are nearing record low levels. If we are not able to bring these farms back to producing food, we may forever lose our food supply and become dependent on foreign imports, similar to our dependence on foreign oil.
California has the highest food and safety regulations that begin the minute the crop is planted and continue to the point when the product reaches the consumer. We cannot guarantee the same level of food quality from oversees products as traceability becomes a problem.
A view of the Valley from the air
Even if "El Nino" returns this year and the situation remains status quo, the State will still inevitably face a drastic shortage of water in the very near future. Our water supply system was built for a population of 18 million people but our population is approaching 40 million. It won't be long before places other than farms go dry. Sooner rather than later, our urban areas will have the water shut off if we do not act. The lack of water has already done enough damage to our economy and is now threatening our food security.
I am committed to a bipartisan compromise that will get our water system back on track, restore the Delta, and provide a stable and secure water supply for all of California — the fuel that keeps California's economy going, and growing.
In the meantime, here are some resources you can use if you would like to learn more about this growing problem:
- The website for the public education program "California's Water: a Crisis We Can't Ignore"
- Public Citizen's "Water for All" website
- California's Gold documentary series on California's Water
- "California's Water," a public television documentary series underwritten by the California Association of Water Agencies