Monday, October 26, 2009

The New Dust Bowl?

You've probably seen these signs, too. My father told me about them after a drive up I-5 months ago. I saw them more recently while returning from Los Angeles.

Congress created a dust bowl? My father accepted the claim on its face. I figured it had something to do with the attempt to balance the health of the Delta with agribusiness's insatiable thirst for cheap water.

According to Josh Harkinson's piece in the current issue of Mother Jones, the situation is a bit more complicated. (Sorry, can't seem to link to the story.) Yes, the feds have cut water deliveries and are trying to protect the delta smelt. But the valley is suffering for other reasons as well. The economy has been decimated by the housing bust and the recession more generally. Bankruptcy filings are double the national average. And there's a prolonged drought in progress: thus, less water to go around. Since agribusiness consumes something like 80 percent of California's water, it was bound to feel the effects. It takes a little doing to pin a drought on Congress, but there you have it.

CSA's own Dick Walker is quoted in the piece on the farmers' refusal to acknowledge the long-term water supply problems. "The dollar signs overwhelmed the warning signs," Dick said. He knows a little bit about the subject; his book, The Conquest of Bread, surveys 150 years of agribusiness in California.

While you're visiting the Mother Jones website, don't forget the Ramparts book excerpts.

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