California Studies Association

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Watered States

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CSA steer Richard Walker contributed his perspective to this East Bay Express piece on the state’s water crisis last week:

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California’s Thirsty Almonds

How the water-intensive crop is helping drive the governor’s $25 billion plan to ship water to the desert.

By  

Dan Errotabere’s family has been farming the dry soils of the western San Joaquin Valley for nearly a century. His grandfather primarily grew wheat and other grains. His father grew vegetables and other annual crops almost exclusively. But in 1999, Errotabere decided to plant his first almond tree. Today, almonds account for more than a quarter of his 3,600-acre farm.

“Out here it’s nothing but topsoil,” he told me during a tour of his property late last year. He added that his land is especially good for growing nuts.

If there’s enough water.

Errotabere’s farm resides within the Westlands Water District, a barren landscape southwest of Fresno that gets very little rain — even in non-drought years. The average annual precipitation in the district is just eight inches, and the region suffers from poor drainage, high levels of toxic minerals in the soil, and salt-laden groundwater. “It’s really an area that should have never been farmed,” said Richard Walker, a retired UC Berkeley geography professor and an expert on agricultural economics.

Yet Westlands is almost all farmland, thanks to water from Northern California and the Sierra Nevada that the federal government pumps out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and ships south through a series of canals and aqueducts. Throughout the 20th century, this massive transfer of water turned a large section of California desert into a bountiful — and profitable — farming region.

But ever since freshwater began flowing to the dusty west side of the valley, the landscape has been in constant flux.  …”  Read the whole article here….

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