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Worsening conditions pummel California's agriculture industry

By Imran Shaikh April 7, 2022

Suvia Li Art

Every living organism needs water to survive: Animals need it for their bodies to function and plants need water to grow. Water is also used for many other purposes in people’s daily lives: to cook, bathe and clean. Farming is another important use of water, for growing crops that sustain farmers and their communities. In California, agriculture makes up about 2.5% of the state’s gross domestic product, generating over $49 billion in 2020. However, with worsening droughts in the state, the government has decided to eliminate federal water allotment to farmers this year.


[Federal] officials predict that the reservoirs in the system will receive 1.2 million acre-feet less water than what they had planned, producing water shortages for over 2 million houses.

Managed by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, the Central Valley Project (CVP) is one of two water management systems in California. Most of the water for the CVP comes from rain and snow, so this year’s record-breaking dry January and February has caused a severe lack of water. For example, Lake Shasta, the largest water source for the CVP, is currently at 37% capacity. Furthermore, federal officials predict that the reservoirs in the system will receive 1.2 million acre-feet less water than what they had planned, producing water shortages for over 2 million houses. Last year, the CVP allocated 5% of the federally-controlled water to farmers, but this year, farmers’ pockets will literally be dry, given nothing from the CVP.


“Imposing water cuts on farmers is not a good idea because farmers are the backbone of this country. Water cuts will only harm Americans by causing an increase in food prices and less food overall. Water is imperative to both the nation’s and the world’s food supply. Water rations should only apply for parts of the economy where water is not integral to their survival, such as coal-fueled power stations that discharge toxic materials into waterways,” Sophomore Sharokina Williams said.


California’s $1.4 billion fishing industry has taken a hit because the drought formed an ideal environment for parasites, which are killing salmon throughout the state.

The current drought is also affecting more groups in California than just farmers. California’s $1.4 billion fishing industry has taken a hit because the drought formed an ideal environment for parasites, which are killing salmon throughout the state. The drought is also connected with the state’s recent problems concerning wildfires: Without enough water, plants are drying up so they catch fire more easily. Residents are facing more restrictions on when they can use water, especially outdoors where there are parameters on what times they can water their lawns.


“My family and I refrain from using appliances like the washing machine and dishwasher throughout the day to save water. This practice is only a slight annoyance most of the time, but it can become hard to manage when we urgently need to use such appliances,” Junior Matthew Long said.


A 2019 study by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) estimated that by 2040, the San Joaquin Valley would lose a minimum of 535,000 acres of agricultural production, or over 10% of the state’s farmland, which is a major blow to California farmers. It is not that the state is unable to use this land to farm anymore; rather, many acres are fallow, meaning that they are ready to be planted in, but the lack of water makes it nearly impossible to grow anything.


To counteract the drought, farmers are pumping groundwater from aquifers, further draining the already low levels of aquifers and even emptying some that households rely on. Pumping water can also be harmful to the environment. For example, studies have found that land in the San Joaquin Valley has been sinking as much as 1.5 feet per year because of pumping. Furthermore, animals in areas like the Mojave Desert also rely on these aquifers as their primary source of water.


To counteract the effects of groundwater pumping, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was created in 2014. This act was meant to incrementally implement water management practices to help prevent large declines in groundwater levels. However, most farmers oppose this act since they do not see an alternative to pumping. Wesley Harmon, a well driller from Fresno Country, explained that many farmers are just trying to make a living and feed their community, and pumping water is the only way to achieve that.


“These restrictions are a good idea because they consider the environment’s best interests. Nonetheless, whether it be through subsidies or other methods, the government needs to come up with an alternative for these farmers so that they can support themselves,” Senior Ruby Grimes said.


Currently, California’s drought is not likely to improve in the near future based on the PPIC’s study from 2019. Many are hoping for more rain and snowfall to bring some much-needed water to balance out the first two months of the year, but for now, farmers and the rest of California’s residents will have to find other ways to fight the drought.


 

About the Contributors

Imran Shaikh

Staff Writer


Imran Shaikh is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer for The Charger Account. When he has free time he likes to watch anime, hang out with his friends, and catch up on some much-needed sleep.








Suvia Li

Artist & Staff Writer


Suvia Li is a sophomore at Leland High school. She is a staff writer and artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys cooking, eating, and listening to music.

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