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July 25, 2009
I've driven the almost 400 mile stretch of Interstate 5 from L.A. to Sacramento dozens of times. Quite honestly, it's as boring as it gets with only the usual gas stations, mini-marts, fast-food, home-cookin' restaurants, and strangely a newer batch of Starbuck's Coffee shops sprouting up everywhere. In between... farms, orchards, cattle, and dirt.
On July 15th, as I began my trip to Utah, I came off the Grapevine decline and hit the flat 250 or so mile stretch of interstate which begins the farming belt in the valley. Almost immediately I noticed what I had only heard about on the radio and in the papers. Where once there were vast fields of green, now there where empty, barely recognizable rows of unplanted dirt and growing weeds. Only sporadically at first, but once I passed Bakersfield and for about a 200 mile stretch, I could not believe my eyes. Field after field laid fallow. And not really fallow, but unattended... as if it was not going to be planted in the near future either.
Signs were staked in the ground on almost every patch of barren farmland. The most common one, which was yellow and obviously a group effort to wake up the sleeping travelers of their future plight, read:
"CONGRESS CREATED DUST BOWL"
Others, which looked more homemade were posted on non-operational farm equipment parked as close to the freeway as possible, stated things like:
"FOOD ONLY GROWS WHERE WATER FLOWS" -and- "NO WATER = NO JOBS = NO FUTURE"
Calif. farmers say feds make drought worse
FIREBAUGH, Calif. — The road to Todd Allen's farm wends past irrigation canals filled with the water that California's hot Central Valley depends on to produce vegetables and fruit for the nation. Yet not a drop will make it to his barren fields.
Three years into a drought that evokes fears of a modern-day dust bowl, Allen and others here say the culprit now isn't Mother Nature so much as the federal government. Court and regulatory rulings protecting endangered fish have choked the annual flow of water from California's Sierra mountains down to its people and irrigated fields, compounding a natural dry spell.
"This is a regulatory drought, is what it is," Allen says. "It just doesn't seem fair."
For those like Allen at the end of the water-rights line, the flow has slowed to a trickle: His water district is receiving just 10% of the normal allocation of water from federal Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs. He says he's been forced to lay off all his workers and watch the crops die on his 300 acres while bills for an irrigation system he put in are due.
"My payments don't stop when they cut my water off," Allen says.
"The water's cut off," complains Robert Silva, 68, mayor of the farm community of Mendota. "Mendota is known as the cantaloupe capital of the world. Now we're the food-line capital."
Three years of dry conditions is being felt across much of the nation's most populous state.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a water emergency in February and asked for 20% voluntary cuts in water use. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Drought Monitor lists 44% of the state as in a "severe" drought.
In arid Southern California, cities and water districts have raised rates to encourage conservation and imposed limits on use.