Dec 1 2013
There once was a place called Southern Cal;
Until one day we pumped the valley dry.
Down went the Central Valley Canal,
And San Diego and Los Angeles went bye-bye.
Buried on page A40 of the 11/24/2013 San Diego UT is an AP story titled “Study Finds Land is Sinking Rapidly in Central Valley” by Jason Dearen that few will read and even less care about. Fifty years ago the State Water Project was developed to prevent land subsidence caused by over-pumping the Central Valley aquifers. But…surprise, surprise, it all continues. The entire economy of Southern California depends on water delivered from the Sacramento-Joaquin Delta by the man-made river running hundreds of miles along I5. The whole system is unsustainable. When will enough people become concerned to take action? Not until real leaders step up to the plate, and have the political courage to develop reliable water delivery systems independent of the State Water Project.
Newspapers shape public opinion. The picture on page one of the UT today is of a lady going to get water. That can be San Diego, without a hurricane to cause the damage.
Early in the century, before the federal government got into the business of building dams, most of the water used for irrigation in California was groundwater. The farmers in the Central Valley —which comprises both the Sacramento and the San Joaquin valleys—pumped it out so relentlessly that by the 1930s the state’s biggest industry was threatened with collapse. The growers, by then, had such a stranglehold on the legislature that they convinced it, in the depths of the Depression, to authorize a huge water project—by far the largest in the world—to rescue them from their own greed.”
San Joaquin Valley, 1933
“How many acres are under cultivation here in the valley,” the reporter asks.
“About a million and a half, give or take a few hundred,” the official says. “California’s agriculture is doing very well compared to the rest of the nation, especially the Dust Bowl states.”
“How is it irrigated?”
“There are about twenty-thousand five hundred wells.”
“Is that changing the water table?”
“Yes. The water table has dropped nearly three hundred feet in some places, but we think it has stabilized. The legislature is working on getting relief to some of the farmers. It’s a plan to capture the flows not just of the San Joaquin River, which drains the southern half of the Sierra Nevada, but of the Sacramento, which drains the northern half and some of the coast range.”
“Sounds ambitious. How much will that cost?”
“A one hundred seventy million dollar bond issue failed when the bottom dropped out of the market. We’re talking to President Roosevelt about having the Bureau of Reclamation pick up the project. It’ll be the biggest public works project in the world.”
“Can I quote you on all of this?”
“Sure, just make certain you spell my name right.”
“And they did build it,” Charlie says as the video ends. “Then Governor Pat Brown, another Irishman like Mulholland, came along with his California Water Project. Here’s another clip.”
Excerpted from Water Shock, The Day Southern California Went Dry, using material from Reisner, The Cadillac Desert. The excerpt is in the website www.water-shock.com under the tab “excerpts.”, and not in print or ebook editions.
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE,
Author of “Water Shock: The Day Southern California Went Dry”