California’s Hydromania


Two events now characterize the California agrarian heartland, the richest and most productive farm belt in the world.

One, of course, is the third year of drought. I refer here to nature’s lack of rain and snow. But also factor in the state’s additional man-made drought, through diversions of precious stored reservoir water from agriculture and community use to environmental causes that demand more river water must flow out to the sea.

The state’s environmental fanatics over thirty years ago cancelled the critical tertiary phases of the California Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. I guess those in the Bay Area whose lives rest on Hetch Hetchy delivered reservoir water deemed reservoirs for all others passé and so 19th century.

The result is that a brilliantly engineered water transfer system -- 80% of Californians live where 20% of the state’s rain and snow fall -- designed to incrementally expand as population grew, became frozen in amber. We had a wonderful water storage system for 23 million people in 1980. But it proved completely inadequate for the 40 million plus of 2014, who assumed household and drinking water, irrigation supplies, and clean hydroelectric power came out of thin air.

The other facet of this disaster is a surreal, counterintuitive mad land rush in the Central Valley. The focus is on any farmland in a strip from the Sierra foothills to five miles west of the 99 Highway. Open land that just five years ago went for $5,000 to $6,000 per acre is now selling at $20,000 and more. Nut orchards and prime vineyard land that were priced at $15,000 in 2009 now are haggled over at $30,000 to $40,000. The price seems to escalate monthly in direct proportion to the fall of the water table.