Let’s Look at the Man-Made Drought’s Effect on California’s Central Valley

A sign reads 'No Water = No Jobs' along Hiway in California's Central Valley, USA, 10 April 2015. Photo: EFE/EPA/MICHAEL NELSON

A sign reads ‘No Water = No Jobs’ along a highway in California’s Central Valley, USA, 10 April 2015. Photo: EFE/EPA/MICHAEL NELSON

By Anita S. Brenner | Published on April 23, 2015 | La Cañada Valley Sun

It’s easy to treat California’s drought as a weather-induced problem, but when you travel through the Central Valley, you’ll find another analysis.

For the uninitiated, Harris Ranch, a popular Spanish-tiled hotel complex on the I-5, with two restaurants, a gas station and a gift shop, is also ground zero for the pro-water movement. Down here in Los Angeles, we assume that the drought is the result of our greed, over consumption and the failure to conserve.

Some Central Valleyites say that this crisis is man made. Some elected officials agree.

All along the center of the state, where the fields are dry and barren, there are signs that say:
“Politician Created Water Crisis”
“No Water, No Jobs”
“Water for people, not fish.”
“Solve the water crisis, elect [name of candidate].”

The Huffington Post blames Harris Ranch and feedlot beef factories for the drought. They say that beef requires water-hungry crops that deplete the water table.

But Harris Ranch Executive Vice President William Bourdeau blames a 2007 court case that protected a rare fish by upending “California’s intricate water-delivery system.” In 2007 lawyers for the Natural Resources Defense Council convinced a judge that “the vast pumps that help to funnel water from the reservoirs up in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta down to the Central Valley, to Southern California, and to the Bay Area were sucking in and shredding an unacceptable number of smelt.”

Both Parties Agree: the Man-Made Drought is to Blame

The House Committee on Natural Resources agrees with Harris Ranch that the drought is “man made” and that the 2007 court order is to blame. The committee notes that “in 2009 and 2010 more than 300 billion gallons” were diverted from the farms in the Central Valley and into the San Francisco Bay — eventually going out into the Pacific Ocean. This created 40% unemployment in some areas of the Central Valley and has “fallowed” hundreds of thousands of acres of fertile farmland, according to the committee.

Dried Crops

Fallow, dried crops along the I-5

You can see the fallow land when you drive the I-5. It’s an ugly sight.

Led by Chair Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the committee has proposed HR 3964 as a “bipartisan, comprehensive solution to end future man-made droughts, bring job and water supply certainty to the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys in California and decrease reliance on foreign food sources.”

So, while you worry about turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth, or how to install drip irrigation for the lawn, consider this: the drought is man made.

We will all comply with Gov. Brown’s executive order to reduce water use by 25%, that’s not the issue. The bigger issue is the survival of California’s agricultural industry and the unintended consequences of what began as good-hearted environmental litigation to protect the Sacramento smelt. It’s easy to ignore the plight of the Central Valley from our urban vantage. Harris Ranch is only a short drive away.


This article was originally written by Anita S. Brenner and published on April 23, 2015 at the La Cañada Valley Sun, click here to view it in its complete version.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Follow her on Instagram @realanitabrennerFacebook and on Twitter @anitabrenner.


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