It was complicated and costly, but for a long time, the system worked. The law tries to address six major "sins": water table decline, degraded water quality, land subsidence, surface water depletion, reduction in groundwater storage and seawater intrusion. California legislators stepped up to try to curb groundwater use, passing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in 2014, the state's first attempt at regulating groundwater use. Experts on three separate panels told the crowd that farmers, environmentalists and suppliers will have to team up to tackle the new groundwater regulations. With so many changes underway, major questions loom about the future of the valley’s agriculture and the wider consequences for the region’s economy, society, and environment. Like the farmers and engineers who, a century ago, looked at the desert and imagined farms, these teams, which pull together researchers at federal and state agencies, California universities, and think tanks into a planning group called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), say a good plan and some new hardware is all the valley needs to conquer its water challenge. Since then, Westlands has received on average about half as much water as the 1.2 million acre-feet per year it ordered up in its contract, forcing farmers to rely on expensive pumps that suck up water from the aquefier and water transfers from their better-connected competitors to the east. I don't think that's where America wants to go.". In the San Joaquin Valley, nearly 80 percent of disadvantaged communities without potable water are less than one mile away from other communities with safe drinking water… Playing cards and a small wad of dollar bills sit on a pool table at Los Kiki, a dusty pool hall at the end of the main drag in Mendota, Calif. A breeze blows through a broken window, past six men hunched over the table, beer bottles in their hands. Lawsuits over the fish filed by environmental groups and water contractors multiplied, and court-imposed restrictions and regulations began siphoning off more and more of the 6 million acre-feet of water exported through the river basin each year. And while Westlands has adopted some of the most water-efficient irrigation methods in the business, other farmers in the valley with senior water rights are under no pressure to conserve. "The land that was retired a few years ago has already salted up. While AGUA is a regional, grassroots coalition of impacted community residents, CWLN is composed of elected officials at water decision-making agencies. The Central Valley aquifer extends for about 400 miles under the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. If that's the case, farmers should expect droughts more frequently, and Westlands may have to come around to the notion that they will never receive all the water that their contracts call for. Community Power. Photograph: USGS Over the past century, groundwater levels … Irrigation began in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1870s. And it may be an inevitable thing.". It was one of the most ambitious water systems ever built, and the San Joaquin Valley became, in the words of historian Kevin Starr, "the most productive unnatural environment on Earth.". The unemployment rate in this 10,000-person town was an unfathomable 38 percent in July (including documented and undocumented workers). "It's just slowly dying, and we can't let that happen. A century ago, much of the San Joaquin Valley was an undeveloped dust bowl, its few small farming communities clustered around natural water sources. For over 100 years, California has drained San Joaquin Valley rivers and EPA is working with other agencies and local communities to address the unique environmental challenges in the valley, including some of the nation’s worst air quality, high rates of childhood asthma, and contaminated drinking water. This summer, the town's only bank announced it was shutting down because of insufficient deposits. Westlands, which has a contract for water delivery with the federal government, is the most junior of the bunch. Water is a complex, crucial topic for our valley and we strive to explain water topics in an engaging, understandable way. And the delta smelt, an endangered species of fish no bigger than an index finger, began disappearing as the massive pumps sucked up fish along with the water it was sending south. Chavarria doesn't let her children out alone, and now her husband wants to leave, too. The latest drought underscored valley agriculture’s vulnerability to water scarcity and long-term declines in groundwater reserves. Most of the water that has irrigated these seemingly endless fields comes from northern California, diverted by an epic system of dams and canals born from New Deal funds. She's climbed the social ladder yet another rung, working at a program for immigrant families in the Firebaugh school system. Global Change Research Program, the state's water resources agency, and researchers at the University of California, Davis all point to the same trend: the Sierra snowcaps that supply the state's water are disappearing. The result is a cruel irony: in the region that produces more food than anywhere else in the country, food lines have become regular fixtures, drawing hundreds, sometimes thousands. Is a new "normal" required? Nowhere in California is the hospital crisis from COVID-19 worse than in the San Joaquin Valley, where intensive care bed capacity hit 0% this weekend. You can't find that just anywhere," he says. We build community power by partnering directly with impacted residents in the San Joaquin Valley, uniting through the AGUA Coalition (Asociación de Gente Unida por el Agua) and the Community Water Leaders Network (CWLN). "So I have a hard time saying, for lack of the will, that we should neuter the most productive agricultural resource in the world. I was watching Sean Hannity tonight (9/17/2009), and have been following loosely the situation in the San Joaquin Valley of California with their water crisis over the small Delta Smelt minnow and its endangered species listing. Nearly all those who have lost their jobs are farm workers, who often straddle the poverty line even in boom times. Now, as residents wonder if normalcy will ever return, planners are forced to consider a far uglier question: should it? Full reservoirs and swollen rivers don't mean that much to people living in rural San Joaquin Valley, where about 1,000 people still have dry wells. A drainage system could address the problem, but, again, nobody seems to want to pay for one. Yet others, like the University of the Pacific's Jeffrey Michael, who does business forecasting, note that the issues facing Westlands are hardly valley-wide problems. "Nitrate is the most critical, the most immediate contaminant in the San Joaquin Valley," Harter says. This year, Westlands is down to nearly nothing, and its farmers are livid. Click on photo to view multimedia presentation. Crisis services may be requested in person or by telephone and are provided throughout the community in San Joaquin County. Mark Borba, 59, has a big stake in that business, just as his grandparents did in the valley's development. This research was supported with funding from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the TomKat Foundation, and the US Environmental Protection Agency. From there, giant dams and pumps suck the water southward through veinlike aqueducts to 25 million people and more than 5 million acres of farmland. The levees near the bay are old, prompting worries that a failure, perhaps following an earthquake, could cause salt water from the bay to rush into the delta, crippling the water supply for the entire state. Large parts of the valley have become dependent on unsustainable pumping of groundwater. Mendota touts itself as the cantaloupe capital of the world, but its de facto motto is far less optimistic. The water crisis in the San Joaquin Valley of California was explained in this March 2014 article by the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce. The San Joaquin Valley’s water crisis threatens the economic, social, and environmental health of the entire region; it is both unprecedented and continues to worsen. "There's a myth in the valley about the delta smelt, and it's really a tragedy," he says. The state agency’s goal is to bring at least 21 systems in the valley into compliance each year for the next three years. SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. In the San Joaquin Valley, 95% of communities rely on groundwater as their main drinking water source. Water scarcity in the San Joaquin valley: challenges and opportunities Farmers in one of America's most valuable farming regions are suffering but … Instead, starting in 2000, Westlands and the Bureau of Reclamation negotiated a deal to permanently retire from farming 100,000 acres of land in the district in return for compensation from the federal government. Westlands just isn't getting that water. See why nearly a quarter of a million subscribers begin their day with the Starting 5. Climate models by the U.S. More than 50% of them – 140 systems – were in the San Joaquin Valley. TURN YOUR WATER ON - LET THE WATER FLOW. Most of these sub basins are located in the San Joaquin Valley. Special Report: Life in the nation’s economic ground zero. Lottery. Such talk makes 34-year-old Dora Chavarria wonder about her future. The region has a greater abundance of productive farmland than local water supplies for irrigation. The Sun is the San Joaquin Valley's source for breaking news, sports, politics, and agriculture. The subterranean water, some of which seeped into the ground 10,000 to … delta smelt, an endangered species of fish no bigger than an index finger, Democrats and Liberals Must Get Back To Economic Basics, Democrats Must Emphasize Boldness, Not Moderation. Here is a look inside the fragile medical system, where exhausted staff, working long hours seven days a week, rarely take off their protective gear because the entire area is the “dirty zone.” Business ... the San Joaquin Valley region of 7 million people had 0.7% as of Thursday. She was born in Mendota, the daughter of a field worker who arrived there 38 years ago, worked the fields, and saved enough money to open up an auto shop. Those plans, too, are preliminary. Over the last three decades, however, the valley's explosive growth has caused rivers to run dry, dead fish to accumulate near the water pumps, and chronic water shortages. All of this leaves the valley's west side caught in a painful limbo until California answers big questions about where and how it wants to make use of its resources. It's been a long time since that was the case; for more than a decade, the streets have been empty and dangerous, she says, and getting worse as people head for Las Vegas and Los Angeles in search of work. The soils, the climate, the crop variability. To farmers like Borba, that's the kind of investment worth making. Full reservoirs and swollen rivers don't mean that much to people living in rural San Joaquin Valley, where about 1,000 people still have dry wells. Nelson contends that the fish aren't the problem; it's the way the system is set up. Valley groundwater also fuels the operations of large and small farms and sustains a hub of world-class biodiversity. State officials recently announced they intend to start preliminary drilling for ground tests this month, while state lawmakers recently unveiled five new major water bills focused on the delta. Here we go again. Central Valley Water Crisis Leaves Nearly 1.5 Million Without Clean Water. The entire region—and California as a whole—will benefit if solutions to the valley’s problems support the economy while improving public health and environmental conditions. Water scarcity in the San Joaquin valley: challenges and opportunities Farmers in one of America's most valuable farming regions are suffering but … Even after three years of drought, the Central Valley Project (CVP) is still making half of its water deliveries to farms in the valley. "I've traveled all over the world—Egypt, Australia, Brazil, China—and I've never seen an agricultural resource like we have in the San Joaquin Valley. They have a point; according to the BDCP and the federal Bureau of Reclamation, preliminary construction-cost estimates for the two biggest projects under consideration are $13 billion, a price tag California is hardly in a position to bear in its present state. The San Joaquin Valley is particularly hard hit by nitrate: 63 percent of the state's public water systems that report violations of health standards for the contaminant in 2015 were in the Valley. This left thousands of people without a reliable source of drinking water for months and, in some cases, years. A year ago, they would have been out planting and pruning in the vast fields of grapes, tomatoes, onions, and nut trees that fan out from the city limits. But the expenses—and the poor quality of the underground water—would drive the business into the ground in the long term. The valley is home to a $20 billion crop industry; the San Joaquin region alone produces more in farm sales than any other individual state in the country. by Amanda Fencl, Rich Pauloo, Alvar Escriva-Bou, Hervé Guillon During the 2012-2016 drought, the state received more than 2,500 domestic well failure reports, the majority of which were in the Central Valley (DWR 2018). ... Dry year spells light initial water allocation for Valley farmers. I was watching Sean Hannity tonight (9/17/2009), and have been following loosely the situation in the San Joaquin Valley of California with their water crisis over the small Delta Smelt minnow and its endangered species listing. Still, support for the idea might be building steam. The San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest agricultural region and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply—is in a time of great change. Clean Water Plan for Long-Suffering San Joaquin Valley Towns Derailed July 20, 2017 T is for Toxic: Danger Lurking in California School Drinking Fountains July 5, 2017 Systemic Failure: Why 1 Million Californians Lack Safe Drinking Water July 5, 2017 Living in California’s San Joaquin Valley May Harm Your Health July 5, 2017 Opponents, who beat back the idea in a 1982 referendum, see it as a destructive, expensive water grab by southern users. As farming continued to expand and California’s population surged, water use intensified. The San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest agricultural region, and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply—is in a time of great change and growing water stress. Lottery. It looks like it snowed." In the meantime, some economic planners are eyeing the area as a potential clean energy source where almond farms could be transformed into solar farms. Much of the media and many politicians blame the San Joaquin Valley's water shortage on drought, but that is merely an aggravating factor. In fact, access to the water is essentially based on a squatters' rights notion: "First in rights, first in time." The Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act is a bill that tries to address the severe California drought.The bill would change some environmental regulations and stop or delay a project designed to restore a dried up section of the San Joaquin River (a habitat for some salmon). Buying that excess and pumping water from underground is sustainable to a point, says Borba. But this year, many of those fields are lying fallow, and the men at Los Kiki are out of work. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act promotes water policies that facilitate the delivery of California’s abundant supply of water, as well as support the implementation of an economically feasible and environmentally sustainable river restoration on the San Joaquin River. The San Joaquin Valley—California’s largest agricultural region and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply—is facing growing water stress and a number of related environmental and public health problems. The Farmers have water rights to that water. The San Joaquin Valley is one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions and home to four million Californians. Cortez says he has worked just three days all year. To continue reading login or create an account. Nowhere in California is the hospital crisis from COVID-19 worse than in the San Joaquin Valley, where intensive care bed capacity hit 0% this weekend. Here we go again. Notable issues include nitrate contamination of groundwater—a special challenge in poor, rural communities—as well as accumulating salinity in soils, local air pollution, and the broad decline in aquatic, wetland, and terrestrial ecosystems. All rights belong to Devin Nunes. In a normal year, such a hit is difficult, says Sarah Woolf, a Westlands District spokeswoman. Farmers blame the area's blight on a "man-made drought" brought on by increasingly strict environmental regulations, but that is only the beginning of the story. In meeting today’s challenges, there are numerous opportunities to tackle problems cooperatively. That figure will likely get worse once the water agencies begin implementing new rules this summer designed to protect other fish such as sturgeon, salmon, and steelhead trout. The authors presented their report “Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley” to a room full of valley farmers and water experts gathered at the Fresno State event on Friday. ", You have 4 free articles remaining this month, Sign-up to our daily newsletter for more articles like this + access to 5 extra articles. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how deeply public health, economic security, and clean water are intertwined. Legislative changes are required if the San Joaquin Valley is to have long-term, sustainable solutions to their drinking water crisis. The farm now covers 10,000 acres, and Mark Borba is only one of 600 growers in the Westlands Water District, a water-contracting group of farmers and landowners on the far west side of the valley where Mendota and other towns sit. Experts on three separate panels told the crowd that farmers, environmentalists and suppliers will have to team up to tackle the new groundwater regulations. After three years of drought, California's legendary water wars are flaring once again, and towns like Mendota, San Joaquin, and Firebaugh are getting a first glimpse of what their future might look like. The San Joaquin Valley is the fastest growing region in the state, and faces a wide range of challenges across its large expanse, from a drinking and groundwater crisis, destruction of working lands by sprawling developments, severe air pollution and extreme poverty alongside the ever-growing challenges faced by a high percentage of undocumented workers. That towns like Mendota even exist reflects the extraordinary ambition that built the American West. Most people in the valley blame their water woes on those lawsuits and the fish. That might be just the beginning; federal agencies estimate the number should be two to four times that amount. By the time Borba took over his family's operation in the 1970s, the valley was already supplying 25 percent of the country's food. FIREBAUGH — With California entrenched in drought, San Joaquin Valley almond farmers are letting orchards dry up and in some cases making the tough call to have their trees torn out of the ground, leaving behind empty fields. The epicenter of the state’s drinking water catastrophe is in the San Joaquin Valley, where 200,000 people have struggled to obtain clean, safe water for decades. The San Joaquin Valley in California has the highest rates of drinking water contamination and the highest amount of public water systems with maximum contaminant level violations in the state. But not all water consumers are created equally. In the 20th century, the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project (about 30 percent of SWP water is used for irrigation) helped deliver water to the valley. The Farmers have water rights to that water. 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