We've been stunned by the drought and responses to it locally and at a state and national level. Environmentalists have been warning about how farmers have been over-drafting the aquifer in the Central Valley for decades and have been snubbed and demonized for mentioning it, as if we were not citizens and members of the same society that landowners and urban businessmen are. They don't even have to bribe elected officials anymore; social elites spring up overnight around wealth in new industries, whose "leaders" get what they want and they always want more water. Elected officials and educators -- from kindergarten to UC Merced -- babble on constantly about leadership. And they all use that one phrase, growing more absurd by the day: "We've got to move forward."
The housing developers, the agricultural developers, the educational developers have moved forward based on increasing exploitation of natural resources and working people beyond any rational calculation of what could be called the carrying capacity of this land in this state. With the state bought out by special interests, there can be no rational calculation because there is no institution capable of carrying it out.
So, moving forward, we decided to speak frankly in general terms despite the recent appearance at Merced City Council meetings of a group of teenagers who have apparently been led to the rediscovery of the debunked Power of Positive Thinking by that lion of Christian corporatism, Norman Vincent Peale. Even the mayor, normally a cheerfully cynical lawyer, has apparently been swept away by the power. But thinking positively about Merced is not the same as thinking honestly.
Moving forward, we are still at the anecdotal stage of awareness of dry wells. It is like news of scattered cases of the plague or ebola that precede a full epidemic. At the moment most of the public rhetoric express various postures of Denial. Our leaders insist we move forward, when we are being driven back and down to the ground by a force frequently assigned divine origin, Nature. Why should God's chosen people, the exceptional Americans of the Great Sunbelt Paradise and Real Estate Boomregion, be stricken? It is the fundamental vocation of Our Leadership to avoid that question.
Moving forward, what we are seeing is a collision of special interests and the appendages they control in government over water in a serious drought. exacerbated by global warming (which is still being denied by people who get their philosophy of life from college Econ 101). But they can be counted on at least to know their short-term best interests and to direct their politicians to protect those interests. The large landowners in the county, our plutocracy built on the backs of cheap, undocumented and unrepresented farmworkers, will emerge fewer but even richer through government subsidies (by many other names), ruthlessly exploitive border and farm-labor policies and enforcement, and the traditional commitment to "family farming" and other such agro-corporate propaganda paid for by land heirs, heiresses and financial capital entities -- hedge funds, insurance companies, banks, etc. -- who have found a safe, subsidized and indemnified parking place for some of the huge amount of investment capital nervously pacing around the world like the large, hungry, abandoned pit bulls that roam our streets.
Moving forward, the probable total extirpation of the Delta Smelt by the combination of drought and the systematic over-pumping of the Delta since the famous "Peace in our Time" settlement with the upstream users of the Colorado River reduced the amount flowing to Southern California from that source is the answer to the prayers of finance, insurance and real estate (including agricultural and petroleum) special interests and their servants in public office and resource-agency staff. Forward moving management solves problems, after all.
Moving forward, what we are seeing in agriculture are heirs and heiresses who are economically protected from disaster by disaster payments, crop insurance, and by selling surface and/or ground water they are entitled to. They put on these constant whining charades in public and to the press but in the end, they'll settle for more regulation of groundwater as long as it consists of dozens of exemptions wrapped inside an ordinance with the assurance than more can be added at any time in this living document.
The hypocrisy and worse of the farming interests is bad enough. The slavish cowardice of the public officials that certify such garbage "regulations" is worse. And then all the clever little tricks, like, in Merced County assigning the two dumbest, least articulate supervisors on a board whose members are a lot dimmer than they think they are, to lead the "water committee" composed of special interests who received their exemptions from regulations about pumping groundwater, insuring that the aquifer and the land's surface will continue to sink.
Moving forward, let us consider the petroleum industry, which pumps thousands of acre-feet of fresh water, mixed with chemicals they are not required to identify into wells in order to "hydraulically fracture" the subsoils in search of oil; and let us consider the ponds of toxic wastewater they leave behind them. Fracking is just a marvel of chemical free enterprise in the buying and selling of California legislators and their regulatory staff under the auspices of the gutless "anti-fracking" law authored by Democrat State Sen. Fran Pavely.
Moving forward, though not experts on water issues in the Valley, we try to keep up and from time to time people ask us to speak to groups on the subject. Since we take water and the lack of it very seriously, we assume they do to and we ask them what their questions are. We want an idea of what they know and what they want to learn. This never fails to end the discussion without the trouble of preparing a lecture. People don't want to ask; they want to be told, want to be given something to regurgitate until it is proven false either by its own reasoning or by events. We want people to think about water as a resource with a finite limit now, and one that is shrinking due to global warming. Until people are willing to accept that as a starting premise, no serious discussion can take place: it's all just special interest babble. And since about all that passes for information and political utterance at the moment consists of special interest babble, the argument that we have greatly overloaded the carrying capacity of the natural resources of California is not going to get a hearing. Special interest-owned politicians are screaming at each other with their eyes resolutely shut, defending their sponsors and denying that they are in any way responsible for the unfolding disaster.
Moving forward, 23 percent of adults and 36 percent of the children in Merced County are hungry often enough to be called "food insecure." And the latest official figures put unemployment at 14 percent, 4 points below the Valley average of 18 percent. Six of the eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley had the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line in California. These same counties are listed as among the 52 poorest counties in the nation.
But, moving forward, Merced, following the Valley, is a major producer of almonds, milk, and poultry. Merced has the self-proclaimed largest cheese factory in the nation, and, although it is concealed, probably the largest dairy in the nation, Foster Farms is located here, we have major fruit and nut processors and Livingston is also famous for its sweet potatoes.
Moving forward, people are getting angrier and angrier about their "leadership," and the elites from which the "leaders" come are growing more and more desperate. In fact, government has been almost totally captured by a political class that is not benevolent and does not have the public interest at heart. This tendency is accelerating. A younger generation of politicians is coming up who appear to have nothing in their heads at all but the leadership skill "to move forward because farmers are the stewards of the land and the best environmentalists."
Moving forward, we have no solution to this. It will get worse. The constants are: landowners will go on pumping more and more to maintain their orchards, thousands of acres of which have been planted on land that was until recently either seasonal pasture or row-crop land that could be fallowed in drought; that land will continue to subside as aquifers collapse; academics will continue to study the problem; politicians will continue to cower before agribusiness even as they extract larger contributions from that sector; fish and wildlife will be devastated; the peripheral tunnels will be built, the Delta will become a salty slough killing farming on the richest land in the state; the state will flap its hands helplessly as lobbyists design draconian regulations that it will not enforce; politics will achieve a level of deceit and hypocrisy so impenetrable that the state Legislature will receive a negative rating (less than 0 percent approval); and as governor after governor proclaims new policies for sustainable growth, Westlands Water District and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will suck us down the drain and follow the last drop into oblivion, ending that Gilded California Thing at last.
Moving forward, we read another article about the high percent of fruits and vegetables grown in the San Joaquin Valley and how the nation -- at least this nationally minded reporter -- can't imagine how it will survive without them. Let us humbly suggest that that nation will figure out how to survive without the San Joaquin Valley --a world-ranked treasure trove of information on the destructive power of capitalist agriculture including its namesake river, the most endangered in America.
Meanwhile, moving forward, things will continue to get worse here, poorer, drier and more violent. Welfare (by any other name) is being privatized by flocks of NGO's hatching off the rivers of charitable funds and agribusiness is ever more socialized by public funds: hordes of "helping" quasi-professionals and hustlers pick the bones of the poor while big landowners dine at great state dinners. --blj