Award-Winning film by Juan Carlos Oseguera Expands
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
An award-winning documentary film on the California water crisis, The Fight for Water, has made its debut this week on Amazon Prime. This is its largest release, as Amazon has over 90 million Prime members in the U.S. alone.
Since its release in 2012, the documentary film has gone on to screen at numerous national and international film festivals, where it also won awards, and has continued to hold numerous community, library and college screenings around the nation. Because of this ongoing success, the film’s distributor, Passion River Films, felt the film could still find a greater audience through this online venue as well.
The 78-minute long movie features interviews with farmworkers and farmers, many who were members of the Latino Water Coalition. The Fight for Water film spotlights the 2009 historic Water March from Mendota to the San Luis Reservoir, as well as telling the stories of two central San Joaquin Valley farmers, Joe Del Bosque and George Delgado.
“Understanding water issues have captured the attention of many, not only in California but also around the nation and the world, the documentary serves not only as an educational film on water, but also offers a historical perspective on environmental issues,” said filmmaker Juan Carlos Oseguera.
The film specifically chronicles an environmental decision that affected a community, united an entire region and galvanized the entire state into action, all to fight for their right to water.
The State is Sinking, and Its Wealthy Class Is Full of Hypocrites
Editor’s note: We thank Victor Davis Hanson for his contribution to California Ag Today’ CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND.
By Victor Davis Hanson
There was more of the same-old, same-old California news recently. Some 62 percent of state roads have been rated poor or mediocre. There were more predications of huge cost overruns and yearly losses on high-speed rail—before the first mile of track has been laid. One-third of Bay Area residents were polled as hoping to leave the area soon.
Such pessimism is daily fare, and for good reason.
The basket of California state taxes—sales, income, and gasoline—rate among the highest in the U.S. Yet California roads and K-12 education rank near the bottom.
After years of drought, California has not built a single new reservoir. Instead, scarce fresh aqueduct water is still being diverted to sea. Thousands of rural central-California homes, in Dust Bowl fashion, have been abandoned because of a sinking aquifer and dry wells.
One in three American welfare recipients resides in California. Almost a quarter of the state population lives below or near the poverty line. Yet the state’s gas and electricity prices are among the nation’s highest.
One in four state residents was not born in the U.S. Current state-funded pension programs are not sustainable.
California depends on a tiny elite class for about half of its income-tax revenue. Yet many of these wealthy taxpayers are fleeing the 40-million-person state, angry over paying 12 percent of their income for lousy public services.
Public-health costs have soared as one-third of California residents admitted to state hospitals for any causes suffer from diabetes, a sometimes-lethal disease often predicated on poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive weight.
Nearly half of all traffic accidents in the Los Angeles area are classified as hit-and-run collisions.
Grass-roots voter pushbacks are seen as pointless. Progressive state and federal courts have overturned a multitude of reform measures of the last 20 years that had passed with ample majorities.
In impoverished central-California towns such as Mendota, where thousands of acres were idled due to water cutoffs, once-busy farmworkers live in shacks. But even in opulent San Francisco, the sidewalks full of homeless people do not look much different.
What caused the California paradise to squander its rich natural inheritance?
Excessive state regulations and expanding government, massive illegal immigration from impoverished nations, and the rise of unimaginable wealth in the tech industry and coastal retirement communities created two antithetical Californias.
One is an elite, out-of-touch caste along the fashionable Pacific Ocean corridor that runs the state and has the money to escape the real-life consequences of its own unworkable agendas.
The other is a huge underclass in central, rural, and foothill California that cannot flee to the coast and suffers the bulk of the fallout from Byzantine state regulations, poor schools, and the failure to assimilate recent immigrants from some of the poorest areas in the world.
The result is Connecticut and Alabama combined in one state. A house in Menlo Park may sell for more than $1,000 a square foot. In Madera, three hours away, the cost is about one-tenth of that.
In response, state government practices escapism, haggling over transgender-restroom and locker-room issues and the aquatic environment of a three-inch baitfish rather than dealing with a sinking state.
What could save California?
Blue-ribbon committees for years have offered bipartisan plans to simplify and reduce the state tax code, prune burdensome regulations, reform schools, encourage assimilation and unity of culture, and offer incentives to build reasonably priced housing.
Instead, hypocrisy abounds in the two Californias.
If Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg wants to continue lecturing Californians about their xenophobia, he at least should stop turning his estates into sanctuaries with walls and security patrols. And if faculty economists at the University of California at Berkeley keep hectoring the state about fixing income inequality, they might first acknowledge that the state pays them more than $300,000 per year — putting them among the top 2 percent of the university’s salaried employees.
Immigrants to a diverse state where there is no ethnic majority should welcome assimilation into a culture and a political matrix that is usually the direct opposite of what they fled from.
More unity and integration would help. So why not encourage liberal Google to move some of its operations inland to needy Fresno, or lobby the wealthy Silicon Valley to encourage affordable housing in the near-wide-open spaces along the nearby I-280 corridor north to San Francisco?
Finally, state bureaucrats should remember that even cool Californians cannot drink Facebook, eat Google, drive on Oracle, or live in Apple. The distant people who make and grow things still matter.
Elites need to go back and restudy the state’s can-do confidence of the 1950s and 1960s to rediscover good state government — at least if everyday Californians are ever again to have affordable gas, electricity, and homes; safe roads; and competitive schools.
Victor Davis Hanson, as described on his website, is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.
He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.
Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007, the Bradley Prize in 2008, as well as the William F. Buckley Prize (2015), the Claremont Institute’s Statesmanship Award (2006), and the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002).
Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin.
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various participants on CaliforniaAgToday.com do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, viewpoints or official policies of the California Ag Today, Inc.
David Rogers: Temperance Flat Dam Will Solve Sinking Soil
By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor
Speaking at last week’s California Water Commission meeting in Clovis about the need for water storage, Madera County supervisor David Rogers voiced the solution to land subsidence caused by groundwater depletion: the Temperance Flat Dam.
“We’re losing our groundwater so rapidly, the soil is sinking beneath us in a geological process called subsidence,” Rogers said. “Water is flowing out to the ocean from the San Joaquin River system, when in reality, that water needs to be delegated and allocated to farms so they don’t have to pump groundwater.”
“We’re losing the river and it’s a moot issue. We need surface water delivery; that has to happen. We cannot continue this way or we will lose the river, the communities, and the farms. There’s no question that Temperance Flat is the answer to this problem.”
Central Valley land subsidence is not new. In the mid-1900s, subsidence of the soil was occurring much like it is today. “Between 1937 and 1955,” Rogers explained, “the ground sank 28 feet in Mendota, Fresno and Madera Counties and similar regions.”
The federal Central Valley Project (CVP), which stretches 400 miles from north to south, was organized and built back then to solve the extreme and recurring water shortages, land subsidence and flooding. Operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and considered one of the world’s largest water storage and transport systems, the CVP now consists of 20 dams and reservoirs, 11 power plants, and 500 miles of major canals, as well as conduits, tunnels, and related facilities.
“The very purpose of the CVP,” Rogers emphasized, “was to stop the ground from sinking beneath our feet. We are currently in the same situation, and the much-needed extra storage is going to be created by the Temperance Flat Dam. It is the solution. It is what this Valley needs. We need it now. We don’t need it tomorrow; we need it—yesterday!”
At the recent “Take Back our Water Rally” in Mendota, hundreds gathered to call on Governor Brown to recognize the impact of not just the drought, but the bureaucratic decisions that have had devastating consequences for California farmers. Leadership at the water rally called for action and more voices in the plea for change.
Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of California Water Alliance, shared some points she made a the rally, “My challenge to this audience was to understand there is a void of leadership. We have a governor who says he is handling this, and he is not. We have no recovery plan for how to get out of this drought. How do we get out of the crisis? There has been no pathway to recovery, neither from the federal government, nor the state government.” Finally, last month, a group of 47 legislators, both Republican and Democratic, called for a special legislative session.
Bettencourt pointed out the Ag industry is not alone in having been adversely affected by the water constraints. “We all need to communicate to our elected officials,” she said, “that we need a path to relief. My challenge to the audience was to help them realize that because the drought is now statewide and regulatory constraints have drastically cut the regular water supply, we are all—ag and urban communities—even the environmental conservation community—feeling the effects. While we’ve been in this situation for years, and years, and years, we need to expand our base and build our army.”
Many attendees are concerned about the use of the Endangered Species Act to cut water supplies that Central Valley farmers depend on in order to increase populations of a fish that can just as easily be grown by the thousands in hatcheries.
Calling to educate those outside of agriculture to advocate for change in water policies, Bettencourt remarked, “Help those who are unfamiliar with the importance of supply, or more importantly, the lack of supply, to understand why they are frustrated, what is really going on, and how California’s water supply really works. Let’s activate them to being an additional voice to ours; encouraging many voices from diverse locations saying the same thing is the only way the agricultural community, and all stakeholders in California, will ever be heard,” she said.
While forecasters are still optimistic El Niño will deliver heavy rainfall, Bettencourt says California’s water issues will continue unless there is a change in the legislature. She emphasized it would take a big push from more than just the agricultural sector to demand the change that is needed. “It is a numbers game,” she explained. “When you look at the population in California, the bulk of the voters are in the Bay Area, along the Coast and in Southern California. If you add up the registered voters of all the agricultural counties in California, the total is not enough to offset even one of those three heavily populated areas. So the sole hope we have to maximize the only two opportunities for input we can control—our voice and our vote—is to get new voices and new votes,” Bettencourt said.
For some farm laborers in the Valley, the drought hits hardest at home. Lack of work is making it difficult for families to keep a roof over their heads. Since June, the state Department of Housing and Community Development has helped 4,500 families pay rent. And that number just keeps getting bigger.
In rural communities like Mendota, the drought affects everyone.
“The majority of the jobs here are Ag related so you’re talking close to 80 percent of the community that depends on Ag; from truck drivers to field workers to working in the packing sheds,” said Mendota Mayor Robert Silva.
When water is scarce, so are jobs in the fields — making it harder for people to pay rent.
“People are working but they’re not working as much as they used to,” said Silva.
Which is why the state of California is helping laborers pay their bills. The Department of Housing and Community Development is offering drought housing rental subsidies in 24 counties including Fresno, Tulare and Merced.
“I wouldn’t expect it to be available past November but hopefully the drought will have subsided by then and people will be getting back to work,” said Evan Gerberding of DHCD.
There’s roughly $7 million left from the subsidies available for people who can’t afford rent or utility bills — an emergency net to last families up to three months. The state agency hopes the short term disaster assistance provides some sort of relief.
In addition to rental and utility assistance, communities like Mendota have ramped up their food distribution.
Shawn Stevenson is the Vice President of Harlan Ranch, a third-generation family-owned and operated farm located in Fresno County. He says this is the toughest time the ranch has experienced in its history.
Stevenson spoke as a bulldozer uprooted productive trees last week. “Once we finished pushing these trees, we’re going to be out about 400 acres of the 1200 acres that’s pushed. In addition, we have another 140 acres we’re just giving enough water to barely keep alive,” said Stevenson. “The balance of our crops are receiving 66 percent of their normal water. So no matter what kind of crop that is out here on Harlan Ranch this year, it’s a very tough year as far as water goes,” he added.
Stevenson explained that the lack of water isn’t just about crops, but the people involved as well.
“There’s not enough water. It impacts the trees. It impacts our employees. Earlier this year I had my first layoffs I ever done because of lack of work, and that’s because we are pushing out so many trees. About 30 percent of our employees were let go. That was the probably the most devastating time that I’ve faced here,” said Stevenson.
He added that this reaches far more than just his farm, that the drought permeates all aspects of the industry, not just growers.
Stevenson predicted that this coming season, he’ll produce and deliver to the packing house about 25 percent of the volume of citrus produced in the past year. “That impacts not only our employees but the packers at the packing house, the people who sell the fruit, and the people we buy pesticides and fertilizers from,” Stevenson added.
With drought reaching the majority of the state, with 58 percent of California at the highest drought-level, according to a U.S. Drought Monitorreport, some farmers are thinking about the future of the industry in California.
“Now, I understand not all of Fresno and not all of California looks this bad, but imagine that we’re like the “canary in the coal mine”. This is what the future of California looks like. This kind of devastation that you see here is what our future looks like. If we continue to have no or little surface water deliveries, and as the groundwater situation continues to deteriorate. Without more surface water, without more water supplies, this is the future of the Central Valley,” said Stevenson.
“Several months ago, I looked back at what the worst case scenario would be and started making plans for that worst case scenario. And, the worst case scenario is about right on track. I don’t think a lot of people realize that is like a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, or a wildfire or an earthquake, it’s just going to take a lot longer time to happen. It’s going to happen slowly—the devastation to our economy, to peoples’ lives, to whole communities,” he said.
Stevenson also mentioned communities such as Mendota and Orange Cove, which rely completely on the agriculture industry for employment, and added, “without work, this can leave entire cities in dire situations.”
“Our water infrastructure has been far out-stripped by the people in this state, so it’s time we update it and figure out how to get more water to more people in the state and try to preserve agriculture for our state, our country, and our world,” Stevenson said.