Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Valley in crisis as drought, restrictions take toll

Recently I spent a week in the San Joaquin Valley, where I took these photos as growers have been denied surface water have had to take citrus groves and fields out of production.

In the photos, from the top: A bulldozer rips out an orange grove south of Fresno; Dinuba grower and packer Jay Gillette takes stock in his retired orchard; a dry irrigation canal meanders past a citrus packing plant; Mendota area grower Mark Turmon holds an irrigation line being taken out of a fallowed field; Roger Isom of Western Agricultural Processors Association looks at the diminished nut set on a water-starved almond tree; and a field is dragged at a dairy just south of Merced.

A special thanks should go to Roger Isom and to Joel Nelsen and Bob Blakely of California Citrus Mutual, who arranged and facilitated my interviews with more than a dozen growers, packers, processors and other industry reps.

A pall hovers over the San Joaquin as water shutoffs and sinking aquifers threaten to turn what has long been the nation's most productive agricultural region into a hodgepodge of veritable ghost towns and abandoned fields.

The crisis has been worsened by the drought, which has forced more than 2.8 million acres statewide -- a large portion of which is in the Central Valley -- to go without surface water again this year, according to the California Farm Water Coalition.

But growers and industry groups trace the decline of ag in the San Joaquin back to more than two decades ago, as the Central Valley Project Improvement Act and subsequent environmental policies greatly restricted pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

My centerpiece story, along with a companion piece on ag's role in the economies of the Central Valley and California as a whole, will lead this week's issue of Capital Press. Watch for them online at within a matter of hours.

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