California drought: Different story, same result

Story By Chase Kamp

When I hit the road last year, looking forward
to settling into my new home in Oakland,
I was ready to face the challenges of a new
state. Nothing suggested those would include a state
of emergency.
I had managed to roll into Los Angeles late
in the afternoon, beating the hellish rush-hour
traffic, and navigated my way north on the I-5, an
uneventful six-hour stretch of inland highway that
manifests the occasional grape field or roadside
produce stand.
It wasn’t long, though, before I began to see
signs of trouble: Big roadside signs, that is, with
stark letters. “Congress Created Water Crisis. Pray
For Rain.” These weren’t your everyday commercial
billboards, instead the kind you see on rural roads
propped up on rebar stakes or mounted on the sides
of trailers. Forewarned I guess is, well, you know.
I suppose it should have been obvious that
drought doesn’t just happen in the desert. But
California’s systemic drying is hitting the state’s
central Valley, which grow half the nation’s fruits,
nuts and vegetables, especially hard.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency
in mid-January after the 13th consecutive week
of drought. Since then, the expected February
rainstorms have come pouring in, but the National
Weather Service put a damper on anyone’s hope that
true relief had come.
Forecasters posted a photo on social media with
a standard 10-ounce coffee Thermos, representing
our recent rainfall, next to a 5-gallon hardware
bucket, representing the state’s water shortfall since
the winter 2011-12.
This prompted Brown and the California
legislature to pass a $647 million relief bill funding
greater storm-water recapturing, management
of groundwater storage and water conservation
measures. There are lots of calls to conserve water by
turning off faucets and taking shorter showers, but
they seem trivial when farmers are leaving hundreds
of acres of land unused because they cannot afford to
grow on them.
Arizona’s leaders have tried to address sustained
drought since June 1999, when then-Gov. Jane Hull
declared a state of emergency.
Current Gov. Jan Brewer backed a declaration
by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in April
2012 to declare six counties as disaster areas due to
continued drought, including Maricopa County.
In January this year, farmers in Mohave County
were eligible for emergency federal assistance.
Yet this kind of water concern is part and parcel
of living in the desert, at least for most. Some people
still water expansive lawns or hang misters in their
restaurant patios, practices I’ve never understood as
a nearly lifelong desert rat.
The shock to California’s water supply is not
only on a larger scale, but a jab to its milk-and-honey
cultural essence.
At the turn of the drought, the big California
municipalities like Los Angeles and San Francisco
started investing in massive water storage facilities to
curb shortages.
Meanwhile, the Central Valley farmers here are
stuck relying on dwindling federal assistance and
continued prayers for rain.
I’m stunned to discover that in an economy
as vast as California’s, with deep-seated urban and
rural interests, even the nation’s biggest agricultural
operations have to fight for a cut of the drink.
The forecast last week called for heavy
precipitation, more showers.

Chase Kamp graduated from Corona del Sol
High School and the Walter Cronkite Journalism
School at ASU. He is a San Francisco-based
freelance writer who contributes regularly to
Wrangler News.

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