I have a couple more thoughts on the “death by strangulation” metaphor for Westlands, because I always have a couple more thoughts.
1. There actually is a possibility for death by strangulation for Westlands farmers, and that is if they hang themselves. Farmers commit suicide at disproportionate rates; it is terrible. There’s a lot of research on this, and help is available. Please, please do not kill yourself. Growers on the west side, please also keep an eye out for your neighbors. If they look depressed or hopeless, please ask them how they are. In many farmer suicides, western cowboy culture keeps people from volunteering how bleak they feel. But they might answer if asked, and it could prevent a suicide.
2. My other thought is that I keep telling growers on the west side to get out. The water situation isn’t going to get any better for them. Did you see the 2009 State Water Project draft reliability report? But it occurs to me that growers in Westlands may have no exit opportunity. What, they’re going to sell their land? To whom? Without water, that land has almost no value.
At the water law symposium a couple weekends back, Jason Peltier (a manager at Westlands) said something interesting. He said (recalling, so I can’t swear by the wording), ‘Shoot, most of them are already in bankruptcy, but the banks don’t want to foreclose.’ Which was very interesting.
Who holds those mortgages? What bank in their right mind would want to own those lands? What would a bank do with them? Who knows if liability will change, and one day they’ll be billed for their selenium drainage? A bank can’t sell those lands without water any better than the current owners could. A bank could maybe bundle them, and sell them to someone trying to start a solar energy empire. It’d be nice if the Nature Conservancy would take them; managed would be better than empty. But I think the Nature Conservancy has higher priorities, with more biodiversity left in them.
Anyway, the idea that without water, those lands have negative value to the holder would make it hard for farmers to get out, even if they could walk away. Man, I don’t know how to handle that. Land swaps somehow? But good farmland with secure water is being farmed now. Transitions are hard. Too bad we changed the climate away from the one we were optimized for.