This is a lovely video about a very appealing citrus grower in Terra Bella ID. Mr. Ramos personifies a lot of the choices we should face (3/24: link fixed). Come to think of it, he probably also personifies what will happen because we refuse to make explicit choices. I’ll give you a few minutes to watch the video.
1. A trivial aside. His groves are predominately citrus, but at 2:10, that’s not citrus, right? Those upright leaves, the angled branches? Does that look like pistachios? Definitely not citrus, though. There! Again at 2:30. And 3:00. How could that be citrus?
b. At 3:40, California Citrus Mutual president Nelson says “People argue ‘you can always adapt’, but the people who will be left to adapt will be the corporate producer.” This is our current default policy choice. It will be the outcome of making no policy choice. We could intentionally devise water rights to protect growers like Mr. Ramos. We could decide that because we like farming communities, we will give the agriculture on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley water higher priority for water than the farms on the west side
that are distant from any community. We could decide that because we want four million acres of stable food production for humans, we will use water rights to preferentially shape our working lands. Doing that will require active decision and political will.
We could also help maintain growers and farmworkers through droughts by giving them money to tide them over. Mr. Ramos looks to have spent about $38K to bring in $16K this year; $33K of that was water (at 6:35). The option that growers would prefer to return to is getting far cheaper water. An alternate option, to preserve a resilient farming community, is to give them money in dry years to maintain capacity for wetter years.
- Mr. Ramos laments his options. He doesn’t want to “chase the water” to Washington. I understand that is his deeply held preference. That said, Terra Bella is a marginal irrigation district. Super arid, no groundwater, rolling terrain, uphill from the Friant-Kern Canal. Were I to make project-level decisions about closing districts, I would probably choose Terra Bella as one to close down. And if we were making an explicit decision, we could choose the terms. Retire working lands, but help people live in place for another decade? Retire farms at generational transition? Buy out adjacent lands for habitat and pay growers and farmworkers to restore habitat? Perhaps none of those options sound good to Mr. Ramos, but they might all sound better than letting his farm go bankrupt in two more dry years.
IV. OK. The video really only illustrates the main choice we face as climate change dries out California. How do we want to retire irrigated acreage? Who should we direct the burdens on to? How can we minimize the burdens (loss of community, loss of identification with the land) that visibly pain Mr. Ramos? Do we want to? Do we care enough?