See? We have lots of common ground.

Noted asshole Buddy Mendes wrote an op-ed for the Fresno Bee.  I was delighted when I saw that, because I love reminding local bigwigs that there are lots of kinds of authority in the world and they lost some of theirs when they indulged in asshole behavior.  How better than writing an anonymous post, tearing apart whatever sophistry he can manage?  Unfortunately, the central thesis of Supervisor Mendes’ op-ed is entirely correct and unassailable.  He is right.  The remainder of California, including our elected officials, neglects the Central Valley and its poor.  As he writes, we are committing a moral failure when we know “these policies are having a harmful impact on the region but choose to ignore the human and social consequences.”  We should be ashamed.

Mr. Mendes’ solution is that in the name of the poor people of the Central Valley, the State should take water away from communities more powerless and vulnerable (fish, Tribes, riparian habitats) and distribute water to landowners who incidentally create jobs in the process of privatizing resource wealth.  So, you know.  Fuck that.

But his problem statement remains true.

Even more cynical is the fact that the activists and government officials calling for further restrictions on water supplies are offering no plan to assist the San Joaquin Valley region with the damage they are creating. They encourage policies that take land out of production, eliminate farm jobs, and strain the resources of local governments.

He is right.  The current water policies do have moral and economic consequences.  Rather than back away from the water policies, we should predict the consequences, mitigate the ones we can (with money, not water), and make moral choices based on explicit criteria to decrease the effects of our current water policies.  Then we go ahead with the instream flow plan and SGMA.
A few other thoughts:
  • Frankly, to my mind, the current water policies are only an excuse to throw money at the Central Valley.  We’ve shamefully neglected it for decades and if there were no drought and climate change, we should still throw money at the poor in the Central Valley.
  • Dr. Michael wrote this about the funding for the AroundDeltaWaterGo.  I found it persuasive.

The Valley economy has many, many needs.  It breaks my heart to think that anyone in government would contemplate a $6.5 billion subsidy to Valley agriculture that provides no net benefit to the Valley economy.  If such a subsidy were to happen, it would be a tragic example of ineffective and wasteful government.  If the government feels compelled to spend billions in industry subsidies in the Valley, I would suggest spending a much smaller amount to entice some other industries that would diversify the economy and create good paying jobs.  If a subsidy proposal is ever formalized, every mayor in the Valley should oppose it and offer up an alternative economic development package that is much cheaper and does more for their constituents.

  • It gets extremely touchy to talk about this stuff, but one of the mitigation strategies could be to help people leave.  I know they don’t want to, but I also know that those areas don’t generate enough wealth for people to live by first world standards, like not having arsenic or nitrates in their water.  It is a real dilemma.  There are relocation funds in the last water bond, and from what I hear, no one has been interested in them.
  • The consequences on farmworkers of decreased farmwork is fairly well described.  There is another set of social consequences that I don’t see in mainstream conversation.  Retiring farmland will create a lot of loss, grief and dislocation for farmowners.  Perhaps we don’t think the State has any role in addressing that.  Fine; that’s an understandable policy position.  But I continue to think that directly working through the emotional side of land retirement (analogous to climate change grief) would open up strategies that we can’t predict (like letting owners have life tenancies on their farms but not farm, or finding ways for them to continue in their roles as stewards by directing the next uses of their land).
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6 Comments

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6 responses to “See? We have lots of common ground.

  1. Population does not owe anyone a right to “farm” even though they’ve been doing it for generations. People need to see the writing on the wall just like autoworkers, airplane manufacturing, textile workers in US. Industrial Ag (Big Ag) sure has a big stake in this http://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/industrial-agriculture-and-small-scale-farming.html “The vast majority of the world’s farms are small or very small. Worldwide, farms of less than 1 hectare account for 72% of all farms, but control only 8% of all agricultural land. Farms between 1 and 2 hectares account for 12% of all farms and control 4% of the land. In contrast, only 1% of all farms in the world are larger than 50 hectares, but they control 65% of the world’s agricultural land.” Talk about the ability to control price of produce.

  2. Better to reduce land by requiring growers to cease farming some non-uniform portion of their acreage, and restricting water deliveries. Doing so would increase the uniformity of the remaining acreage, increase water use efficiency, and be barely disruptive to communities.

    Hate to ramble on, but you raised the relocation issue. You are on to something. At least for the non-reservation sector, the provision of disadvantaged community water and wastewater funding help amounts to indirect subsidies to large farming outfits. Better that the farms pay for the necessary water and wastewater treatment upgrades, or raise wages sufficient to provide a tax base capable of supporting the upgrades.

  3. Thomas Jensen

    Thank you. Excellent essay today. I wish we had focused on these social issues when we wrote the CVPIA. Safe drinking water, stewardship agreements, education. We missed that. Of course, the ag interests weren’t bargaining for their communities. Again, thank you.

    Tom Jensen

    Thomas C. Jensen, Esq. Holland & Hart LLP 975 F Street NW Suite 900 Washington, DC 20004 (202) 654-6928 – office (703) 304-5211 – cell tcjensen@hollandhart.com

  4. Diane Livia

    Loss and relocation do not have to be the outcomes of fallowing farm land. No land in California can just sit there w/o human intervention and reach it’s biological potential–there’s just been too much disturbance and degradation. First, the state should enforce all its current laws regarding clean water, and take no prisoners. Second, the state should get in the business of stewarding land and hire all those ex-farm workers-to-be to work on the land and try to restore some measure of biodiversity. Biodiversity is almost synonymous with human well-being, and taking care of land to promote human well-being is the next new thing. Our lands need humans on them almost daily to restore them to a state where they produce real environmental “services.” Sorry to use the language of consumption, but it’s about all we’ve got.

  5. Anonymous, this time

    As a loyal reader I want to urge you, dear OtPR, to resist the temptation to ad hominem attacks. I’m no prude, I indulge in the occasional f-bomb and potty mouth myself. And if someone sounds like an a–hole, it’s fair game to attack their ideas (including their claim on “morality”). Your depth of analysis and perceptiveness are enough to keep me reading – really, every post. But the name-calling? Let’s not go there, it will be too much like every other scream sheet online.

    • Anymoose

      Yeah, I prefer not to have it be a habit Before long, we might get a President who talks that way.
      Speaking of the President –elect, I think he can solve our farm water problem with Brawndo. It’s got electolytes- just what the plants crave.