Los Angeles: Bill Diedrich, a fourth-generation almond grower in California’s Central Valley, expects that many of his trees will not make it through the year. “It’s one of the grimmest water situations we’ve ever faced,” he said. “It’s an absolute emergency and anything to get water flowing quickly is needed.”
The 643-km Central Valley is many things: the world’s largest agricultural area; the “salad bowl” where half of the country’s vegetables are grown. But this year, with water shortages of a severity not seen for decades, many farmers and others are echoing the recent words of Energy Secretary Steven Chu: if current weather patterns continue, Californian agriculture could disappear. John “Dusty” Giacone, another fourth-generation Central Valley farmer, was forced to abandon his vegetable crop and divert his scarce water to save his 4,000 hectares of almond trees. But many farmers are choosing the opposite course, abandoning their almond trees for a season in the hope that the good times, and a wetter than normal spring, might return. In the meantime, the trees are being left to die, or maintained just enough to survive.
The decline in the number of almond trees has led to an unintended consequence: a glut of bee colonies. Bees are used to pollinate almond trees, and beekeepers now face the prospect of an economic collapse as the almond market withers away.
Lester Snow, director of the California Department of Water Resources, told reporters that the state faced its most severe drought since at least the early 1990s. “It’s imperative for Californians to conserve water immediately, at home and in their businesses.”
The reality, however, is that Californians have been slow to reduce their water consumption. Central Valley farmer John Harris said that he had laid off about two-thirds of his workforce and had stopped cultivating most vegetables in order to concentrate on permanent crops.
“Maybe when people turn on the shower and nothing comes out, that will be the final wake-up call, but agriculture will have taken devastating losses by the time that happens,” he told agricultural publication Ag Alert.
While Mr. Chu warns that he cannot see how California’s cities could survive, their residents are steeped in a culture of challenging nature. Back in 1952, as drought reduced water levels, pulp science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote: “Angelenos committed communal suicide by watering lawns as usual … The taps remained open, trickling away the life blood of the desert paradise.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009