Tag Archives: central-valley

The Dreamt Land – Mark Arax


The Dreamt Land

Chasing Water and Dust Across California

Mark Arax

Genre: Nature

Price: $15.99

Publish Date: May 21, 2019

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

"You can't understand California without understanding water, and no one is better at doing that than Mark Arax, whose depth of knowledge about the Central Valley is organic and unparalleled. Plus, he writes like a dream." –Mark Bittman, author of Food Matters A vivid, searching journey into California's capture of water and soil–the epic story of a people's defiance of nature and the wonders, and ruin, it has wrought Mark Arax is from a family of Central Valley farmers, a writer with deep ties to the land who has watched the battles over water intensify even as California lurches from drought to flood and back again. In The Dreamt Land, he travels the state to explore the one-of-a-kind distribution system, built in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, that is straining to keep up with California's relentless growth. This is a heartfelt, beautifully written book about the land and the people who have worked it–from gold miners to wheat ranchers to small fruit farmers and today's Big Ag. Since the beginning, Californians have redirected rivers, drilled ever-deeper wells and built higher dams, pushing the water supply past its limit. The Dreamt Land weaves reportage, history and memoir to confront the "Golden State" myth in riveting fashion. No other chronicler of the West has so deeply delved into the empires of agriculture that drink so much of the water. The nation's biggest farmers–the nut king, grape king and citrus queen–tell their story here for the first time. This is a tale of politics and hubris in the arid West, of imported workers left behind in the sun and the fatigued earth that is made to give more even while it keeps sinking. But when drought turns to flood once again, all is forgotten as the farmers plant more nuts and the developers build more houses. Arax, the native son, is persistent and tough as he treks from desert to delta, mountain to valley. What he finds is hard earned, awe-inspiring, tragic and revelatory. In the end, his compassion for the land becomes an elegy to the dream that created California and now threatens to undo it.


The Dreamt Land – Mark Arax

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Don’t Blame Oroville on Environmentalists

Mother Jones

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Victor Davis Hanson is a native Californian who hates California because it’s become too brown and too liberal. Today he takes to the LA Times to use the Oroville Dam disaster as a way of riding all his usual hobbyhorses:

The poor condition of the dam is almost too good a metaphor for the condition of the state as a whole; its possible failure is a reflection of California’s civic decline.

….The dam was part of the larger work of a brilliant earlier generation of California planners and lawmakers….The water projects created cheap and clean hydroelectric power…ensured that empty desert acreage on California’s dry west side of the Central Valley could be irrigated…spectacular growth in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin.

….Yet the California Water Project and federal Central Valley Project have been comatose for a half-century….Necessary improvements to Oroville Dam, like reinforced concrete spillways, were never finished….A new generation of Californians — without much memory of floods or what unirrigated California was like before its aqueducts — had the luxury to envision the state’s existing water projects in a radically new light: as environmental errors….Indeed, pressures mounted to tear down rather than build dams. The state — whose basket of income, sales and gas taxes is among the highest in the country — gradually shifted its priorities from the building and expansion of dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, bridges and highways to redistributionist social welfare programs, state employee pensions and an enormous penal archipelago.

LOL. The reason the Oroville Dam wasn’t upgraded ten years ago is because all those salt-of-the-earth farmers that Davis admires didn’t want to pay for the upgrades via higher water rates. Here’s the San Jose Mercury News:

Environmentalists noted Friday that they had tried in 2005 to persuade the federal government to require the state to cover the emergency spillway with concrete. But the agency that was relicensing the dam, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, declined after opposition from the state Department of Water Resources and the State Water Contractors, a group of 27 water agencies who were concerned about the cost.

Hanson should have listened to his initial instincts: the Oroville Dam is too good a metaphor for the condition of the state as a whole:

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Don’t Blame Oroville on Environmentalists

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Fracking and immigration activists unite 60 feet above the RNC

moral highground

Fracking and immigration activists unite 60 feet above the RNC

By on Jul 19, 2016Share

Four anti-fracking, pro-immigrant activists scaled 60-foot flagpoles a few blocks from the Republic National Convention on Tuesday morning, then unfurled a massive banner that read “Don’t Trump our communities.”

What are these two groups of activists doing together? Their issues overlap. In many places around the country, immigrants live in areas where oil companies use hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas and oil. Most of the fracking in California, for instance, happens in the Central Valley, near fields where undocumented workers harvest crops to feed the rest of the country. Fracking sites are more likely to be in neighborhoods of color and poverty.

Emmelia Talarico, an activist who traveled to Cleveland, Ohio from Maryland for the protest, said that “communities directly impacted by oil and gas extraction have come together with immigrant communities being torn apart by deportations to take a stand against an unjust system that targets us all.”

Three of the four activists were arrested and are now raising money for bail.

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Fracking and immigration activists unite 60 feet above the RNC

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This Devastating Chart Shows Why Even a Powerful El Niño Won’t Fix the Drought

Mother Jones

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In California, news of a historically powerful El Niño oceanic warming event is stoking hopes that winter rains will ease the state’s brutal drought. But for farmers in the Central Valley, one of the globe’s most productive agricultural regions, water troubles go much deeper—literally—than the current lack of precipitation.

That’s the message of an eye-popping report from researchers at the US Geological Survey. This chart tells the story:


To understand it, note that in the arid Central Valley, farmers get water to irrigate their crops in two ways. The first is through massive, government-built projects that deliver melted snow from the Sierra Nevada mountains. The second is by digging wells into the ground and pumping water from the region’s ancient aquifers. In theory, the aquifer water serves as a buffer—it keeps farming humming when (as has happened the last three years) the winter snows don’t come. When the snows return, the theory goes, irrigation water flows anew through canals, and the aquifers are allowed to refill.

But as the chart shows, the Central Valley’s underground water reserves are in a state of decline that predates the current drought by decades. The red line shows the change in underground water storage since the early 1960s; the green bars show how much water entered the Central Valley each year through the irrigation projects. Note how both vary during “wet” and “dry” times.

As you’d expect, underground water storage drops during dry years, as farmers resort to the pump to make up for lost irrigation allotments, and it rises during wet years, when the irrigation projects up their contribution. The problem is, aquifer recharge during wet years never fully replaces all that was taken away during dry times—meaning that the the Central Valley has surrendered a total of 100 cubic kilometers, or 811 million acre-feet, of underground water since 1962. That’s an average of about 1.5 million acre-feet of water annually extracted from finite underground reserves and not replaced by the Central Valley’s farms. By comparison, all of Los Angeles uses about 600,000 acre-feet of water per year. (An acre-foot is the amount needed to cover an acre of land with a foot of water).

The USGS authors note that the region’s farmers have gotten more efficient in their irrigation techniques over the past 20 years—using precisely placed drip tape, for example, instead of old techniques like flooding fields. But that positive step has been more than offset with a factor I’ve discussed many times: “the planting of permanent crops (vineyards and orchards), replacing non-permanent land uses such as rangeland, field crops, or row crops.” This is a reference to the ongoing expansion in acres devoted to almonds and pistachios, highly profitable crops that can’t be fallowed during dry times. To keep them churning out product during drought, orchard farmers revert to the pump.

The major takeaway is that the Valley’s farms can’t maintain business as usual—eventually, the water will run out. No one knows exactly when that point will be, because, as Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology, never tires of pointing out, no one has invested in the research required to measure just how much water is left beneath the Central Valley’s farms. Of course, averting this race to the bottom of the well is exactly why the California legislature voted last year to end the state’s wild-west water-drilling free-for-all and enact legislation requiring stressed watersheds like the Central Valley’s to reach “sustainable yield” by 2040. The downward meandering red line in the above graph, in other words, will have to flatten out pretty soon, and to get there, “dramatic changes will need to be made,” the USGS report states.

Meanwhile, one wet El Niño winter won’t do much to end the the decades-in-the-making drawdown of the Central Valley’s water horde. And people pining for heavy rains should be careful what they wish for—parts of the Central Valley, especially its almond-heavy southern regions, are notoriously vulnerable to disastrous flooding. Then there’s the unhappy fact that El Niño periods are often followed by La Niña events—which are associated with dry winters in California. The region could be “whiplashed from deluge back to drought again” in just one year’s time, Bill Patzert, a climatologist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, recently told the Los Angeles Times. “Because remember, La Niña is the diva of drought,” he said. The last big El Niño ended in 1998, and as the above chart shows, what followed wasn’t pretty.

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This Devastating Chart Shows Why Even a Powerful El Niño Won’t Fix the Drought

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Breaking: California Farmers Agree to Water Cuts

Mother Jones

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As California endures its fourth year of grueling drought, officials are getting more serious about mandatory water cuts. Gov. Jerry Brown imposed the state’s first-ever water restrictions last month, ordering cities and towns to cut water by 25 percent. But the vast majority of water in California goes not to homes and businesses but to farms, which so far have suffered minimal cuts.

Today, the state’s Water Board approved a deal with farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in which some farmers will voluntarily reduce water use by 25 percent in exchange for assurances that they won’t suffer reductions later in the growing season. “We’re in a drought unprecedented in our times,” said Board Chair Felicia Marcus. “The action we’re announcing today is definitely unusual, but we are in unusual times.”

Here’s a primer on how farms are using water now, who holds rights to it, and what restrictions may come next.

How much water do California farms use?

Farms consume about 80 percent of the state’s water supply, and use it to grow half of the fruits and veggies that are produced in the United States. Almonds and alfalfa (cattle feed) use more than 15 percent of the state’s water.

What are water rights?

Water rights enable individuals, city water agencies, irrigation districts, and corporations to divert water directly from rivers or streams for free. The rights are based on a very old seniority system: “Senior” water rights holders are the first to get water and the last to suffer from cuts. There are two primary types of these senior holders: Those who started using the water before 1914 (when the water permit system was put in place), and “riparians,” who own property directly adjacent to streams or rivers. Water rights often, but don’t always, transfer with property sales.

Who are senior water rights holders?

Senior water rights holders are the corporations, individuals, or entities who either staked out the water before 1914, when the state started requiring permits and applications for water; those who live directly adjacent to a river or stream; or those who have bought property with senior water rights. This system made sense in the era of pioneers settling the Wild West: As the Associated Press recently put it, “Establishing an early right to California water was as simple as going ahead and diverting it. Paperwork came later. San Francisco got the Sierra Nevada water that turned its sand dunes into lush gardens by tacking a handwritten notice to a tree in 1902.” Today, there are thousands of senior water rights holders; most of them are corporations, many of which are farms. The holders include utilities company Pacific Gas and Electric, the San Francisco water agency, a number of rural irrigation districts, and Star Trek actor and rancher William Shatner.

What water cuts were announced today, and what’s coming next?

Today, the Water Board announced that it would accept a voluntary deal in which riparians in the 6,000-acre Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (shown in the map below) would reduce their water use by 25 percent, or fallow 25 percent of their land. In exchange, the Water Board promised them that they wouldn’t suffer cuts in the coming year. There are about 1,000 water holders in the area who could be candidates for the deal, which will be enforced by a combination of a complaint system, satellite imagery, and spot checks.

In addition, the Board will announce mandatory curtailments to other senior water holders next week for the first time since the 1970s. The Board is still figuring out the location and percentage of these cuts.

So before today’s cuts, farmers were just using as much water as they wanted?

Well, not exactly. Farmers with “junior” (post-1914) rights in the San Joaquin and Sacramento River basins, home of the normally fertile Central Valley, were ordered to stop using the river’s water a month ago. But the regulations are enforced by the honor system and reported complaints; so far, only a fifth of junior water holders in the area have confirmed that they are complying.

The Department of Water Resources has also made substantial cuts to the state’s two major water projects—a system of aqueducts, dams, and canals across the state that distributes water from water-rich Northern California to the water-poor Central Valley. Growers who use water from the Central Valley Water Project are only receiving 20 percent of their allocated water, and farmers of the State Water Project aren’t receiving any at all.

All of this has led more and more farmers to rely almost exclusively on groundwater, but it’s undeniable that the drought has led to less farming overall: Last year, five percent of irrigated cropland went out of production, and officials expect that number to rise this year.

What is groundwater, and how much of it are farmers using?

Groundwater is the water that trickles down through the earth’s surface over the centuries, collecting in large underwater aquifers. It’s a savings account of sorts—good to have when it’s dry but difficult to refill—and it wasn’t regulated until last year, when Gov. Brown ordered local water agencies to come up with management plans. The water agencies are still in the process of implementing those plans, and in the meantime, no one knows exactly how much groundwater is being used. We do know this: Groundwater usually makes up about 40 percent of the state’s total freshwater usage, but lately, the state has been running on it. It made up 65 percent of freshwater use last year, and may make up as much as 75 percent this year. As a result of overpumping, the land is sinking—as much as a foot a year in some areas—and officials are worried that the changing landscape threatens the structural integrity of infrastructure like bridges, roads and train tracks.

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Breaking: California Farmers Agree to Water Cuts

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California Is Drilling for Water That Fell to Earth 20,000 Years Ago

Mother Jones

This story was originally published by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

By now, the impacts of California’s unchecked groundwater pumping are well-known: the dropping water levels, dried-up wells and slowly sinking farmland in parts of the Central Valley.

But another consequence gets less attention, one measured not by acre-feet or gallons-per-minute but the long march of time.

As California farms and cities drill deeper for groundwater in an era of drought and climate change, they no longer are tapping reserves that percolated into the soil over recent centuries. They are pumping water that fell to Earth during a much wetter climatic regime—the ice age.

Such water is not just old. It’s prehistoric. It is older than the earliest pyramids on the Nile, older than the world’s oldest tree, the bristlecone pine. It was swirling down rivers and streams 15,000 to 20,000 years ago when humans were crossing the Bering Strait from Asia.

Tapping such water is more than a scientific curiosity. It is one more sign that some parts of California are living beyond nature’s means, with implications that could ripple into the next century and beyond as climate change turns the region warmer and robs moisture from the sky.

“What I see going on is a future disaster. You are removing water that’s been there a long, long time. And it will probably take a long time to replace it. We are mining water that cannot be readily replaced,” said Vance Kennedy, a 91-year-old retired research hydrologist in the Central Valley.

Despite such concern, the antiquity of the state’s groundwater isn’t a well-known phenomenon. It has been discovered in recent years by scientists working on water quality studies and revealed quietly in technical reports.

Groundwater is crucial to California. In an average year, nearly 40 percent of the state’s water comes from underground sources. In the current extended drought, it’s more than half. Eighty percent of California residents rely to some degree on groundwater. Some towns, cities and farming operations depend entirely on it.

Groundwater is like a bank account. You want to balance the debits and credits, not draw down the principal. But California has been depleting its groundwater principal for generations, pumping more than nature can replenish. So, too, has the United States as a whole. The biggest overall user is agriculture.

“If we continue irrigating at the increasing rates that we are in the US, the bottom line is that can’t be sustained,” said Leonard Konikow, a retired US Geological Survey hydrogeologist in Virginia. “That can’t go on forever.”

A new article by Konikow in the journal Groundwater estimates that nearly 1,000 cubic kilometers—about twice the volume of Lake Erie—was depleted across the United States from 1900 to 2008. That’s enough to contribute to rising sea levels, along with melting glaciers and polar ice.

“That really surprised a lot of people,” Konikow said.

The pace of depletion has jumped dramatically since 2000. And Konikow identified one area that appears to have the most serious depletion problem in the nation—California’s agricultural powerhouse, the Central Valley, especially its more arid southern portion.

How long the bounty can last is anyone’s guess. As wells are drilled deeper, pumping costs soar. Water quality can suffer. In some areas, the earth itself is starting to sink as deep aquifers are pumped to historic low levels.

That problem is known as subsidence, and it’s a big deal. As the land sags, it is harming water delivery canals, damaging wells and buckling pavement.

“The rates of subsidence we are seeing are about a foot per year in some areas. They are just phenomenal,” said John Izbicki, a research hydrologist with the US Geological Survey.

The last time this happened, during a binge of overpumping in the 20th century, one part of the valley sank 28 feet and damages topped $1.3 billion (in 2013 dollars), according to the California Water Foundation.

But that’s not all: As those deep aquifers are pumped, they suffer structural damage and no longer hold as much water as before. To visualize what happens, imagine a kitchen sponge.

“You take it out of the package and it’s all nice and fluffy,” said Bryant Jurgens, a research hydrologist with the US Geological Survey. “After a month of use, it starts to shrink. When you wet it again, it doesn’t ever quite get as big as it originally was. That’s exactly what happens to the aquifer.”

And some of that water, as it turns out, is quite ancient. If you bottled it, you could label it the provenance of the Pleistocene—a geological epoch that lasted from about 2.5 million to 12,000 years ago.

The landscape was much different back then. Yosemite Valley was a river of ice. Mastodons and other now-extinct creatures roamed the West Coast. To the east and south, lakes stretched for miles across terrain we now call desert.

All water, in a sense, is ancient. It’s been cycling through clouds, rivers, forests and oceans for millions of years. But in recent decades, scientists have found ways to determine roughly when precipitation fell to earth and percolated into the surface, becoming groundwater.

They do it by testing water for the presence of certain compounds that decay slowly over time, such as carbon-14, a radioactive isotope that also is used to estimate the age of ancient civilizations and human ancestors.

There is no point-and-click website that reveals the age of groundwater in the state. To access the information, you must wade through a tangle of studies compiled by the US Geological Survey as part of a state-funded public drinking water-quality monitoring program.

The jargon in those studies is so thick it is nearly incomprehensible. But deep in the scientific sediment are nuggets worth sharing with friends—a sentence here, a table there. They show water pumped from some deep public supply wells in the valley is 10,000 to more than 30,000 years old. Similar ages also have been reported in many desert basins, including Coachella Valley and Owens Valley, a major source of drinking water for Los Angeles.

What that means for the future is uncertain. Even though many areas pump more water than is recharged naturally, there is still more groundwater to be pumped.

“We are withdrawing from a fairly large bank account,” said Tom Myers, a hydrogeologic consultant in Reno, Nevada, who has worked in Southern California. “But we are withdrawing from it a lot faster than we are putting back in. The problem is we don’t know how close it is to empty.”

And many areas also recharge aquifers with surface water imported from elsewhere.

“There are places where you could be pumping very old groundwater and there is sufficient recharge to the system—so it’s not necessarily a problem,” said Miranda Fram, a research chemist with the US Geological Survey. “But in many cases, it is. It’s mining old groundwater that’s not being replenished.”

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California Is Drilling for Water That Fell to Earth 20,000 Years Ago

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6 Charts That Show How We Became China’s Grocery Store and Wine Cellar

Mother Jones

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Jaeah Lee

We hear a lot about the perils of consuming food from China—and very little about the food we send to China. Yet we export five times more chow to China than we import from it (see chart above).

No doubt, China has undergone a full-on food-production miracle over the past generation, but there’s zero chance that its farms will emerge as a global exporting powerhouse, as its vaunted electronics factories have done. As this 2013 UN report notes, China’s total farm output has tripled since 1978. But it has to feed nearly a fifth of the globe’s people on just 8 percent of its arable land. Meanwhile, nearly 20 percent of China’s farmland has been polluted by runoff from industrial waste and/or excessive agrichemicals, its government recently acknowledged. On top of that, the country’s water resources are extremely limited.

Nevertheless, China is a major supplier of some high-profile items in our grocery stores and restaurants. Which ones?

Alex Park

Overall, though, China is a relatively minor source of food for the US—we import much more from both Mexico and Canada. The much bigger story is rocketing exports. China overtook Mexico as the country that sucks in the most US food in 2012. We export more than $25 billion worth of food per to China, as the chart at the top shows—an amount nearly equal to total food expenditures in the state of Ohio.

Jaeah Lee, Julia Lurie, Katie Rose Quandt

The main driver: China’s rapid switch to a US-style meat-rich diet. China taps US farms to feed its fast-growing meat habit in two ways. First, it directly imports it. Pork exports to China have surged over over the past decade. China is also a large importer of beef on the global market (mainly from Australia), but it has banned US product since 2003, over a mad-cow disease scare. With its beef demand soaring, though, it recently signaled it might lift the beef as early as July. As for chicken, China imports a huge amount from the US; and it has also invited US agribusiness giants Tyson and Cargill to plunk down chicken farms on domestic soil. These factory-scale facilities need a steady supply of feed to keep humming—and that’s where we get to the second way China looks to the US for its meat supply: by importing lots and lots of livestock feed, namely, corn, soybeans, and alfalfa (fed as hay to cows). Chinese consumers are also demonstrating a surging appetite for another protein-rich US product: nuts, almost all of which are grown in California. And, perhaps to help wash down all of that meat, there’s a growing thirst another California-centric luxury product, wine.

Jaeah Lee and Alex Park

These final charts, drawn from recent USDA projections, suggest that China’s love affair with meat will continue. Meanwhile, its appetite for nuts shows no sign of abating. For the US, these trends no doubt mean a windfall for the agribusiness companies that dominate meat, grain, and nut production. They also mean yet more pressure on our two most important food-growing regions: California’s Central Valley and the Midwest’s corn belt. As I’ve pointed out before, the Central Valley, source not only of nuts but also of alfalfa, is already rapidly drawing down fossil water resources to irrigate its drought-parched farms; and the corn belt is quietly undergoing a potentially devastating loss of topsoil, under the strain of maximum production and chaotic weather.

Jaeah Lee

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6 Charts That Show How We Became China’s Grocery Store and Wine Cellar

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Sorry, California. A Little Rain Isn’t Going to Save You.

Mother Jones

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California, supplier of nearly half of the fruits, veggies, and nuts produced in the United States, is on track to experience its driest year in modern history. And though the state was lucky to have some rain this week, even a torrential storm would not be enough to fill its aquifers, replenish its soil, and save many of its crops.

We’ve been tracking the drought through the US Drought Monitor, which uses satellite imagery, water flow, and precipitation data to create weekly drought maps. (Data is collected on Tuesdays, and released the following Thursday.) As of this week, 21 of the state’s 58 counties are experiencing “exceptional drought”—including those Central Valley areas where so many of the state’s crops grow. Above, check out the maps we’ve compiled from the past few weeks, starting with the one that prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to announce a state of emergency on January 17.


Sorry, California. A Little Rain Isn’t Going to Save You.

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California’s nutty farmland values are spiking

California’s nutty farmland values are spiking

Over the past few years, farmland values have ballooned nationwide. In California, that rise has not only changed the economics of Central Valley farming, but the crops themselves.

A weak dollar has pushed up demand for exports of California’s goods to Asia, especially almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. In 2011, almonds beat out California’s iconic grapes as the state’s second top commodity, at $3.9 billion a year. Nut-growing farmland value has grown 15 to 20 percent over the last two years, and it’s still consistently selling for 10-20 percent above asking price.

In the economically troubled Central Valley, this is the kind of market that makes short-sighted investors drool and long-view economists wince. From the Associated Press:

Investors both foreign and domestic have taken notice, buying up farmland and driving up agricultural land values in a region with some of the highest residential foreclosure rates.

California’s almond industry, which grows about 80 percent of the global almond supply and 100 percent of the domestic supply, saw the most dramatic growth powered by strong demand from new money-spending middle classes in India and China. The growth has prompted a rush for almond-growing land and pushed almond land values through the roof …

Revenues for almonds and walnuts increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2011, and revenues for grapes rose by 20 percent, according to the USDA. California’s agricultural exports during that time grew by more than $3 billion …

In Fresno County, almond land was valued at up to $18,000 per acre in 2012, and pistachio land at up to $25,000 per acre. That’s higher than citrus, grape, or tree fruit land — and much higher than the $7,200 average per acre farm real estate value in California last year, according to the USDA.

This farm boom is happening at the same time that California state is trying to figure out how to snag all the farmland it needs to turn into high-speed train tracks. The more lucrative the farming and the more expensive the land, the dirtier the fight over high-speed rail is likely to get. If California ends up using its power of eminent domain on these fancy farms, things could get truly nutty.

Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for



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California’s nutty farmland values are spiking

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California’s Central Valley is tired of taking Los Angeles’ shit

California’s Central Valley is tired of taking Los Angeles’ shit

From the Los Angeles Times:

Los Angeles’ land in Kern County features a red barn and a sign: “Green Acres Farm.” The city’s website proudly describes the corn, alfalfa and oats that are grown there.

Hey, sounds nice! Except:

[T]he city of Los Angeles … has been sending up more than 20 truckloads a day of “wet cake” from the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant near LAX. …

Most experts say recycled products such as sludge and compost are safe if handled properly. But Kern County officials filed court declarations from scientists who are skeptical. Portland State University engineer Gwynn Johnson, for instance, said research shows that biosolids contain metals, antibiotics and flame retardants, and that more study is needed to determine the implications for “human health and the environment.”

Residents tend to focus on the “ick” factor.

Ronald Hurlbert, who owned property near one sludge operation that at one point received waste from Orange County, said the odor was “virtually unbearable (like a well-used bathroom at LAX),” according to a sworn declaration filed in court by Kern County officials.


As it drives through Kern County, this RV will also be leaving behind its sludge.

At issue: Los Angeles’ endless supply of solid waste. Not, you know, garbage. Waste. Much of which is shipped north from the city every day into California’s agricultural heartland, the Central Valley — where it is increasingly unwelcome. This is the downside to recycling: Sometimes, no one wants to do (or live near) the dirty work.

One of the most bitter battles in California is over sludge, the batter-like material left over after treatment plants finish cleaning and draining what is flushed down the toilet or washed down the sink.

“Batter-like.” Let that one marinate in your brain for a while. Until the ’80s, the poo-batter was dumped in the ocean — until someone figured out that dumping lightly processed feces into the sea was a form of pollution.

Kern County voters passed a ballot measure in 2006 banning sludge from entering the county. Los Angeles sued. While the dispute remains unresolved in the courts, Los Angeles is allowed to keep using Kern County as its toilets’ toilet.

And there’s more to come for the Central Valley.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County announced that it had purchased 14,500 acres in Kings County — also in the Central Valley — where it would be allowed to send hundreds of thousands of tons of sludge and yard waste.

Some material could start arriving at the end of next year.


Central Valley residents tire of receiving L.A.’s urban waste, Los Angeles Times

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

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California’s Central Valley is tired of taking Los Angeles’ shit

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