California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim.
On a hot day in late June, a few hours before dawn, a man driving a red, white and blue pickup truck pulls up to an irrigation ditch on rural California’s dry farmland. He gets out and begins emptying a black plastic container out onto the dirt. In seconds, it’s full: four blue plastic containers, holding a total of 6,000 gallons. He returns, emptying more of the containers. He takes them to a pickup truck. Then he heads back to his pickup. He drives slowly and slowly toward his fields.
This is what many in the Central Valley farm industry call dry land irrigation: A four-container bale of water is dumped, as one would when irrigating a field. On this farm, they are used to irrigate fields of canola, alfalfa and other crops, as well as hay, alfalfa and other ruminants and poultry.
But what they are actually getting out of these four containers is a precious life, and that life now seems in jeopardy, with drought and wildfire threatening to upend crop farming in California, threatening to ruin the state’s water supply, and threatening to deprive all of our neighbors in the Central Valley of what could be an invaluable resource.
In the meantime, the man driving this truck doesn’t seem worried one bit. He thinks he’s done his job.
“People are going to do what they want,” he tells himself. “They’re going to irrigate if they want to.”
For the past month, California’s farmers have been fighting a particularly long, hot summer in a drought that has already taken a toll on the state’s water reserves. In the state’s central San Joaquin Valley, where most farm water comes from, growers are fighting to keep their fields irrigated and their fields green.
In the meantime, their groundwater supplies are slowly dying, and the land is starting to burn.
When the region’s fires start, they burn for days and weeks, before finally