Crazy from the Heat

Published on July 10th, 2009

An overcrowded California is running out of water and leadership
By Mark Cromer
July 10, 2009

As California heads into high summer, those sweltering weeks that burn like a fever from mid-July well into September, there is no indication that our state or federal leadership has yet to truly grasp the environmental catastrophe the Golden State now faces.

Perhaps, as the saying goes, they are “crazy from the heat.”

Less than two months ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein took to the Senate floor and introduced a so-called farm bill—known as AgJOBS—that would legalize millions of illegal immigrant field workers and their families and even more amazingly set the stage to import millions more exploitable laborers to work in near Gulag conditions.

“There is a farm emergency in this country,” Feinstein said in May. “Some of it is caused by drought, including out West where California has had, for three years, a very serious drought. But most of it is caused by an absence of farm labor.”

Yet just six weeks later, detailed news reports from California’s fertile Central Valley have confirmed that thousands of farm workers are now unemployed and driving hundreds of miles each day as they crisscross the state desperately looking for jobs in fields that are simply drying up.

A shortage of water has led to an abundance of even cheaper labor.

The perpetual state of severe drought—a water shortage that has loomed large across the American Southwest for far more than three years—that has turned farmers’ fields into a dusty tundra that may foreshadow a West Coast dustbowl.

Ominously, hydrologists are reporting that layers of dust this spring coated the upper reaches of the Sierra snowpack and accelerated its rate of melt and increased the pace of runoff—which leads to either releasing water early or risk flooding.

That’s hardly a problem based on an abundance of water arriving in our reservoirs too early, but rather the prospect of losing precious little runoff too soon.

“It creates a high-pressured game of Twister for water managers,” Thomas Painter, director of the Snow Optics Lab at the University of Utah, told the Los Angeles Times just two weeks after Feinstein introduced her bill. “They’re having to make decisions quickly to hold on to water [and risk flooding] or release water.”

Either way it is a loss and one we cannot afford.

California’s water supplies continue to dwindle even as its population grows, with only half of the expected runoff from the Sierra snowpack materializing in 2007. By last year, just as Los Angeles County closed in on 10 million people, the Sierra runoff was only 40% of normal.

If the oil supplies to the United States were suddenly cut in half or worse, you can bet the alarm would be sounded in Washington and state houses across the country. Yet as our critical water supplies in California literally evaporate before our eyes, our elected officials tout more growth, increased immigration and an expanded consumer-driven economy with all the zeal of men and women cocktailing at a Prozac party.

Yet this is not a new crisis; our most critical water sources that are vital to irrigate our farmland and satiate our thirsty cities have been dwindling for years—to very little alarm among the state’s leadership and prompting virtually no action to control the state’s growth and subsequent demand in response.

The emergency now unfolding throughout California’s farmland has nothing to do with a labor shortage and everything to do with nature’s spigot finally dripping dry.

And yet it is so politically incorrect—so absolutely verboten—to candidly assess the link between population growth (and the runaway development it fuels) and our domestic environmental crisis that even much of academia, where alleged intellectual freedom would seem to mandate an unvarnished assessment of the cold reality we now face, has not only joined the party, but has actually cried for the band to play on.

Just days before Feinstein rose to give her oratory in the Senate demanding more unskilled laborers for corporate agribusiness to exploit in California’s fields, Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser unleashed his figurative pen in the editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times to declare the solution to America’s environmental problems was not less people, but more—in California.

Glaeser tears into the few Californian environmentalists that have dared to speak against further population growth in the face of a shrinking water supply.

“They then emphasize that California’s water crisis makes further expansion impossible,” Glaeser wrote. “But today, the overwhelming majority of water in California is directed to farms, not people. Using 10% of the state’s agricultural water for new households could address the water needs of a massive increase in state population.”

Written like a true Harvard wonk ensconced in an ivy-covered tower that’s safely removed from the hard realities of an overcrowded California.

But just weeks after Glaeser wrote his treatise calling for even more population growth in the Golden State, which came only days before Feinstein rose in the Senate to claim that farmers in California were going bust as a result of not having enough impoverished, illiterate economic refugees from Mexico to exploit in the fields, the Los Angeles Times published a detailed account of how tens of thousands of farm workers are sitting idle and farmers are surrendering hundreds of thousands of acres of topsoil to a dusty oblivion as a result of a chronic drought.

This summer California stands at 40 million people and is on track to hit 60 million water-drinking bodies by mid-century, possibly sooner. We have less water, but we’re growing people like there’s no tomorrow.

There will indeed be a tomorrow. But thanks to Sen. Feinstein, Professor Glaeser and every other bon vivant whistling Dixie past our dry well, we may not wish it so.

Mark Cromer is a senior writing fellow at Californians for Population Stabilization.

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