Monday, March 24, 2014

California Drought:  Central Valley Farmland on Its Last Legs

Jack Mitchell sold about 3,000 acres of his Tulare County ranch a decade ago to federal officials trying to find out whether imperiled farmland could be returned to nature. Studies point to the need to retire more acreage. (Credit: Michael Short, The Chronicle) Click to enlarge.
Even before the drought, the southern San Joaquin Valley was in big trouble.

Decades of irrigation have leached salts and toxic minerals from the soil that have nowhere to go, threatening crops and wildlife.  Aquifers are being drained at an alarming pace.  More than 95 percent of the area's native habitat has been destroyed by cultivation or urban expansion, leaving more endangered bird, mammal and other species in the southern San Joaquin than anywhere in the continental U.S.

Federal studies long ago concluded that the only sensible solution is to retire hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland.  Some farming interests have reached the same conclusion, even as they publicly blamed an endangered minnow to the north, known as the delta smelt, for the water restrictions that have forced them to fallow their fields.

The 600,000-acre Westlands Water District, representing farmers on the west side of the valley, has already removed tens of thousands of acres from irrigation and proposed converting damaged cropland to solar farms.

Many experts said if farmers don't retire the land, nature eventually will do it for them.

California Drought:  Central Valley Farmland on Its Last Legs

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