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Only an improbable “March Miracle” replay can now rescue San Joaquin Valley cities and farms from a calamitous fourth year of drought. I had our farm’s deep well pump tested recently, fully expecting to measure a water level decline of 30 feet after Madera’s unprecedented summer of bone-dry canals. When the technician announced a 10-foot drop and 200 gallons per minute (GPM) flow loss, I counted T&D Willey Farms lucky. Days later, I rumbled north in company of less fortunate drought victims on a bus caravan to Sacramento where our State Water Resources Control Board considered a petition to allow modest increases in amounts of water pumped south from the Delta’s winter storm flows. While three Federal and State fish and wildlife agencies, Senator Diane Feinstein and five Valley congressmen endorsed emergency relief, all-powerful water board Executive Director Thomas Howard had single-handedly put the kibosh on any additional flow for desperate southerners. Water supplicants on that Nisei Farmers League-sponsored bus ranged from a Spanish-speaking 45-acre Orange Cove citrus grower whose 1,000 GPM well now barely burps a quarter of that flow, to one Westside operation’s water broker who wheels and deals to keep 18,000 acres of vegetables and orchards under irrigation. Westlands Water District, denied federal supplies for which growers pay $150 per acre-foot (AF), begs, borrows and anything but steals supplemental supplies from well-endowed districts around the state. Like restaurant menus’ market priced seafood, Westlands provided what supplemental emergency supplies could be procured last season to district farms at $900 per AF. My bus mate’s employer, uniquely blessed with voluminous deep wells tapped into good quality water, doubles his money, reselling supplemental supplies to more desperate neighbors for near $2,000 per AF. Big almond yields at historically high prices allow orchardists on the Darwinian Westside to digest extortionist water costs, or to sink million-dollar 2,000-foot deep wells that often produce brackish, crop-killing water. Water-starved Westside interests are invading Fresno and Madera’s eastside where hundreds of long-idled acres now sprout cannery tomatoes, a crop not seen hereabouts for over a quarter-century. Such were not the tales trotted before the Water Board that day; caravan organizers saw to it that hungry, out of work farm laborers whose plight engenders deeper sympathy dominated our delegation’s few allotted podium minutes. As I write, federal officials announce zero water for 2,000,000 Valley acres. Farms and homes will gather bitter harvests, unless we believe in miracles. –Tom Willey
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