As California’s big cities fail to cut back on their water use, rural communities are already out

Now, the eight-acre farm in West Goshen, Calif., which Briggs handed over to his son, Ryan, in the 1970s, is dry and fallow. His son and granddaughter bring water from sources for drinking and bathing. They go to town to do their laundry, says Briggs.

In recent years, families have gone from relying on water provided by government programs, which they say tastes terrible, to carrying containers of water from the homes of neighbors – neighbors who shared what they left. are willing to do.

Briggs, 72, still remembers when the family estate had a flourishing orchard. When he was a teenager, he planted pecans and orange trees, while his father grew alfalfa and raised cows and sheep.

“Now, it’s all shit,” Briggs, a lifelong California resident, told CNN. “Central California is dying. We are becoming a wasteland. A hot and dry wasteland.”

“And god forbid, I don’t know how long this drought is going to last,” he said. “Believe it or not climate change is here, and California is a poster child for it.”

As cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco struggle to cut back on their water use – water that is excessive Comes from the state’s reservoirs – Rural Californians who depend on groundwater have already been exploited. They live with daily worries that they will not have enough water to bathe or drink.

Gary Briggs says his family’s well in West Goshen ran dry several years ago.

Ruth Martinez is a clean water advocate who lives in the small town of Ducor.

Governor Gavin Newsom urges urban residents and businesses to reduce water consumption by 15%, but in March was up 19% in cities Compared to March 2020, the year in which the current drought began. With the state running out of water, unprecedented water cut It went into effect this week for city dwellers – in parts of Southern California, residents have been asked to cut consumption by 35% to avoid a complete ban on water later in the summer.

The scorching summer is also drawing near. Water evaporates from the soil on hot days, which makes droughts worse – a major cause of never-before-seen groundwater depletion. Not only has it not rained enough to fill the reservoirs, the wind is seeping water from what is left on the ground.

Then there is contamination from industry.

Ruth Martinez, who lives in the small, unincorporated town of Ducor in Tulare County, has been advocating for clean water for decades. In the city of about 600 people, mostly Latino residents, their drinking water was contaminated with nitrate, a fertilizer commonly used in agriculture.

After several complaints from residents, Dukor received a state grant in 2015, allowing the community to dig a well nearly 2,000 feet deep to access clean water. But it only operated for three years, when Martinez said a new well established shop across the street from his residential well, again threatening his own water supply.

“We didn’t know about it until we saw the digging equipment, and when we saw it was drilled, and everything was well on site,” Martinez told CNN. “The drought has actually made it worse, because we don’t have [water] The pressure was on us. We had a problem with water quality and we had to buy bottled water from the store and stuff like that.”

Dukor's community well is believed to help provide access to clean water.
A new commercial well was dug in an open patch of land at Dukor.

Martinez, a member of Ducor’s water board, says she is raising concerns from her neighbors who want to know what the government is going to do. She tells CNN that despite dwindling supplies, residents blame agriculture and industry for exacerbating the crisis by pumping more groundwater.

Briggs, whose family farm is in Tulare County, also points to nearby dairy farms, which he says are drilling deeper wells and pumping more water out of the ground, leading to less water for residential use. Comes out.

Groundwater under rural communities in central California had not recovered from previous droughts when it struck again. current one, And drought conditions in California have rapidly re-emerged this spring. Not only did the state not get enough rain this winter to break into the drought, snow in winter was much lower than average, leaving little to melt and flow into rivers, reservoirs and groundwater.
California's drought could cut the state's hydroelectric power in half this summer
Already, the San Joaquin Valley – where Tulare County is located – is in US Drought Monitormost severe category.

Kelsey Hinton, communications director for the Community Water Center, a group advocating for affordable access to clean water, said the problem is complex and can be traced back to decades-old planning policies.

“The first thing that’s important to understand is that these communities have been historically disinvested from the very beginning,” Hinton told CNN. “They weren’t even included in the general plan for the county, or considered as viable communities that would continue to grow over time. But these are people’s homes, it’s their neighbors, they have decades of life and community.” And they want to grow and they want to have the necessary infrastructure for that.”

Briggs says nearby dairy farms – such as those across the street from his property – are digging deeper wells and pumping more water out of the ground, leaving less water for residential use.
This private well property on Briggs has been dry for more than a decade.

Water has long been considered an asset in California, meaning property owners can pump as much water as they want. This has become a problem in the changing seasons. During droughts, water was pumped out of the basin faster than it was refilled.

State Sustainable Ground Water Management Act, was passed in 2014, aimed at balancing excessive pumping – especially from agriculture – and depleting aquifers. Still, well drilling permits have increased “with little oversight,” Hinton said.
In March, Newsom released a executive Order Which strictly prohibits local agencies from granting well drilling permits to agriculture and industry, in line with a 2014 bill until they conduct a comprehensive review of how drilling will affect homes around them. But Hinton says the order includes temporary measures that will last only until the drought ends. water advocates banking a bill to pass The state legislature which will permanently strengthen the oversight of the permission process.

Martinez, who worked with Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement, is a leading voice in the effort to get that bill passed quickly, as climate change intensifies the effects of drought.

“We need to work with legislators and the various communities affected to find out what we can do to prevent certain things from happening,” he said. “All the problems I’ve had with water have frustrated me. What keeps me going is that I’ve only seen little improvement.”

Briggs said that compared to how different the Central Valley is today when he was a kid planting trees on his family’s farm, there’s no doubt that the climate crisis is taking a toll.

“We’re in this part of the state that’s slowly dying, because no one is taking us seriously,” Briggs said. “I tell my grandchildren that as soon as you get out, leave this area, go somewhere where there is water, because this place is dying.”

Ryan Briggs visits his family's water tank in West Goshen.  They add a small amount of water to the tank every week.

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