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21st March 2023
...CONTINUED from Part 1

DeJong is now in the midst of a major refurbishment. The goal? Reduce waste.

Old dirt ditches are on the way out. Irrigation canals are now being lined with concrete to reduce seepage. Rusty old gates have been replaced by marine-grade steel, operated remotely. Heís starting to cover canals with solar panels, to limit evaporation while also generating electricity.

Throughout the state, solar panels are going up over parts of fields; that limits excess sun exposure and evaporation.

In an office, DeJong points at a map. One location, he says, was losing 70 per cent of its water; now itís losing, at most, five per cent, in the summer heat.

At the University of Arizona, Brierley says technologies can help save water: drip irrigation, soil-monitoring equipment, and wireless communication in farms that can communicate the exact amount of water every crop needs.

A longtime farmer, Brierley is now an engineer working on agricultural technology: ďI think thatíll be the solution to a lot of our problems.Ē

Farm communities are looking to Washington for funding. Recent federal laws have set aside billions for new water technology in the southwest.

This region has been a farming powerhouse for more than a century. According to local lore, in the 1800s, a passerby during the California gold rush noticed something special about that stateís Imperial Valley: how perfectly rich soil, under warm, sunny skies, happened to be sitting near the river, but on lower ground. If only theyíd dig a canal and let gravity do its work, water would flow down and make this place an agricultural marvel.

In the ensuing decades, the infrastructure was indeed built, capped by the monumental Hoover Dam in the 1930s. Ever since, water rights here have operated on a first-come-first-served principle, and the oldest agricultural areas have priority: southern California, and a pocket of southern Arizona.

Thatís where so many of those mid-winter veggies come from. But now this region, too, faces potential cuts under that looming federal emergency plan.

Fear not: Lettuce-growing will continue. Itís a lucrative crop, requiring little water. So is broccoli. But if this region takes a water cut, as expected, there will still be consequences.

Farmer Matt McGuire says heíll have to reduce his growing acreage. He rattles off a range of ripple effects he expects, should he curtail production: Less alfalfa, which means more expensive cattle feed and dairy products in this region; less durum wheat, which means fewer supplies for pasta-makers; and, he said, farmers scrambling to replace lost revenues from fallow fields. That, he figures, will likely lead to a 10-per-cent markup on goods like lettuce.

ďItís gonna drive up the cost of vegetables,Ē said McGuire, chief agricultural officer of JV Smith Companies, which supplies major food importers in Canada and the U.S. For a glimpse of what that might look like, look no further than your own grocery store.

Last fall, a lettuce shortage caused by drought and disease sent prices spiraling.

In a sense, every story is connected. Take migration. The world is seeing a historic volume of human movement, driven by conflict, crime and climate crises.

It so happens that one of the well-trod footpaths into the U.S., used by migrants, lies amid irrigated farms. In the spot where Arizona, California and Mexico all touch, migrants walk across, touch American soil and claim asylum.

As they enter the U.S., they walk right over a dry riverbed.

This used to be the Colorado River, before it was diverted at the Mexican border in the early 1900s. Now itís dust. Dust, surrounded by green fields.

And the race is on to keep the dust from spreading.