California Drought Means Thousands of Trees to be Cut Down

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It's not just climate change that is killing the trees, though that is part of it. With California now in its third year of drought, many farmers are taking a chainsaw to the trees in order to save their farms, reports NPR. Can that be right?Since the whole state is in a drought, not only is there not enough water falling directly on farms, but there is not enough water falling on reservoirs, and farmers are being alloted a fraction of the water from years past. The Westlands area of California, the biggest irrigated area, is among those telling farmers to brace for the worst. According to NPR, farmers are now choosing to cut their trees down.

This may sound counterintuitive. Surely the farmers know that things will get better next year, right? (or at least the year after that). Either way, soon enough that it's worth saving 30+ year old trees. Well apparently leaving the trees to dehydrate and die will bring diseases, bugs and a whole host of other problems that will likely kill of any of the trees that are staying alive. So, many farmers are having to choose who stays and who goes and chop down trees that took decades to get going. Leftovers from water supplies last year can be used to keep some of the trees alive this season, but certainly not the entire farm.

The Complicated World of California Water Politics

While climate change may have something to do with the drought, it's not the only explanation for the water loss. Last year, the government ruled that too much water was being pumped out of the Delta - the central water source for much of this region - thus causing an endangered fish (the Smelt) to become seriously threatened. To save the smelt, farmers and consumers this year are under strict water rations.

Added to that is the tricky workings of California legislation. In a sort of water hierarchy, the first districts to join the irrigation system for the area are the last to be cut off when resources get tight. Westland just happens to be one of the last areas to join, thus they are the first ones cut back this season. For a sector that provides several billion dollars to the California economy, farmers in this region are getting heated that they are the first ones to suffer.

California has nearly quadrupled in population over the last 50 years but has not doubled its water supply, meaning that current supplies are stretched thin as new people migrate to the area and new water needs arise. But people also need jobs, and as there are few to no crops to harvest this year, this also means that unemployment rates in the seasonal farming sector are skyrocketing this year.

One solution people say is to build a canal and divert some of the water to southern California - directly to the heavy farming regions. Others say that with a low to shrinking water supply, California won't be able to allot 80% of its water resources to farming any longer. If that is the case, then current farmers and migratory workers will have to find income somewhere else, in an economy that is already tight.

Some people say farming never should have been brought to the area of Westlands and other areas of southern California. Others say Los Angeles should never have been built - that the city has too many people in an area that is unsustainable when it comes to water. Still others say that there are just too many people period in California. Whatever the complaint, all of these water-use systems are in place now, all with demands for water. With endangered species dangers, and a shrinking snow-cap water supply due to climate change, legislators will have to determine not just how to get water to the masses this year, but also how to transition and wean current users off into new sectors of the economy for the long term, as some job sectors dry up. NPR
More on California's Water Crisis
California's Real Sustainability Problem: Not the Budgets, Water Resource Management
California Farmers to Forgo Planting: Sell Water to Thirsty Cities Instead
Weighing the Water Solution, Will a New Ground Water Replenishment System Drought Proof California?
Future of Water in the US West: A Bleak Projection of Climate Consequence

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