Farmers in California’s Central Valley get a harsh lesson on ecological limits, but will they learn?

In today’s edition of the Guardian, Rory Carroll describes how farmers in California are drilling ever deeper to postpone what may be inevitable: the re-desertification of our nation’s most productive agricultural region. Unfortunately, the drought situation is so severe and mismanagement of water resources so entrenched, that we may be witnessing the beginning of widespread ecological and socio-economic collapse in California’s Central Valley. It’s tragic when so many livelihoods are on the line, but after decades of overexploitation of fragile water resources for agricultural development, California has only itself to blame.

If too many farmers resort to such desperate measures, an already dire situation will only get worse…ground water sources will be irreversibly depleted with far-reaching effects on the environment and economy of California. This is not even considering the uncertain, but predictable damage from widespread use of fossil water that may be highly saline and/or laden with heavy metals and other compounds toxic to surface ecology.

This is the time for our government–at both state and federal levels if necessary–to intervene, with regulations, financial assistance, and guidance founded on ecosystem-based Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), to help farmers and non-farmers alike transition to a new reality of water scarcity.

If water management continues to be prioritized for economic outcomes, the gains (if any) will only be short lived and California’s agricultural sector will collapse…end of story. Policies must make a clean break from past and current practices, which continue to support consumption beyond what is ecologically sustainable. IWRM could help reorient management to current ecological realities while restoring damaged ecosystems to health. California’s future depends on it.