California’s drought has been a popular topic in the news recently, and rightly so. But it has been disappointing to see so much coverage that looks at just one part of the state (usually the Central Valley) and makes generalizations about California, water policy and agriculture as a whole. Over and over again, I see them try to describe the state as a monolith, when the reality is that the issues surrounding the drought are quite different in different parts of the state.
California’s farm economy is the largest in the nation, but really it is a composite of several farm economies which vary in many ways… most notably in terms of crop mix and water source. Any breakdown of these regions is going to be somewhat arbitrary and subjective, but please allow me to nominate eight agricultural sub-states.
The nominees are: (drumroll)
The Desert: Centered around Imperial County, the Desert is a big supplier of winter time veggies, fed with Colorado River water.
The Southland: San Diego, Orange, and Riverside counties are supplied with water from multiple directions, but the costs can be staggering.
The Central Coast: Ventura, SLO and Monterey counties produce veggies, greens, berries, citrus and avocados, as well as some pretty nice wines. The region is largely self sufficient in terms of water, but supplies can be tenuous.
The Wine Country: Napa and Sonoma are dominated by the wine industry, making them a unique casein terms of water use and economics.
Baja Oregon: This area has more than just timber and recreational herbiculture…it is also the wettest part of the state, but remains vulnerable to drought due to minimal water storage.
The Wet Central Valley: From the Sacramento Delta north, this region is a key water exporter… a distinction not always cherished by its residents.
The Dry Central Valley: The most productive region in the nation… so long as it has the water.
The Sierras: More dryland farming here than elsewhere in the state. Why? Because I am including the Owens Valley, whose water goes to Los Angeles.
My thumbnail sketches of the 8 Californias are crude, probably even overly simplistic. Some readers may take issue with them. Some may draw the boundaries differently. Some may see 6 regions, or even 12. Fair enough… I welcome any discussion. But even this simple framework is a much more “fine-grained” look at California agriculture than is usually being offered for discussion about the very real crisis this state faces.
We can be at least this detailed, can’t we?