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"Congress created dust bowl"? What gives?
July 30, 2013 5:17 PM   Subscribe

I recently drove from LA to San Francisco and back along I-5 and I noticed that there's a ton of signs along the highway that simply say "Congress Created Dust Bowl." There are a few other signs that mention Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic politicians, but it was difficult to get the full picture of what the signs were talking about. Can anyone provide some context/background to what these signs are about?
posted by averageamateur to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In California, we drink whiskey and fight over water. One story. Another.

Pelosi may be a current(ish) target, but these fights have been going on for far longer than she's been in Congress.
posted by rtha at 5:23 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

They're campaigning against the giant tunnel that Gov. Brown wants to construct to take more water out of the Sacramento Delta and send it down to Los Angeles.

This is the stuff that makes NorCal natives talk wistfully about succession.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:29 PM on July 30, 2013

Farmers who had been provided irrigation through the Federally-funded Central Valley Project are now complaining that some of that water has been cut off due to requirements for listed species under the Endangered Species Act (specifically the Delta smelt, but possibly also the San Joaquin salmon population). Congress giveth, and Congress taketh away, although in this case it's the USFWS/NOAA who are responsible for the limits on available water. The Dust Bowl signs are addressed by rtha's articles; COBRA! and small_ruminant are addressing other political issues regarding water rights.
posted by one_bean at 5:33 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

(Those signs have been up since at least 2007, before the Great Depression and Brown's governorship).
posted by one_bean at 5:34 PM on July 30, 2013

Oh, you're right. The Dust Bowl folks seem to generally be Big Ag & in favor of the tunnel, so far as I can tell.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:34 PM on July 30, 2013

Forbes article
posted by notned at 5:38 PM on July 30, 2013

I remember those signs from my epic drive across California to Texas in early 2006, so I think they have been around for quite a while.

The basic gist is that a bunch of farmers live in what is, normally, high, hot, arid plains. They decided it'd be a brilliant idea to make a living farming there. And for a while, that works, because you can supply all the snowbirds in AZ & NM with food year round and are close to the huge, monied SoCal markets. But it depends on pumping water out of very deep aquifers. If those aquifers don't get replenished somehow (which they aren't, as is evidenced by the severe drought that most of the country is undergoing, especially the states north (and upstream) of these farms that are trying to operate in a desert, well, there's less water to go around. Everyone gets cut.

The farmers are protesting not being allowed to pump even more water out of the aquifer to maintain or expand their operations in times of historic drought. And they blame Congress, because Congress allows various government agencies that run . 'Cuz surely it's THE GUBMINT'S fault and couldn't possibly be theirs for farming in a desert!
posted by SpecialK at 5:41 PM on July 30, 2013 [14 favorites]

What I read was there are farmers in the Central Valley pissed water is being restricted. It is all the government's fault the socialized water program isn't delivering enough water. The problem with this campaign is it isn't a dust bowl situation so it has an AM radio crank vibe to it.
posted by birdherder at 5:46 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

The farmers are protesting not being allowed to pump even more water out of the aquifer to maintain or expand their operations in times of historic drought.

To be clear, there are two kinds of "pumping" going on in the Valley: (1) groundwater or aquifer pumping (i.e. wells under your own land) and (2) pumping water from the Delta (water that's downstream) back into the Valley. The former is essentially unregulated and is leading to land subsidence (see this possibly apocryphal photo) The latter is limited by needs for endangered fish species. Those limits could technically be overridden by an (unprecedented) act of Congress.
posted by one_bean at 5:51 PM on July 30, 2013

It is the battle over water rights. It is amazing to drive through there when it is all parched. It looks like Mars and you have to laugh at the idea that these people think there's plenty of water to go around. The place is really a near desert.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:14 PM on July 30, 2013

Saw signs in 99 when I travelled to CA.
posted by tilde at 6:17 PM on July 30, 2013

Cadillac Desert would be the context and background that you're asking for. It is the fundamental text about water issues in California. Basically, all of Southern California and the Central Valley are dependent on imported or otherwise limited water. As the supply of water for irrigation dries up, the distribution of the remainder becomes even more contested. The Central Valley, of course, is where the vegetables come from. And there are some cities in the vicinity as well. As a result: conflict!

While I haven't found a good synopsis online, the book should be widely available in public libraries and used bookstore near college campuses.
posted by stet at 6:53 PM on July 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

And if you want the full context you have to go back 100 years or so...
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:56 PM on July 30, 2013

Cadillac Desert is the uber-text for California water issues (for laypeople, anyway): I sometimes think everyone who moves to the state should be given a copy as they cross the border. It's so important.
posted by suelac at 10:08 PM on July 30, 2013

I recently did exactly that drive, and I surmised about what SpecialK said.

(FWIW this is not at all a "Norcal" thing -- I saw these signs between around Bakersfield and Fresno, so more Central/San Joaquin valley.)
posted by Sara C. at 11:17 PM on July 30, 2013

Yeah, those signs have been there for yeeears. The San Joaquin Valley's attitude toward water is...cute.
posted by town of cats at 12:38 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

(FWIW this is not at all a "Norcal" thing -- I saw these signs between around Bakersfield and Fresno, so more Central/San Joaquin valley.)
I also remember them on I-10 all the way from LA to El Paso.
posted by SpecialK at 10:12 AM on July 31, 2013

Well, it's a San Joaquin Valley thing (and even farther south) but NorCal in the sense of OMG STOP STEALING OUR DAMN WATER.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:19 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I remember seeing these the first time I did the SF->SD drive to start school at UCSD, in 1994.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 11:31 AM on August 1, 2013

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