By Trudy Wischemann
When I travel north, I normally take Highway 99. It keeps me in touch with our neighbors: the smaller communities like ours based in nuts, tree fruit, vines and field crops rather than the Mediterranean orchards of citrus and olives. Of course, it also exposes me to the latest developments around our cities, sometimes a rude awakening.
But lately I’ve had reasons to swing over to I-5 instead, which I used to avoid for its barrenness and lack of human settlement. It took me a little time to realize that the stretch of I-5 from Highway 198 north to Highway 152, which (heading west) circumnavigates San Luis Reservoir through Pacheco Pass and drops us into the verdant Santa Clara Valley — that entire stretch of I-5 traverses the Westlands Water District.
I was surprised by the amount of green along my route. Vast plantings of almonds line the road where tumbleweeds used to grow until they became uprooted and bounced along the highway. In small triangles of unused or unusable land, the previous landscape was evident, with a few groves of dead tree stumps remaining from the drought. In those triangles were signs that read “Congress Created Drought” in lettering reminiscent of the Dust Bowl.
I almost expected to see skulls of dead cattle and abandoned Model A’s nearby, but the signs were really a form of rural street theater. Something for the news photographers to focus on, after interviewing a solemn farmer who’d just bulldozed his old, beloved almond grove.
I decided to investigate. By going to the Westlands Water District web site, it is possible to examine the crop reports for every year since 2000. In those years, the number of acres planted in almonds has tripled, from 29,178 to 87,882. There was only one year with slightly fewer acres of almonds harvested than the year before (2017 saw 30 less acres harvested than 2016.) Acres of harvested pistachios saw an even greater per cent increase, from 5,131 acres in 2000 to 44,103 acres in 2017. Other permanent plantings almost tripled in that same time period, from 21,381 acres to 60,211. More than half of that 60,211 acres are trees and vines that in 2017 had not yet come into production.
What this means for us, the taxpayers, is that we will be begged 2.6 times more and harder to send taxpayer-supported, taxpayer-developed water in short supply to a district intended to receive supplemental water supplies only. With their political power Westlands will continue to get from Congress the concessions they need to keep water flowing their way, with or without new dam construction. Their few, large landowners will export those easy-shipping nuts to China or wherever, and reap what we’ve sown with water needed elsewhere.
Methinks we need some signs along I-5 that read “Congress Created Boondoggle” on those miles of green almond orchards.
Trudy Wischemann is an old-timey researcher who still uses paper and pen to line up her columns of numbers. You can send her your I-5 sightings c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.