Reaping Riches in a Wretched Region: Subsidized farming and its link to perpetual poverty.

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I have recently completed a law review article for the Golden Gate University law school environmental law journal which explores the possible connections between industrialized subsidized farming in the San Joaquin Valley and the grinding poverty which also exists in our Valley. I present that article here and solicit your comments and criticisms. If you notice in reading the article that I referenced 436 congressional districts, please be aware that I know there are actually only 435. The poverty study I referenced also included the District of Columbia, and the study itself used the figure 436. I should have made that clear in a footnote. The article is being distributed with the permission of Golden Gate University. Lloyd.
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  C ARTER  P RINTER  V ERSION 10/4/2009   6:23   PM 5 ARTICLEREAPING RICHES IN A WRETCHEDREGION: SUBSIDIZED INDUSTRIALFARMING AND ITS LINK TOPERPETUAL POVERTY  L  LOYD G.   C   ARTER * I. I  NTRODUCTION  In the last few decades, well over a billion dollars in taxpayer aidhas been provided to a few hundred growers in the Westlands Water District (Westlands), 1 which is part of the San Luis Unit 2 of the U.S. * Lloyd G. Carter, President of the California Save Our Streams Council, was a reporter for UnitedPress International and the Fresno Bee from 1969 to 1990 covering water and agriculture issues inthe San Joaquin Valley. He won several statewide journalism awards in 1985 for his coverage of theagricultural drainage water poisoning of the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge. He graduated fromSan Joaquin College of Law in 1994 and now works as an appellate attorney for the California Attorney General‘s Office, Criminal Division. He formerly served as water law instructor at San Joaquin College of Law. The opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author. Hewould like to thank Tracy Cook for her assistance in the research and editing of this article. 1 R  ENEE S HARP &   S IMONA C ARINI , E  NVTL .   W ORKING G ROUP  , S OAKING U  NCLE S AM :   W HY W ESTLANDS W ATER  D ISTRICT ‘ S  N EW C ONTRACT I S A LL W ET (Sept. 2005), available at The value of Westlands‘ federal water subsidy was calculated at $110 million a year in 2002, and new contracts will likely increase the value of the subsidy by tensof millions of dollars per year.  Id.   ―At the current va lue of the annual water subsidy, plus millionseach year in federal crop subsidies, taxpayer-financed benefits to Westlands will total billions of  dollars over the life of the contract.‖  Id.   2 Westlands Water District, Panoche Water District, Pacheco Water District, BroadviewWater District (now annexed by Westlands), and San Luis Water District made up the srcinal SanLuis Unit. See G OV ‘ T A CCOUNTABILITY O FFICE ,   GAO-08-307R, C ALIFORNIA ‘ S C ENTRAL V ALLEY P ROJECT ,   R  EIMBURSEMENT OF C APITAL C ONSTRUCTION C OSTS FOR THE S AN L UIS U  NIT 1-3   (2007), available at The entire unit is approximately 700,000 acres,  C ARTER  P RINTER  V ERSION 10/4/2009   6:23   PM 6 GOLDEN GATE UNIV. ENVIRONMENTAL LAW J. [Vol. 3Bureau of Reclamation ‘ s Central Valley Project (CVP) 3 in CentralCalifornia. The CVP is the largest publicly funded water-managementsystem in the United States, 4 and the Westlands is the biggest agriculturalirrigation district in America. 5 At nearly 1000 square miles, theWestlands is still dominated by a few pioneer dynastic families althoughcongressional backers of the San Luis Unit half a century ago promisedthat 6100 small family farms would be created if Northern Californiariver water was brought to the desert on the West Side of the San JoaquinValley (Valley). 6 The promise was never kept, and the larger landownersare still in control.While Westlands, considered one of the nation ‘ s most politically powerful irrigation districts, has produced an undisputable bounty of cotton and field crops over the decades in western Fresno and Kingscounties, irrigation of this mineral-laden desert has also created hugeenvironmental problems, and the wealth generated has not trickled downto farmworkers or the surrounding poverty-stricken communities.The Twentieth Congressional District, encompassing Westlands anda portion of the western San Joaquin Valley down through Kings andKern counties, has the dubious distinction of being the poorest of the 436congressional districts in America. 7 The region is rife with social  Id. at 1, with Westlands at over 600,000 acres. Westlands Water Dist., Who We Are, visited Mar. 22, 2009). 3 The Central Valley Project, encompassing the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, ―[c]onsists of 20 dams and reservoirs, 11 powerplants, and 500 miles of major canals, as well ascondui ts, tunnels, and related facilities.‖ Bureau of Reclamation, Central Valley Project GeneralOverview, (last visited Feb. 6, 2009). It delivers, onaverage, about seven million acre-feet of water per year, irrigating three million acres, about one third of California‘s farmland.  Id. ; see also Westlands v. United States, 337 F.3d 1092, 1095 (9thCir. 2003) (offering an overview of the CVP and Westlands). 4 Cent. Delta Water Agency v. United States, 306 F.3d 938, 943 (9th Cir. 2002). 5 Dean E. Murphy, $100 Million Deal Proposed for Central Valley Farmers , N.Y.   T IMES ,Dec. 12, 2002, at A32, available at 6 See   S. 44, A Bill to Authorize the Secretary of the Interior To Construct the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project, California, To Enter into an Agreement with the State of Californiawith Respect to the Construction and Operation of Such Unit, and for Other Purposes: Hearing  Before the Subcomm. on Irrigation and Reclamation of the S. Comm. on Interior and Insular Affairs ,86th Cong.   39 (1959) [hereinafter   Hearing on S. 44 ] (statement of Rep. Sisk). See also Mary LouiseFrampton, The Enforcement of Federal Reclamation Law in the Westlands Water District: A Broken Promise , 13   U.C.   D AVIS L.   R  EV . 89, 90 (1979), available at issues/Vol13/vol13_no1.html (recounting how the ―guarantee of widespread benefits convinced Congress to appropriate funds for the San Luis Unit . . . [including promises that there would] be 27,000 farm residents, 30,700 rural nonfarm residents, and 29,800 city dwellers.‖ )  Id.   7 See S ARAH B URD -S HARPS ,   K  RISTEN L EWIS &   E DUARDO B ORGES M ARTINS ,   T HE M EASURE OF A MERICA :   A MERICAN H UMAN D EVELOPMENT R  EPORT 2008-2009, at   3   (2008)  C ARTER  P RINTER  V ERSION 10/4/2009   6:23   PM 2009]  REAPING RICHES IN A WRETCHED REGION  7 problems ranging from high unemployment 8 to gang and drug problems,high teen-pregnancy rates, 9 an appalling high school dropout rate (25-35%), 10 and other side effects of poverty. 11  It is the thesis of this brief history of the region that federalirrigation and farm-subsidy policy in the San Luis Unit since the 1960shas exacerbated grinding poverty while enriching a few dozen of thefactory farming dynasties to the detriment of the environment, the human population of the region, small growers, and the public fisc. There arefew farms under 500 acres. Rule is by the rich. Indeed, in Westlands,which is a public agency, the growers with the most land have the mostvotes in electing directors to the district ‘ s board. The late Justice WilliamO. Douglas called this voting control by the big growers a ― corporate political kingdom undreamed of by those who wrote our Constitution. ‖ 12  This Article shows how a long American tradition of helping smallfarmers has, in the past few decades, morphed into a massivegovernment aid program for large industrialized agribusinessoperations  —  a program that not only drives small farmers off the land butalso perpetuates rural poverty because agribusiness requires hugenumbers of low-paid, seasonal harvest workers, many of whom areundocumented workers who choose to stay in the United States.Part II reviews the history and evolution of publicly subsidized (utiliz ing a ―human development model‖ based on a broad array of socio -economic indicators). 8 For instance, the unemployment rate in San Joaquin County was 16% in July 2009,compared to the California average of 12%. C AL .   E MP .   D EV .   D EP ‘ T , S TOCKTON M ETROPOLITAN S TATISTICAL A REA (Aug. 21, 2009), available at$PDS.pdf  .   9 The San Joaquin Valley has the highest teen pregnancy rate in California, with 68.5 out of every 1,000 young women ages fifteen to nineteen giving birth. Hans P. Johnson, Pub. Policy Inst. of Cal., Maternity Before Maturity , 4 C AL .   C OUNTS 11,   16   (2003),   available at cacounts/CC_203HJCC.pdf. 10 K  ERN C OUNTY  N ETWORK FOR  C HILDREN ,   R  EPORT C ARD 2009   16 (April 2006), availableat The provided dropout rateis for Kern County, but it is likely that other San Joaquin Valley Counties have similar dropout rates.   11 For instance, the San Joaquin Valley has one of the largest child poverty rates in theUnited States, with between 52% and 62% of children in various Kern County locales living in poverty, and similar rates for other counties in the Valley. H ANS P.   J OHNSON &   J OSEPH M.   H AYES ,   T HE C ENTRAL V ALLEY AT A C ROSSROADS :   M IGRATION AND I TS I MPLICATIONS 18 (2004), availableat 12 See Salyer Land Co. v. Tulare Lake Water Basin Storage Dist., 410 U.S. 719, 742 (1973)(Douglas, J., dissenting) (dissen ting from the Court‘s approval of ―one acre, one vote‖ in public water districts, thereby allowing the biggest landholders to retain their stronghold on voting power).Although the case centered on a district south of Westlands in the Tulare Basin  —  a district thencontrolled by cotton king J.G. Boswell  —  Westlands has similar voting rules under California law. See C AL .   W ATER  C ODE §   41001   (Westlaw   2009)   (―Each voter may vote in each precinct in which any of the land owned by him is situated and may cast one vote for each one hundred dollars ($100),or frac tion thereof, worth of his land . . . .‖).    C ARTER  P RINTER  V ERSION 10/4/2009   6:23   PM 8 GOLDEN GATE UNIV. ENVIRONMENTAL LAW J. [Vol. 3farming in the Valley. Part III discusses the creation of the Westlandsirrigation district as representing the archetype of large ― factories in thefields ‖ agribusiness. Part IV addresses the environmental drainage problem created because of the Westlands‘ irrigation project and itsimplications for the surrounding communities. Part IV identifies theregion ‘ s social problems and illustrates how federal subsidies havecontributed to these deficiencies.II. G OVERNMENT A SSISTANCE TO F ARMERS :   A   L ONG H ISTORY    And as time went on, the business men had the farms, and the farms grew larger, but there were fewer of them. Now farming became industry, and the owners followed Rome,although they did not know it. They imported slaves, although they did not call them slaves: Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Filipinos. Theylive on rice and beans, the business men said. They don ’  t need much.They wouldn ’  t know what to do with good wages. Why, look how theylive. Why, look what they eat. And if they get funny  —  deport them. And all the time the farms grew larger and the owners fewer. . . .. . . . And it came about that the owners no longer worked on their farms.They farmed on paper; and they forgot the land, the smell, the feel of it, and remembered only that they owned it, remembered only what they gained and lost by it.The Grapes of Wrath , John Steinbeck, 1939 13   The federal government has always helped American farmers, even before there was a United States. While fighting the British on the EastCoast, George Washington, commander of the Revolutionary Army, senttroops west in the late 1770s to conquer and exterminate the IroquoisConfederacy and to seize native lands west and north of the Allegheny-Ohio River systems in western New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. 14  Those rich lands, which had been farmed by Native Americans for countless generations, 15 were then promised to landless young soldiers asan inducement to stay in uniform. 16 After the war, gentleman farmer  13 J OHN S TEINBECK  ,   T HE G RAPES OF W RATH 298-99 (Penguin 1987) (1939). 14 See B ARBARA A LICE M ANN ,   G EORGE W ASHINGTON ‘ S W AR ON  N ATIVE A MERICA 37-39,109-10, 147-48 (2005) (internal citations omitted). 15 See id. at 3, 38. 16 See id. at 38, 147-48.
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