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Latest News in Mendota, CA
CDFW Prepares to Welcome Dove Hunters to Wildlife Areas Sept. 1
California’s dove season opens Wednesday, Sept. 1, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has prepared crop fields at many of its most popular wildlife areas throughout the state to attract doves and provide productive dove hunting opportunities for the public.“It looks like it’s going to be a good opener in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Ben Lewis, Upland Game Coordinator for CDFW’s Central Region, which includes the Los Banos Wildlife Area, the Mendota Wildlife Area, the North Grasslan...
California’s dove season opens Wednesday, Sept. 1, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has prepared crop fields at many of its most popular wildlife areas throughout the state to attract doves and provide productive dove hunting opportunities for the public.
“It looks like it’s going to be a good opener in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Ben Lewis, Upland Game Coordinator for CDFW’s Central Region, which includes the Los Banos Wildlife Area, the Mendota Wildlife Area, the North Grasslands Wildlife Area and other popular dove hunting hotspots. “We’ve seen really strong numbers from our dove banding efforts. The weather is holding right now. We haven’t had any cold snaps that would move the birds out. The birds that are here should stay here for the opener.”
All of CDFW’s most popular wildlife areas for dove hunting will be open to the public during the first half of the dove season, which extends from Sept. 1 through 15, 2021. The season will be closed from Sept. 16 through Nov. 12, and then open again from Nov. 13 through Dec. 27. Food plots planted for dove typically consist of wheat, safflower or sunflower. The food and habitat benefit a variety of different bird and wildlife species throughout the year beyond dove. Drought conditions may have impacted crop production in fields that weren’t irrigated. Preseason scouting is strongly encouraged where allowed.
CDFW areas planted with crops and open to public dove hunting Sept. 1 include Upper Butte Basin, Gray Lodge, Oroville, Yolo Bypass, Spenceville, North Grasslands, Mendota, Los Banos and Imperial Valley wildlife areas, and the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve. Several CDFW wildlife areas have dove hunting maps available at their individual web pages. Printed maps are available at some check station locations.
Entry procedures vary from area to area, so hunters are advised to call ahead in preparing for their hunt.
Portions of the Los Banos and North Grasslands wildlife areas in Merced County, including the Salt Slough and China Island units, are restricted to special permit holders until noon on Sept. 1, after which they open to public hunting the remainder of the first dove season.
Southern California’s Imperial Valley offers some of the best dove hunting found anywhere in the nation. Imperial County provides additional public hunting opportunities on various fields planted with agricultural crops to attract doves. A map of the Upland Game Fields of Imperial County (PDF) is available on CDFW’s website.
CDFW also offers a number of special dove hunts throughout the first and second dove seasons on public and private land through a lottery on its Online License Sales and Services website. Descriptions of these hunts are available at CDFW’s Upland Game Wild Bird Hunts and SHARE Program pages.
Due to safeguards and limitations necessitated by COVID-19, CDFW asks all hunters to please respect physical distancing from other hunters and adhere to all site-specific rules and regulations.
In ongoing monitoring efforts, preliminary results show a strong statewide dove banding effort in 2021. More than 2,500 doves have been banded compared to the 1,861 birds banded in 2020. Hunters who encounter a banded bird are asked to report it to the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Lab (reportband.gov). Banded birds are part of important biological monitoring and reporting of bands completes the process. After reporting, hunters will receive a certificate of appreciation identifying the general capture location, estimated age of the bird and other information.
Mourning doves are among the most numerous of any upland game bird species. California hunters harvested almost 700,00 mourning doves during the 2020-21 hunting season. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the total mourning dove population among seven western states, including California, at more than 33 million birds.
The Sept. 1 dove opener marks the traditional start of California’s hunting season and typically brings together multiple generations of family and friends to participate in one of California’s most anticipated hunting seasons of the year.
The dove opener often is the first hunting season for new hunters who have recently completed Hunter Education. Doves concentrate in and around agricultural areas and can provide fast, challenging action. Minimal equipment is required beyond a valid California hunting license, an upland game bird validation (for hunters 18 and older), a shotgun of almost any gauge, nonlead ammunition, sun protection and plenty of water to stay hydrated in typically hot weather. Doves, delicious on the table, are many hunters’ favorite wild game species to eat.
California is home to several species of dove. Mourning dove and white-winged dove have a daily bag limit of 15, up to 10 of which may be white-winged dove. The possession limit is triple the daily bag limit. There are no limits on spotted dove and ringed turtle doves. Hunting for Eurasian collard-dove is legal year-round with no limit. A Dove Identification guide (PDF) is available at CDFW’s website.
Shooting hours for dove begin one-half hour before sunrise and end at sunset.
Land is sinking as groundwater levels drop. New research shows how California could fix it
As pumps hum on wells and send vast quantities of water flowing to farms in the San Joaquin Valley, the dropping water levels are leaving underground spaces in layers of gravel, sand and clay, causing the ground to collapse and sink.Satellite measures have tracked the worsening problem, known as land subsidence. In parts of the valley, the land has been sinking ...
As pumps hum on wells and send vast quantities of water flowing to farms in the San Joaquin Valley, the dropping water levels are leaving underground spaces in layers of gravel, sand and clay, causing the ground to collapse and sink.
Satellite measures have tracked the worsening problem, known as land subsidence. In parts of the valley, the land has been sinking about 1 foot each year. The shifting ground has damaged canals and wells, and threatens to do more costly damage in the years to come.
In a new study, researchers at Stanford University examined the sinking in one area of the San Joaquin Valley over 65 years and projected that subsidence will likely continue for decades or centuries, even if aquifer levels were to stop declining. They also found, however, that if aquifers recover with a significant rise in water levels, that could slow or stop the sinking within a few years.
“To get this subsidence problem under wraps, we really have to get the water levels to recover,” said Matthew Lees, a doctoral student in geophysics and the study’s lead author.
The research brings new insights about how the ground can continue to sink over a long period even if groundwater levels stop declining. Previously, there had been a widespread assumption that if water levels in an aquifer stabilized with reduced pumping, that would resolve the subsidence problem, Lees said.
“What we’re showing here is that unfortunately, even if you flatten out the water levels, you have this so-called deferred subsidence that continues,” Lees aid.
And where the sinking continues, the aquifer permanently loses space for holding water. Aboveground, the sinking land buckles concrete canals, cracks roads and other infrastructure, and can rip apart the casings of wells.
Parts of the valley floor have collapsed about 20 feet over the last 65 years, including about 10 feet over the last 20 years as repeated droughts have added to the strains on groundwater, Lees said.
The study also found if groundwater levels rise in an area, the water table doesn’t have to recover completely to curb the sinking.
The research, which was published this week in the journal Water Resources Research, involved data from satellite measurements, well records and water-level measurements dating to the 1950s in an area near Hanford, where farmlands depend on water from wells.
The data allowed Lees and his colleagues to develop a model to examine subsidence in the area, including details such as the layers of sediments and clays that collapse with dropping water levels. Describing the underground compaction, they compared it to a sponge that has been squeezed.
The researchers found that water levels in the area had dropped about 30 meters by the end of California’s last major drought, which lasted from 2012 to 2016. Then came a very wet year in 2017, and water levels rose about 10 meters. And the annual rate of subsidence slowed by more than half, from 35 centimeters to about 15 centimeters per year.
“So a kind of rough rule of thumb is that the water levels should recover about a third of the amount that they fall,” Lees said, to significantly curb the rate at which the ground surface is dropping.
Land subsidence was one of the chronic problems that California legislators sought to address when they wrote the state’s 2014 groundwater law. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, is aimed at addressing overpumping and halting declines in water levels over the next two decades.
SGMA also requires local agencies that are charged with combating the declines to adopt sustainability plans and avoid a list of “undesirable results,” one of which is “significant and unreasonable land subsidence that substantially interferes with surface land uses.”
What counts as “significant” land subsidence may be open to interpretation but will depend to a large degree on the effects, including the damage that sinking ground is already causing or will cause to aqueducts or other infrastructure.
Many of the local groundwater sustainability plans that have been written so far assume that if water levels stop going down, subsidence will stop, said Rosemary Knight, the senior study author and a geophysics professor at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.
“But that’s not true,” Knight said. “There is, in fact, deferred subsidence that will continue for decades, beyond the point at which you stop the water levels going down.”
In examining trends over decades in this part of the San Joaquin Valley, she said, “at no point in those 65 years did subsidence stop, even during the water level recovery period. It slowed, but it didn’t stop. So that’s an insight into the targeted effort needed to raise water levels.”
In areas where the potential harm points to a need to slow or stop subsidence, Knight said, the findings show that replenishing groundwater through what are called managed aquifer recharge projects could accomplish a great deal.
“How can we possibly bring these water levels up? With a very aggressive program of recharge,” Knight said. “The future of California is likely to be more intense floods and more intense droughts. So let’s be ready, during the wet years, to capture any excess surface water and get it underground.”
She said the study also adds to research that can help in prioritizing areas where surface water should be routed so that it can percolate into the soil to replenish aquifers.
“Let’s be ready to say, this is where we want to get it underground. This is an area where if we can recharge the groundwater system in this area, we can slow or halt subsidence,” Knight said.
In other research, Knight has been involved in mapping areas where permeable, course-grained alluvial soils in channels carved by ancient glaciers provide favorable conditions for spreading surface water to replenish aquifers. She said that research can help in prioritizing sites for groundwater recharge projects.
The reasons for addressing the chronic declines in groundwater levels go beyond the damage that sinking ground can unleash on infrastructure.
According to state data, more than 4,000 dry household wells have been reported since 2015, and the number of dry wells has risen dramatically over the last year. The state received reports of 975 household wells that ran dry in 2021, many in farming areas in the Central Valley.
An additional 258 dry wells have been reported so far this year.
Where there is land subsidence, it’s a symptom of an area that is “out of balance,” where much more water is being extracted than is being returned through recharge, Knight said.
Knight and other researchers have also found a strong correlation between land subsidence due to overpumping and increased concentrations of toxic arsenic in drinking water.
“The whole mechanism of draining clays that causes subsidence also can draw arsenic out of the clays,” Knight said. “Subsidence for me is like this alarm going off that there are problems here related to water quantity and water quality.”
The state Department of Water Resources recently reviewed plans submitted by local groundwater agencies and told agencies in farming areas across the San Joaquin Valley that their plans are “incomplete” and will require changes to address widespread risks of more wells going dry, as well as other problems.
State officials told dozens of local agencies in 12 groundwater basins, 10 of which are in the San Joaquin Valley, that they will need to submit revised plans in July.
Some advocates of small-acreage farmers have also expressed concerns about how the groundwater law is being implemented. Several groups, including Clean Water Action and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, said in a report this month that their review of 14 local groundwater plans found few agencies have been considering the effects on farmers who cultivate smaller acreages and typically have shallow wells. The groups said while large farms are regularly drilling deeper wells, small farms with shallower wells have been going dry.
Knight said the modeling work in the study, if done in areas throughout California, would yield vital information to help guide management and assess options for tackling land subsidence.
The researchers said in the study that the San Joaquin Valley has an aquifer system with three layers: an upper aquifer, below that a layer known as the Corcoran Clay, and then a deeper aquifer. They found that pumping from the lower aquifer is worse for triggering subsidence, indicating that pumping water from the upper zone is a better option to limit the sinking.
Sinking ground has already damaged some canals and aqueducts. The researchers said this damage has required repairs costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
The state announced in March that $29.8 million is being spent to repair segments of the Friant-Kern Canal, which has been damaged by land subsidence, and is also planning work on others, including the Delta-Mendota Canal, San Luis Canal and the California Aqueduct.
Plans for building the high-speed train system through the valley also call for building through areas where the ground is sinking, which Lees said poses serious concerns.
The California Aqueduct, which delivers water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farms and cities in Southern California, is not in a zone of major subsidence at present, Lees said, but a subsidence “bowl” has been creeping closer to the aqueduct.
“If that starts to get hit, then you have really major problems,” Lees said.
“If the state doesn’t get a handle on this, the key water-delivering infrastructure of the state will either cease to be functioning or will require such expensive repairs year on year to keep functioning, such that to all intents and purposes, you can’t get water around the state in the way that we’ve come to rely on,” Lees said. “So it’s really imperative that the state gets a handle on this.”
Mendota High keeps knocking Riverdale out of section playoffs
The Fresno Beehttps://www.fresnobee.com/vida-en-el-valle/deportes/article258571298.html
The road to the the CIF Central Section Division IV boys soccer title still goes through Mendota High, as No. 2-seeded Riverdale High discovered Friday night in a quarterfinal match.The visiting Aztecs welcomed a header from junior Amilcar Pineda on a corner kick with 15 minutes left in the game and another goal from Wilberto Amador to crash Riverdale’s title hopes for the fifth time in the last six seasons.The 2-0 victory at Jack King Field to a semifinal match Tuesday (Feb. 22) against Fowler (18-5-1) in a Division IV d...
The road to the the CIF Central Section Division IV boys soccer title still goes through Mendota High, as No. 2-seeded Riverdale High discovered Friday night in a quarterfinal match.
The visiting Aztecs welcomed a header from junior Amilcar Pineda on a corner kick with 15 minutes left in the game and another goal from Wilberto Amador to crash Riverdale’s title hopes for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
The 2-0 victory at Jack King Field to a semifinal match Tuesday (Feb. 22) against Fowler (18-5-1) in a Division IV draw that was rocked Thursday by top-seeded Farmersville High’s 2-0 loss to McLane High.
McLane travels to Selma on Tuesday.
First-year Mendota head coach Luis Del Río, following a scoreless opening half, added an extra forward to put the pressure on Riverdale, whose only loss coming into the match was 1-0 to a strong Kerman High squad.
“We saw their formations. That’s why we put more attackers in the second half, and that gave us the victory,” said Del Río.
Mendota’s 20-6-1 record is misleading because a couple of the losses were given when the team couldn’t get to a tournament because of fog.
“We’ve had a great season,” said Del Río, whose team was seeded 10th.
He called Riverdale a team that plays “with heart and passion.”
“They are tough. We don’t know why, but we always win.”
Riverdale coach Gabriel Arámbula is trying to figure out how to get past Mendota.
“I felt pretty confident that we were going to score, so their first goal came like cold water,” said Arámbula. “They executed that corner kick and left us down 1-0 with 15 minutes to go.”
Riverdale, which has been led all season by senior forward Ismael González and his team-leading 25 goals, couldn’t get shots past Mendota goalkeeper Ángel Torres.
The Cowboys, who end the season with a 22-2-1 record, had to push the offense to search for the equalizing goal.
Arámbula said Mendota deserved to be seeded as high as fourth in Division IV.
“They are really good,” said Arámbula. “This division is pretty tough. It’s up the air for anybody.”
Pineda was in the right spot on the corner kick by Adrián Álvaro.
“I knew he was going to send it to the middle, so I just went there and put my head on it,” said Pineda.
El gobierno de Bukele rectifica traspié al inaugurar consulado de El Salvador en Fresno
Los Angeles Times en Españolhttps://www.latimes.com/espanol/california/articulo/2022-06-06/el-gobierno-de-bukele-rectifica-traspie-al-inaugurar-consulado-de-el-salvador-en-fresno
FRESNO —La creciente comunidad salvadoreña en el Valle Central de California recibió con algarabía la inauguración del consulado en la ciudad de Fresno, una petición hecha a los gobiernos anteriores que no fue escuchada y que, en sus inicios, la misma gestión de Nayib Bukele tom&oacu...
La creciente comunidad salvadoreña en el Valle Central de California recibió con algarabía la inauguración del consulado en la ciudad de Fresno, una petición hecha a los gobiernos anteriores que no fue escuchada y que, en sus inicios, la misma gestión de Nayib Bukele tomó con displicencia, pero que terminó por corregir tres años después.
“Para mí es una alegría”, manifestó Mayra Ayala, quien acudió la tarde del domingo a preguntar por los requisitos de pasaportes, cuando tan solo habían transcurrido pocos minutos de haberse inaugurado esas oficinas. “Para ir a Los Ángeles y San Francisco está un poquito retirado, ahora vamos a tener todo cerquita aquí”, aseguró la joven que vive a 6 millas del nuevo consulado.
Las autoridades estiman que en esta región habitan alrededor de 35 mil personas de ascendencia salvadoreña. Si bien la mayoría está concentrada en Mendota, ciudad ubicada a 35 millas al oeste de Fresno, igual hay inmigrantes de esa nación en localidades como Kerman, Firebaugh, Madera, Salinas, Tulare, Riverdale y Visalia, entre otras.
“Esto viene a ser un gran beneficio no solo a la comunidad en Mendota, sino a todo el Valle Central”, admitió Lourdes Zavala, indicando que sus compatriotas tenían que manejar 235 millas a Los Ángeles o 158 millas a San Francisco, en donde está el consulado más cercano. Otros optaban por pagar transporte. “Les cobraban mucho dinero”, agregó Zavala.
José Rodríguez, residente en la ciudad de Madera, se mostraba exultante. No es para menos, se siente parte del triunfo de la comunidad que empujó este esfuerzo en diferentes niveles, para que hubiese un consulado de El Salvador en la zona, pues acompañó al ex-concejal de Mendota, Víctor Martínez, en el cabildeo político.
“Anduve con el señor Martínez apoyándole [en la gestión] para que se abriera el consulado aquí antes de la pandemia”, recordó Rodríguez, quien llegó al Valle Central en 1984. “Gracias a Dios ya se nos dio”, dijo emocionado el oriundo de Sensuntepeque, quien acudió al evento junto a su esposa y a dos hijos.
En el acto de apertura, que tuvo una duración aproximada de una hora, Cindy Mariella Portal, viceministra de Diáspora y Movilidad Humana de El Salvador, calificó lo ocurrido como “un hito histórico” en donde finalmente se reivindica a los migrantes que sostienen la economía de su país, pero que en muchas ocasiones solo han sido utilizados por la clase política.
“Nuestra diáspora fue marginada, la diáspora fue maltratada”, admitió la funcionaria que desde julio de 2020 está al frente de la institución que vela por los salvadoreños en el exterior, asegurando que ahora todo es diferente. “Cada acción y solicitud es escuchada, prueba de ello estamos acá dispuestos a atender a más de 35 mil salvadoreños”.
Portal se ha mostrado receptiva a las preocupaciones de la comunidad, pero al principio del mandato de Bukele los funcionarios que atendían a la diáspora tenían otra actitud.
El primer golpe lo sufrieron los habitantes de Mendota en noviembre de 2019, cuando la cónsul general nombrada por Bukele en Los Ángeles, Alicia Villamariona, reveló a Los Angeles Times en Español que las ventanillas consulares y los consulados móviles quedaban suspendidos.
Esa decisión cayó como balde agua fría y causó malestar entre los líderes locales, porque eran servicios que ayudaban a los habitantes del Valle Central y otras regiones del sur de California, los cuales se habían implementado desde diciembre de 2014 en la gestión de María Mercedes López Peña, cónsul general en Los Ángeles, nombrada por el presidente Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
“Esto es como una cachetada”, dijo Guillermo García en referencia a la clausura de los servicios anunciados por Villamariona, destacando que la ventanilla consular que él había dirigido en Oxnard funcionó desde principios de 2015.
“Están golpeando a las personas que les dieron el apoyo para que estén en el poder, muchos votaron por Nayib Bukele, yo estuve organizando a los campesinos y la mayor parte de ellos estaba con Bukele”, subrayó en su momento García, representante de la Unión de Campesinos Salvadoreños.
Sin embargo, los titulares de la Cancillería de El Salvador recapacitaron. Menos de 72 horas después de la publicación de este periódico, anunciaron que los consulados móviles regresarían en enero de 2020, pero debido a la pandemia se implementaron hasta el 2021.
Martínez, ex-concejal de Mendota, dijo durante la inauguración del consulado ante una enorme concurrencia que la solicitud se presentó durante muchos años. “Nunca se nos escuchó la petición”, se lamentó el oriundo del municipio de Victoria, en el departamento de Cabañas.
La gestión comenzó en el 2014. En medio de la pandemia, en el 2020, el joven empresario siguió tocando puertas de funcionarios de Bukele y ante diputados del partido Nuevas Ideas, respaldado con otros miembros de la comunidad.
“Cuando se suspendieron los consulados móviles estuvimos hablando a diferentes lugares”, dijo en entrevista a Los Angeles Times en Español.
“Se hizo cabildeo”, aseguró Martínez, residente en Mendota.
El recorrido fue largo, pero la apertura del consulado es resultado de la lucha de la comunidad.
“Me parece excelente, porque hay muchísima gente que lo necesita”, aseveró Emérita Barrera, residente en la ciudad de Kerman, ubicada a 17 millas al oeste de Fresno.
El consulado se encuentra ubicado en el 49 W. Alluvial Avenue. Son cuatro suites que se han rentado, en donde tienen su propio estacionamiento. En principio, la oficina cuenta con tres asistentes administrativas, a cargo del cónsul Wilber Alemán, quien antes de llegar a Fresno laboró en las sedes consulares de Chicago y Los Ángeles.
“No está el personal completo”, dijo el cónsul.
“Se va a reforzar a corto plazo”, aseguró Alemán.
El primer día de atención al público será este lunes, 6 de junio. De acuerdo a las autoridades, junto a los pasaportes y el resto de servicios consulares van a apostar por promover la cultura, gastronomía, deportes e inversiones, entre otros rubros.
“Lo cumplimos y en menos de un año”, le dijo la viceministra Portal al ex-concejal Martínez al momento de saludarlo en el pasillo del consulado de El Salvador en Fresno.
En la visita a Mendota, realizada en agosto de 2021, la funcionaria prometió que haría realidad la creación del consulado. Y así fue.
“Significa un triunfo”, dijo Martínez en entrevista con este periódico, complacido porque finalmente alguien les escucha y ahora sus compatriotas tienen el consulado a la vuelta de la esquina. “Se ha saldado la deuda que tenían con la diáspora”, dijo el líder comunitario a la concurrencia.
En esta gira, la viceministra Portal ha dejado inaugurados cuatro consulados: Fresno y San Bernardino, en California. Asimismo, otro en Minnesota y uno más en Arkansas. De igual forma, la funcionaria anunció que desde este lunes comenzará la gestión para abrir dos nuevos consulados en California, los cuales van a funcionar en Sacramento y San Diego.
EL DATO Consulado de El Salvador en Fresno Dirección: 49 W. Alluvial Avenue Horario: De lunes a Viernes, de 8 a.m. a 4 p.m. Citas: 1-888-301-1130
California’s ‘Cantaloupe Center’ struggles to reign supreme as drought pummels agriculture across the West
MENDOTA, Calif. — This small town in California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley advertises itself as the “Cantaloupe Center of the World.” But as relentless drought punishes California and the West, the land is drying up and the cantaloupes are disappearing.Farmers have let large portions of their melon fields lie fallow as they struggle to get by on dramatically curtailed water supplies. Some are giving their vines barely enough water to stay alive in an effort to conserve. In other cases, fields that have a...
MENDOTA, Calif. — This small town in California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley advertises itself as the “Cantaloupe Center of the World.” But as relentless drought punishes California and the West, the land is drying up and the cantaloupes are disappearing.
Farmers have let large portions of their melon fields lie fallow as they struggle to get by on dramatically curtailed water supplies. Some are giving their vines barely enough water to stay alive in an effort to conserve. In other cases, fields that have already been planted will never get harvested because there’s not enough water for the fruit to survive.
“We could have fields that could burn up because of lack of water,” said Joe Del Bosque, who grows organic melons on a 2,000-acre farm near here and sells to high-end grocers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Del Bosque has cut back his melon crop by 20 percent this year.
“Melons are very moisture-sensitive and when they need water they will decline very quickly,” he said. “They basically shrivel up and die.”
Climate change and a devastating heat wave have decimated towns like Mendota this summer, and the carnage stretches far beyond fruit. Farmworkers are struggling to find employment, working fewer hours or driving long distances for jobs. Fewer workers means less spending in the community. Less money for farm suppliers, restaurants, and the small shops where people wire money to family members in Mexico and Central America. Without the water everyone needs to survive, a sense of anxiety pervades about what the future will bring.
“There’s very little work,” said Teofrido Fraga, 65, a longtime farmworker who used an old straw cowboy hat to shield himself from the baking afternoon sun at an auto repair shop operated by Mendota’s mayor, Rolando Castro.
Fraga, a native of Michoacan, Mexico, said that he has labored in the local fields for more than 40 years, but it’s getting harder to find work even as he himself slows down. Still, “while I can move, I say I have to work,” Fraga said in Spanish.
At a small grocery and wire transfer store nearby, Hortencia Aceves, 52, said that sending money back home is an obligation for local residents, not a luxury they can do without. “People have to send money to their loved ones — they have to eat,” said Aceves. “So maybe instead of $100 it’s $80.”
Population growth has slowed in Mendota, a onetime boom town thrumming with life and surrounded by lush green fields. Dusty streets give way to parched brown tracts, and agriculture packing plants sit empty and padlocked on barren lots. Mayor Castro predicted that without more water, Mendota and other nearby rural communities will turn into “ghost towns” within the next five years.
“We need people here. I don’t want to be a ghost town,” Castro said. “If there’s no water, where are they gonna work?
Versions of Mendota’s story are playing out all over California and the West as the region parches and sizzles under nearly unprecedented drought and heat. Farmers are bulldozing citrus groves and grinding up the trees because they can’t water them, walking away from acres of farmland, selling off herds of cattle, and abandoning annual crops like tomatoes and onions to focus on nut trees they’ve sunk years of money, labor and water into already. It’s a menu of bad options that hurts growers and the communities they are part of, while hiking the prices of food at grocery stores.
“When you have rising temperatures, you’ve got early snowmelt, you’ve got low rainfall, you’ve got wildfires. It is a toxic mix for California agriculture,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said while visiting a farm near here earlier this month. “And for that matter for all of American agriculture because of the role California plays.”
Vilsack said in an interview that the federal government’s agriculture aid programs, many designed to address temporary problems, must be re-examined to fit what is emerging as the new normal: droughts, heat waves and wildfires that are much lengthier, fiercer and more routine than in the past.
“I think we as policymakers need to understand that this is the new reality that we’re facing,” Vilsack said. “Are the programs we have appropriate, and if not, how do we change them?”
Ninety-five percent of California — which grows around two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts, including some 75 percent of U.S. cantaloupes — is now categorized as being in “severe drought” or higher, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center’s U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The percentage of the West in the worst category, “exceptional drought,” has never been higher since the monitor began in 2000.
For farmers like Joe Del Bosque, the immediate goal is to somehow make it through this growing season by juggling an array of strategies such as planting fewer crops, pumping unsustainable quantities of groundwater and purchasing water at five times its normal cost from neighbors who have some to spare. But the real concern is what happens if there is not enough snow again this winter to refresh California’s water supply, and the drought continues — something meteorologists are already predicting. Many don’t know if they’ll be able to survive another dry year at all.
“There’s a few times where I just want to go and crawl into a hole, I just don’t know what to do,” said Del Bosque, 72, who started his farm in 1985 and has grown it painstakingly into a profitable enterprise that employs several hundred workers. Del Bosque and his wife have six daughters and hope to hand their farm over to the next generation. Whether that will be possible is now an open question that keeps Del Bosque up at night worrying about where the water will come from, and if there will be enough.
“Everything I’ve worked for the last 36 years is on the line,” Del Bosque said during a break from the grim work of inspecting melon fields that need more water and almond trees that are on the brink.
“This year will do damage, is doing damage, for a lot of the family farms,” said Dave Puglia, head of Western Growers, which represents farmers in California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. “If the situation does not improve and we have a similar situation next year, we’ll lose a large number of family farms and they won’t come back because there’s no cushion. ”
With the bleak realities of climate change now impossible to ignore, Vilsack and others are calling for the West’s water stakeholders to come together for new solutions about how to become even more efficient with water, and do more with less. At the large ranch in Helm, Calif., that Vilsack visited this month, owner Don Cameron has worked for years on a complex system of pumps aimed at capturing floodwaters and diverting them into the soil.
This year there is no floodwater to collect. But even as climate change brings tremendous drought, it can also produce the other extremes: raging storms, and winters that have less snow but more rain — precious water that must be captured and put to use.
“I firmly believe we will have floodwater again, because with climate change you experience not only the increased temperatures and the droughts,” Cameron said. “The flooding should also be more intense.”
A drought emergency was declared for most of the state of California in May, with most farmers receiving none of their usual irrigation water allotment. Because of that, farmers have turned to more expensive groundwater, pumping an additional 6 or 7 million acre-feet of water over usual amounts from their wells this year — an amount that far exceeds what the aquifer can replenish, experts say. Earlier this month, California’s State Water Resources Control Board announced it was reducing the amount of water farmers can draw from rivers and streams, further eliminating places for farmers and ranchers to turn.
That decision stirred controversy, some directed at Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election next month, and has urged California residents to conserve water but not imposed any mandates. Central Valley roadways are dotted with “Recall Newsom” signs. The governor’s office had no immediate comment on farmers’ complaints.
Experts say California will see a drop in agricultural production this year, especially on lower-value crops that farmers may have chosen not to grow in favor of higher-value products like almonds, pistachios and grapes. Some crops, such as leafy greens, may migrate out of the state to places with more hospitable climates.
Although it’s difficult to quantify the economic impact of this year’s drought while it’s underway, Western Growers says that drought conditions between 2014 and 2016 in California resulted in the fallowing of a half-million acres of farmland and losses of $3.8 billion in statewide economic activity. At the same time, the state is contending with other climate change-related disasters. Last year alone, storms and wildfires caused at least $560.5 million in crop damage in the state that went unreimbursed, according to USDA data.
Over the last two decades, three out of four years in California and the American West have been drought years, with a half-century warming trend superimposed on that, said Brad Rippey, a USDA meteorologist at the World Agricultural Outlook Board and one of the authors of the U.S. Drought Monitor. He said the dramatic warming trend is “too much for the system to handle” and that the country is already seeing movement of crops and changes in farming techniques as a result.
“The problem in the West becomes water supply — you can get water from the sky, ground or reservoirs,” Rippey said. “When you have drought, you can’t get it from the sky; chronic drought and you can’t get it from the ground.”
Back in Mendota, Mayor Castro and other longtime residents of the area remember when the surrounding fields were verdant and the abundance of cantaloupe provided work for anyone who wanted it. In recent years cantaloupe production in California and the United States has slowed, and many cantaloupes sold in the United States are now imported from Central America — a trend this year’s drought threatens to accelerate.
As for Mendota’s claim to be the “Cantaloupe Center of the World” — a slogan still emblazoned on the municipal crest — Castro acknowledged that “I can’t say that anymore.”