Tuesday, September 30, 2014

National Geographic Magazine - When the Snows Fail

When the Snows Fail

By Michelle Nijhuis
Photographs by Peter Essick

The American West faces persistent drought, whether or not relief comes this winter. When will the hard choices be made?

For three generations the Diener family has farmed the same ten square miles of Central Valley dirt. In the 1920s they grew barley and alfalfa to feed the mules that powered the construction of Los Angeles. In the 1930s, as internal combustion replaced animal muscle, they grew cotton to bind rubber car tires.

Today, as California limps through its third year of drought, John Diener, his sons, and their land are getting into the cactus business.

Diener grows produce on as grand a scale as any in the Central Valley, cultivating hundreds of acres of tomatoes, almonds, organic broccoli, and other crops. But he thinks differently from most farmers here. Maybe it's that he's the youngest son of a youngest son, used to making the most of bad situations. Or maybe his years living outside the valley have given him a maverick's confidence.

Whatever the reason, he doesn't put much stock in more dams, fewer environmental restrictions, or any of the other measures his neighbors say will relieve the economic pain. Short-term fixes, he shrugs. "The real problem," he says as he navigates his pickup through the valley's grid of dusty roads, "is that there's just not enough water in the system."

Read the full story online.

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