The Imperial Valley of southeastern California is a remarkable creation of a modern industrial-hydraulic society. One might argue that the story of the modern western United States begins there. It was ambitious Imperial Valley land speculators shortly after the last turn of the century who, as much as anyone else, drove the development of what finally became the Colorado River Compact, which divided up the Colorado’s water on paper, and Hoover Dam, which made the paper plan a hydraulic reality. Which is why what is happening there today is so remarkable.
An article last week in the Imperial Valley Press outlines the plan to restrict, for “the first time in recent history”, water for farmers served by the massive Imperial Irrigation District:
Farmers would have 5.13 acre-feet of water available per acre of farmed land, down from the average of six acre-feet currently.
These are the people who control 3.1 million acre feet per year of Colorado River Water – the largest single chunk of Colorado water on anyone’s table. The Valley was quite literally uninhabitable desert when the IID was formed in 1911. Brawley, in the heart of the Imperial Valley, averages 2.6 inches (66 mm) of rain a year. But with the All America Canal flowing into the valley from the Colorado River, it’s an agricultural paradise. If you’re in the United States, chances are good that the next bit of lettuce you eat comes from there.
But even in the Imperial Valley, there is a growing tension between growing municipal demand and existing agriculture. Imperial County proclaims itself “California’s growth area”. Even they are shifting water from farms to cities.