why the rain is not enough
Yes, it finally rained in Northern California. But that does not negate one simple, important, all-consuming fact: Saturday’s flash flood warnings aside, we still have no water. We have NO water. We have no WATER.
The human body is 65 percent water. Herbaceous plants are 90 percent water. In outdoor education classes, we are taught the rule of threes: one can last three weeks without food; three days without water; three hours without shelter (in extreme temperatures); three minutes without air. We farmers generally consider food to be pretty important, and the fact that water (3 days or perish) ranks above food (3 weeks or perish) in the Survive The Apocalypse Rulebook suggests the immutable importance of that miraculous molecule, H2O.
Oh, and as farmers, there’s that one small detail we are hyper-aware of: it takes water to make food. Which is why, even if you don’t live in California, you should care about our drought. California produces over half of all U.S. grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables. According to the CDFA, in 2012, the state’s 80,500 farms and ranches received a record $44.7 billion in sales. That makes California the number one agricultural state in the nation. We bring home 11.3 percent of the entire nation’s agricultural income (cash farm receipts, both livestock and crop). In California, food is a billion dollar business, and the food we grow quite literally feeds America.
Here on Foggy River Farm, I admit, we don’t feed America. We feed Sonoma County and sometimes the greater Bay Area. We are small potatoes, a four acre blip on the radar of the California farm economy. But to us, our ability to grow food is everything. Farming represents our income, our livelihood, our community, and our own food security as well. Which is why, when we walk over the hill from our house to the irrigation pond built by Emmett’s grandmother decades ago, the bridge jutting out of it feels something like a compound fracture breaking through skin. The bare banks feel like razor burn. The hills — though finally muddy from this week’s rain — still look more like July than February.
Y’all, this is serious. How serious? You decide. Here are some photos I took for my brother and sister-in-law’s engagement session in early March 2013. I re-framed the shots (with Emmett and Miss G, since the happy couple has since moved to San Diego) right before this current rainstorm to provide a perspective on just how dry things are here.
It’s February. We have one month to go to provide that perfect “one year difference” shot. While our recent storm is great, consider how miraculous rainfall will have to continue to be in the next month in order to get us to where we should be — or rather, where we were last year, which was actually a very dry year, all things considered.
This rainstorm dropped 3 inches of rain, 6 inches, even a foot — depending on where you’re recording in the county. That is wonderful and we are thrilled. The grass will begin to grow; the cover crop may make it after all. But when you look at the irrigation pond, you’ll realize that even one foot of rain isn’t going to cut it. And even more importantly, while one massive rainstorm may help the creeks to rise and the ponds to fill, it’s not going to recharge the groundwater in the way that consistent, winter-long rain will: with a sudden storm, the ground quickly saturates and most of the water shunts off in the form of flash floods. And guess what? While the irrigation pond provides water for the back vineyards on the property, our farm — along with most of Sonoma County — relies on groundwater.
So please, don’t be fooled by the mud. At present, we are half a foot of rain short of the worst drought anyone can remember (1977). In other words, we are still in smack dab in the middle of the worst drought in living memory. Continue to wash your cars, clean your windows, misplace your umbrellas and raincoats, dance and pray for rain. Because we still need it.
(Yes, that’s the same dog, as a 4-month-old puppy on the left and a grown up yearling on the right.)