Recent years have been trying for California as it weathers its worst drought in 1,200 years. Perhaps the hardest hit have been the state’s farmers and the local economies that rely on them.
In images from the western San Joaquin Valley, photographer Randi Lynn Beach shows the plight of farmers aching for more water — a need she says folks in urban areas sometimes fail to grasp.
“I don’t think people think that much about where their food comes or where their water comes from,” Beach told The Huffington Post, adding that she hopes that those who view her photos get a sense of what the drought has done to the land and labor in rural areas. “I really wanted to start getting a dialogue going about what we can do when [water] is such a limited resource.”
Beach’s photos spotlight communities west of the San Joaquin River, where experts she interviewed for a short documentary say farmers are struggling.
“There is a priority as to who gets water based on contracts that are signed with the federal government,” Don Villarejo, an agriculture economy and rural society researcher and consultant, said in the documentary Beach released with the photo series. “… If there’s a year like the present, where we’ve lost 20 to 25 percent of our yield due to a drought, because the folks on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley were the last to develop their projects, they get only what’s left after everyone else gets their share, and so the crunch is really coming to the west side farmers.”
The conditions surrounding California’s contentious water politics are perhaps nowhere more apparent than in Westlands — a stretch of farmland featured in some of Beach’s photos that critics say probably shouldn’t be used as farmland. Roughly half of the 600,000-acre stretch of land is badly drained and laden with naturally occurring salts and the toxic trace element selenium that have washed down from the coast. The parched, sun-soaked terrain was once considered uninhabitable desert, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Those debates get complicated, and there are always more layers to peel back, Beach told HuffPost.
“I’m an artist, not an activist,” she said.