The current drought is exacerbating decades-long problems that have been ignored in the California Central Valley. Over farming is causing water levels to drop precipitously in aquifers. An impermeable layer of clay prevents minerals and salts in irrigation water from draining away. Over years, it builds up, making farmland less useful. Finally, the dreaded “California snow” appears, a light covering of salt on the soil. When this happens, the land is dead, nothing can grow on it.
One solution is to retire hundreds of thousands of acres of ailing farmland from production and then attempt to rehabilitate or convert to other uses, such as solar farms.
Retiring lands before they reach that point “has just got to be the highest priority for California,” said Tom Stokely, a water policy analyst for California Water Impact Network, an environmental group. “We don’t have the water to be irrigating these poisoned lands. We’re having a hard enough time keeping the good lands in production.”
This isn’t a question of if, but when.
Many experts said if farmers don’t retire the land, nature eventually will do it for them.