The Drought’s Strange Bedfellows

Some family farms are teaming up with agribusiness to push for a peripheral canal. Plus, NUMMI's eco-problem.

When news broke last week that an El Nino was forming in the
Pacific, it raised hopes that California’s three-year drought may
finally end. But the cyclical warming of ocean waters may be moderate,
and not produce the prodigious rainfall that accompanies an intense El
Nino event. If that’s true, it will be bad news for small family farms,
many of which grow organic crops.

The last three winters have severely harmed small farmers in the
Central Valley. According to David Runsten, policy director of the
Community Alliance with Family Farmers, small farms along the
southwestern valley have left land fallow because of the water
shortage. “It’s a very difficult problem,” he said.

The drier-than-normal conditions also have prompted small farmers to
take opposing sides in the war over whether to build a peripheral canal
around the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta. Many farmers south of the
Delta have teamed up with Southern California developers and
agribusiness to push for the canal, because they want a more reliable
water supply. Family farmers in the northern Central Valley, by
contrast, are working with environmentalists to kill the proposal,
saying it will further starve the fragile Delta of fresh water. As for
the alliance, Runsten says it’s not taking sides. “We’re pushing for
water conservation,” he said. “We think everybody in California has to
start conserving water all the time.”

NUMMI’s Environmental Mess

Toyota will be deciding over the next few months whether to close
the NUMMI auto plant in Fremont. And it turns out that one of the
pivotal concerns for the auto maker is the costly environmental
clean-up that will be required if it closes the plant and puts the
property up for sale. According to a report in The Wall
Street Journal
last week, a Toyota executive said the environmental
problem at New United Motors Manufacturing Inc. is so severe that the
property has “almost zero asset value.” In other words, the cost of
clean-up could exceed the value of the 367-acre property once it’s rid
of toxins.

Fremont City Attorney Harvey Levine said he was not aware of any
governmental assessment of NUMMI’s environmental problems, nor does he
think that Toyota and its former partner, General Motors, were
negligent. “My assumption has always been that there will have to a
major clean-up,” he said. “It’s a very large facility that has used
lots of oil and paint over the years.”

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