Jeannette and Jerry Neuberger occupy a quarter acre oasis in the midst of drought-induced calamity. During my time in the Central Valley I heard many tales of drought. Some of them implored God for rain; others damned Obama and Pelosi. Some people wanted more dams, others more pipelines. Everyone wanted rain, or even better, snow in the Sierras.
The most common fable I heard goes something like this: ‘we grow the nation’s crops, so the country has to provide us the water the we need, and by the way it’s uncomfortable in this desert, so we also need to keep our lawns and foliage.’ As I witnessed less conservation in the Central Valley than in the Pacific Northwest or along the California coast, my empathy dwindled to a trickle.
Jeannette and Jerry were like a summer shower that dissipates heat. Sure, we talked about water: it’s topic number one in the Central Valley. But Jeannette and Jerry spoke from an informed, rather than emotional center. They knew the history of 1972’s Central Valley Project Improvement Act and the State Water Project. They acknowledged the political shortcomings that continue water flow into Kern County’s desert despite agreements to only open the spigot when there’s surplus. They’re flummoxed by agreements that provide water at $200 per acre-foot that can be resold for $6000 per acre-foot. They’re frustrated by how the water interests line politician’s pockets to continue unsustainable policies. They understand, “there will be no solution to this water problem until we stop framing the desert.” Yet, they’re not immobilized by these realities.
Jeannette and Jerry live in a charming 1920’s era bungalow a few blocks from downtown Lodi. They’ve added solar on the roof and built a sizable greenhouse in the backyard. They’re a net electricity generator – their electrical meter runs backwards – and they grow a good amount of food in a tight urban space. Their steps toward self-sufficiency may be tiny compared to the mammoth political, economic, and climate issues that determine the regions water woes. But at least they are doing something.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I’m hoping more people live like we do with our own garden and solar. But I’m concerned about the initial investment. When I look at the cost of land and real estate today, I don’t see how they are going to do it.” – Jerry