This is not a scenario from some generic developing third world banana republic where environmental regulation is lax and the government/economy is weak and there is simply no wherewithal to provide safe drinking water to the public.
This is here in the central valley of California. In some of the richest most productive agricultural areas of the world, home to some of the world’s richest farmers (or agriculture corporations), in an American state whose economy rivals some of the richest nations in the world.
This is not the third world. Or is it?
While the US is plunging towards third-world-dom, lead by a priceless bunch of narrow-minded rightwing (that includes both political parties) “leaders”, the central valley of California has probably always had an air of the third world about it. My own first inklings of the economic disparities and deprivations hidden underneath America’s shiny global facade came from reading Steinbeck’s epic “Grapes of Wrath”, much of which is set right here in the valley. That book, along with “East of Eden” (both of which I devoured while in college in Bombay) also gave me my first new mental images of California that diverged from the more romantic ones perpetuated through Hollywood’s glamour on the one hand, and Ansel Adams’ Yosemite landscapes on the other. Here in this valley, sandwiched between those two more picturesque, salubrious California dreamlands, lies a third world that tells many a different tale: of massive land transformation and farm-worker exploitation; of green revolutions and pesticides; of laser-leveled land crisscrossed by massive canals and shrinking aquifers; of dried up prehistoric swamps and over-irrigated farmland abandoned to leaching selenium; of Steinbeck’s Okies and today’s illegal aliens; of big agribusiness and industrial animal farms; of sprawling suburbs and highways; of endangered species and disappearing ecosystems; of exotic invasive species (the other “illegal aliens”) and designer GMOs; of weed and meth and gangs and prisons; of vineyards and fruit orchards and nut farms overflowing with riches; of migrant farmworkers dying of dehydration and schools where feeding the malnourished children must take precedence over any “education”; of some of the nation’s foulest air and dirtiest water. This too is California.
That last item on litany above, Water, is the subject of a special investigative series by Mark Grossi, currently being published by the Fresno Bee under the headline “Don’t Drink the Water”! Now that’s a standard warning I’m is used to hearing when talking about travel to India or Mexico, or other developing countries. The Bee is telling us local residents here in this rich, poor, messed up valley: Don’t Drink the Water! At least read the special report first, and find out what cocktail may be flowing out of your faucet.
Don’t Drink the Water!
Welcome to California. This is indeed the third world within the first.