Reason TV gives a report on the problems plaguing California’s Central Valley, once a breadbasket to the world, and now a government-created basket case of dust, unemployment, poverty, and now starvation. The short documentary focuses on two federal policies that heavily impact the farming region, the first water policy and environmentalism, and the second immigration:

California’s Central Valley is a 450 mile long stretch of flat and fertile land that produces much of the food that we enjoy every day. But the people in small towns like Mendota (the cantaloupe capital of the world) are suffering these days, in part due to two federal policies.

In order to protect a threatened fish species called the Delta Smelt, much of the water that used to be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is now allowed to flow into the ocean. The result is predictable: hundreds of thousands of acres of farm land lies fallow and tens of thousands of jobs have been lost. In Mendota, the unemployment rate is over 40% and food lines are the norm.

But people going hungry in a region dominated by agriculture is only one of the contradictions in the Central Valley.

Nearly all the valley’s farm workers are immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and many of them are undocumented. These people are crucial to the valley’s economy, but they’re breaking the law according to the federal government.

Without doubt, immigration policy impacts farming areas like the Central Valley (as well as the Midwestern plains), but the problems in the Central Valley now have nothing to do with federal enforcement of immigration law.  The enforcement of the law has been spotty at best during the last three administrations.  Nor has Congress done much about it; building a fence on the California border shifted the crossings to Arizona, which has had to deal with the traffic and its attendant issues.

The crisis in the Central Valley comes directly from the application of the Endangered Species Act to the Delta smelt, one of a number of bait fish species indigenous to the area.  The order by a federal judge relying on that law cut off irrigation to a massive area of arable land and created a vast wasteland out of a farming bonanza, all to protect one species of inedible fish.  Congress needs to curtail the ESA and get the water turned back on in the valley.