Water in California Agriculture, 1958-1965

Water: A Capital Input for Agribusiness Profit

Water in California Agriculture

Water in California Agriculture

Corporate agribusiness thinks of water as a capital input for their profit making enterprises. Most people think of a river meandering through green pastures, or a wild river roaring through wooded valleys as signs of the abundance of California’s natural resources. Yet through the political influence wielded by wealthy corporations within the state of California, our water resources are now virtually under private control, having been reshaped for their convenience and their profit.  Harvey Richards photographed California agriculture in the 1950’s and 1960’s when corporate domination of California’s engineered waterways was supreme, as it still is today.

He also photographed water supplies (and the lack of running water) for the farm workers who labored to bring in the crops and who made the profits of big agribusiness possible. While rivers are dammed up, diverted into concrete canals and spread over fields of private land full of pesticide and fertilizer residues, all at public expense, farm workers often lived with no running water, no inside plumbing, very often camping out on the side of a river on their way to the next harvest. When the water used in agriculture finally finds its way back to the rivers and the ocean, it is dangerously polluted.

1958, California Central Valley. Carrying Drinking Water for Farm Worker Families

1958, California Central Valley. Carrying Drinking Water for Farm Worker Families

Today, over 60 years since these photographs were taken, we face the consequences of corporate domination: severe water and air pollution, human and animal diseases, the decline of water resources, the collapse of fish populations and the drying up of rivers completely. When genetically modified organisms introduced in the 1990’s are added to this mix, it presents future generations with an immense challenge of finding ways to repair the damages to rivers, air and land, as well as creating a natural and sustainable food system that enhances nature instead of destroying it. Buy or license these photos.


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