The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Corcoran, California:
Facing Floods with Damaged Levees

May 29, 2023

Corcoran, a town of about 30,000 people—22,000 residents plus the 8,000 inmates of California’s largest prison complex—is under immediate threat of getting flooded. After an unusually wet winter, part of the Tulare Lake Basin just west of Corcoran is already flooded, and the only thing keeping the water from inundating Corcoran is a 14.5-mile-long dirt levee surrounding the town on the west, south and east. Right now, the levee is less than ten feet higher than the water level.

There is no doubt that the water level will rise, because an unusually deep snowpack at high elevations on the Sierra Nevada Mountains has not even begun to melt. So, Corcoran has to raise the levee and repair its vulnerable sections before the water spills over. After multiple requests by local officials at both state and federal levels, the California government, in early May, finally promised 17 to 20 million dollars for levee repairs. But it may prove too little, too late—for no one knows how fast the Sierra snowpack will melt, as it depends on the temperatures in coming weeks and months.

But there is one thing experts agree on: the floodwaters are there to stay for a long time. A thick layer of clay lies under the soil in the area, which prevents water from seeping through into underground aquifers. After heavy flooding in 1983, for example, parts of the Tulare Lake Basin did not dry for about two years. The longer the water stands—and sloshes—against the levee, the more it wears the levee down, increasing the risk of breaches.

And the risk of breaches in the levee is exacerbated by another, man-made scourge: parts of the San Joaquin Valley, including Corcoran, have been sinking for decades, at a rate of a foot or even more per year—a result of the excessive pumping of groundwater for agriculture. This sinking, known as subsidence, damages levees along with other infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

In the area surrounding Corcoran, much of the groundwater pumping is done by the biggest landholder in the area, the J. G. Boswell Company. According to information revealed to Water Resources Control Board in 2021, Boswell pumps an estimated 45 billion gallons of groundwater per year to irrigate its fields—which is nearly half the amount of water all of Los Angeles’s four million residents use in one year!

Because of subsidence, the Corcoran levee has had to be raised many times over the years. In 2015, for example, when the levee sunk by two feet, local officials spent 14 million dollars to raise it—once again, with taxpayer money.

Big agricultural companies pump aquifers dry, sink the land, damage levees and other infrastructure—all for their owners’ private profit. The population in the area, mostly working-class people, are not only at risk of losing their homes and everything they have, but they are also supposed to pay to fix what these companies break. And the companies continue to sink the land and break the levees for even more profit.

That’s how capitalism works—a system that’s an even bigger threat to the well-being of working people than any natural disaster.