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

Central California:
Bracing for Major Floods with Poisonous Water

May 15, 2023

The unusually wet winter in California has piled up a very deep snowpack on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in some places nearly three times the average depth. Since the snow will begin to melt in the coming weeks, residents in California’s Central Valley are bracing for big floods this summer and fall.

And the floods are expected to be the worst in the Tulare Lake Basin. Considering that this now-dry lake once covered nearly 700 square miles, it offers the flood waters a lot of low land to fill—including hundreds of square miles of farmland, several towns and California’s largest prison.

There is one more problem, and a big one. The flood waters will be poisonous.

First, there are tons and tons of animal waste, collected in so-called manure lagoons on hundreds of dairy and chicken farms in the area—many of them large farms, as is typical for California’s agriculture. These manure lagoons teem with all kinds of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, parasitic worms and fungi, as well as antibiotics and pesticides. If flooded, all those toxins would begin to poison the soil, groundwater, streams and rivers in the area.

On top of that, for years, Los Angeles County and other municipalities in Southern California have been using parts of the Tulare Lake Basin as a dumping ground for their sewage.

L.A. County owns a 175-acre area (the size of about 150 football fields) on the western edge of the Tulare Lake Basin, called the Tulare Lake Compost Facility. Every day, big rigs have been bringing hundreds of tons of sewage sludge (dried sewage concentrate) from L.A. County and dumping it on that land.

L.A. County officials tried to reassure the public that the facility is safe. They said they would stop sludge shipments to the facility as of mid-April, and promised to process all the sewage sludge at the facility as quickly as possible to kill the disease-causing germs.

But even if that’s true, how about all the other kinds of poison that sewage sludge contains, such as medical waste, pharmaceutical substances, pesticides, industrial waste, petroleum products, asbestos, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury? If flooded, all those toxic materials would begin to spread into a large farming area, and would stay there after flood waters recede.

Of course, this problem has always spelled disaster for the tens of thousands of farm workers who worked and lived in the area, sickening them and their families. Now the imminent flooding of the Tulare Lake Basin will probably turn this disaster into an even bigger one, affecting many more people.