NWNL Spotlight

Drought Awareness in Reedley
November 22, 2014

Vaibhar Patel, Innkeeper

Interview Team
Alison Jones: NWNL Director and Lead Photographer
Annette Alexander: NWNL Photographer


Introductory Note

Before this interview, NWNL chatted on the sidewalks with Latino farm workers from some of the towns discussed in this interview. When asked about impacts of the drought, they said there was no drought. NWNL doesn’t know whether they didn’t understand our questions; whether they didn’t want to admit problems; or whether, relative to droughts in their homes in Central America, this was more of the norm than a crisis.

Right: Map from Romero Overlook Visitor Center at San Luis Reservoir. Larger view

Drought Depletion of Local Water Supplies

NWNL: Hello, Vaibhar. We have enjoyed staying here in Reedley at your charming Reedley Inn. How long have you been here?

VAIBHAR PATEL: We’ve been here since 1989 – about 14 years.

NWNL: So, for your last three years here you’ve been living in a drought. How has it affected you or people you know?

VAIBHAR PATEL: The drought hasn’t affected my Reedley Inn business as much, because our business is more for tourists going to the Sequoias. But my friends and co-workers that I work with at the hospital are affected from the drought. If they live in the country, they use well water, and have to spend about $20,000 to $30,000 out of their own pocket to dig deeper in the well. So it’s very sad.

For example, one of my friends, she would have to go shower at her friend’s house. It’s just hard. She said sometimes they don’t even have enough water to flush the toilet, so it’s been pretty bad right now.

NWNL: What towns do these friends live in?

VAIBHAR PATEL: One of them lives outside of Orosi. There are problems also in Cutler and Orange Cove. [All three towns are east of Reedley and directly north of Visalia on Rt. 63.] The problems are in the smaller towns that are outside in the country. I call them farm towns. Reedley’s considered a farm town, but it’s about 25,000 people, so it has its own water supply. But smaller towns that are only 100 people or so, they are affected, because they are on well water. They have their own well, each house.

NWNL: Where does the water for Reedley come from?

VAIBHAR PATEL: I honestly don’t know. I’ll tell you, I don’t know, because it could be from – I actually don’t know. Probably a well, but I don’t know which well or if it’s coming from a source as a lake. I don’t know where the water from Reedley comes.

141119_CA_7507An abandoned farmhouse faucet

Future Drought Impacts and Solutions

NWNL: Are you worried about the drought continuing?

VAIBHAR PATEL: Yes, I am. If it doesn’t rain this winter, by April or March when everything comes, it’s going to be worse next year, since we are the most [dependent on water]. This valley produces a lot of agriculture and a lot of fruit. We have a big cattle industry, so there’s a lot of agriculture is for the food for the cows. It’s going to be tough.

NWNL: Has Reedley imposed any water use restrictions?

VAIBHAR PATEL: We haven’t had any restrictions on water usage, except actually there are restrictions about when you could water your lawn and stuff like that. We need to water once a week or twice a week; and so we’re thinking about possibly putting this lawn as an artificial lawn so we don’t have to worry about that.

NWNL: Do you think the state government or federal government should be doing more?

VAIBHAR PATEL: They could be doing more. They could help supply more water. They could help farmers, especially since we’re known as the agriculture valley for any types of fruits – you name it. We grow it here, many types of things. Selma just so close by, ten miles away, is “The Raisin Capital.”

And if they don’t have enough water to grow raisins and stuff, then maybe the government should help these farmers and give them a break on their taxes – or whatever they could do to help them grow these fruits. Because who else is going to supply it?

NWNL: That’s a tough question! Meanwhile, I like your mural with the oranges in it. Actually they’re mangoes, except for one orange.

VAIBHAR PATEL: This is basically a piece of clay. There’s no color to it in the beginning, so it was just clay, and then we gave it to an artist to get this done where they painted, and they added all of the jewelry. This was all hand-done from India, and we got it shipped here.

NWNL: Thank you, Vaibhar. Your tale of grey clay being turned into a brilliant piece of art could be a metaphor for the Central Valley. Once washed with water, this dusty soil becomes a lush cornucopia of tomatoes, grapes, oranges, cantaloupes and peaches. But the problem is when the artist with the water disappears, the soil goes back to its natural state.

We must all be part of a solution that honors farmers and Nature.

A mural in Orange Cove, California

[Posted by NWNL on September 21, 2016. Transcription edited for clarity by Alison M. Jones, NWNL Director. Our Interview Guidelines describe the NWNL protocol for editing raw transcripts.]

All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.