Environment: Briny Burden

Peril for the San Joaquin

Cradled between the Sierra Nevada on the east and the Diablo Range on the west, California's San Joaquin Valley is a farmer's paradise spread across an earthly 8.5 million acres. Its fertile soil yields tomatoes, sugar beets, grapes, hay, cotton and, usually, heavenly revenues (1977 total: $4.76 billion). Yet most of the valley gets less than 10 in. of rainfall a year; farmers import nearly 60% of their water. Now the water that has helped create the paradise is threatening to ruin it.

The danger is salt. Found in even...

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