The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 19, 2014

Abundant water in California's Imperial Valley belies drought


A recent editorial in the Imperial Valley Press noted that the valley “often feels precarious for the historical target of water grabs and outside criticism over how we use our water allotment.... Unfortunately, Imperial County will always feel like the other shoe is going to drop (and splash).”

Thomas Cox’s late grandfather, Don Cox, was a member of the irrigation district board. He was among those who fought to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the valley’s water rights.

Larry Cox, Thomas’ father, is a major figure in farm policy and politics in the valley. Thomas’ brother, Travis, 25, also works in the family farming operation.

Thomas Cox began working on the farm at age 7, pulling weeds from the irrigation ditches. By 13, he was driving tractors. He worked on the farm every summer during college at California State, Fresno, except for two summers when he was a fly-fishing guide in Sun Valley, Idaho.

He met his wife during an internship at a produce sales company in Salinas, Calif. It was in Salinas where he realized “that office work is not my cup of tea.”

He enjoys driving from field to field with his father’s dogs, Labradors named Spooner and Abby, in the bed of the truck. He checks on the canals and speaks in fluent Spanish with the irrigation foreman, an employee of the Cox family for more than 20 years.

“I’m in charge of putting every drop onto our fields,” Rafael Velasquez said in Spanish. “Sometimes I work days and nights because the water must never stop.”

For Thomas Cox, the politics of water and the pressure of shifting market forces drift away when he is in the fields.

His favorite crop is cantaloupes, which require a delicate touch of timing and irrigation and the use of honey bees to pollinate the plants.

Gazing at a cantaloupe field, Cox said it gives him a Zen-like joy that he once enjoyed only when fly-fishing: “It’s just you and the crop, and the water.”


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