Bronze 2017 Editorial / Conflict

The Mean Streets of Huron, California

  • Prize
    Bronze in Editorial/Conflict
  • Photographer
    Richard S Street

I stumbled into this story in 1986, at Kesterson National Wildlife refuge, near Los Banos, CA, after photographing ducks, geese, and other water birds hatched with brains outside their heads, two beaks, and missing body parts or parts where they shouldn't be. Selenium washed out of San Joaquin Valley farms by massive, endless irrigation had poured into an uncompleted drainage canal that ended a few miles south of Los Banos. Curious about the source of the tainted water, I began searching the agricultural system that had produced this catastrophe. On that journey, I discovered an even greater human catastrophe in Huron, an isolated and claustrophobic farm town with no McDonalds, no movie theater, no high school. Huron didn't have a lot of things most towns take for granted. Essentially a giant labor camp for farmers in Westlands Water District, the largest private water district in the United States, Huron was the poorest town in California, in the richest agricultural county in the world.