Sixteen students and two teachers from a Department-of-Defense-funded school toured area food producers last week, including Los Banos' own irrigation district.
The students of the National Defense University are all 15 to 20 years into their respective fields, whether in military or civilian capacities, and on their way to a master's, said Col. Cheryl Smart. The students of the Washington, D.C.-based college are studying areas where industry and national defense meet.
"We're going to spend the week out talking to people who really deal with this on a day-to-day basis," Smart said.
So, their studies took them to the University of California at Davis, a Westside dairy farm, Hilmar Cheese Co. and the Los Banos Creek Reservoir, among other locations.
Smart said this year marked the program's inaugural visit to Los Banos, and students came for the water. "Water is a huge national security concern, just as it is an agricultural concern," she said.
Increasingly, Smart said, water studies have become prevalent among most of the 21 such industry studies happening across the United States and its allied countries.
Chris White, the general manager for Central California Irrigation District, led the group through a presentation on the history of the reservoir, as well as water-rights issues on the Westside. The presentation included a tour of the reservoir and its industrial control systems.
"You'll notice we start in 1870," White said about the history of water rights. "In the grand scheme of things, in California that's ancient."
Lt. Col. Susan Escallier-Arnold, a 1983 graduate of Los Banos High, brought the Westside to the attention of her classmates, which resulted in their visit to Los Banos.
"I kind of encouraged it, knowing we were coming to California," she said. "I said, 'You have to understand water if you're going to understand California agriculture.' "
Escallier-Arnold, a Judge Advocate General, said she is part of the writing team for an agricultural business industry study that will be presented to the Department of Defense.
In a few weeks, the students and teachers will make a similar trip to India, Thailand and Vietnam.
Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.