California’s Drought is More a Result of Politics Than Nature
|March 27, 2014||Posted by Staff under Environmental, Subsidies & Waste & Public Debt|
This 2014 excerpt of Dollars & Sense, Mar 14, is by Polly Cleveland & Mason Gaffney.
Agriculture consumes some eighty percent of California water. California is basically a dry state, subject to periodic severe droughts. So, how come the largest water user is cow pasture, watered with giant sprinklers sending great sprays into the atmosphere? How come farmers irrigate those long brown furrows by flooding them, losing great quantities of water to evaporation, and bringing harmful salts to the surface? And how come some farmers even grow rice in flooded paddies, seeding them from airplanes?
Why do we see so few elementary efforts to conserve water, such as drip irrigation or mulching fields to protect the soil? Why are irrigation canals not lined and covered to prevent water loss?
Why? Because California farmers get their water free, or close to free.
The California Constitution says that the water belongs to the people. However, farmers may take water provided they put it to “beneficial use,” first come, first served. This is the basis of California “water licenses”. A “senior” water license downstream, used for low-value irrigated pasture, takes precedence over a “junior” water license upstream, used for high-value orange groves.
The California State Water Project (SWP) brings water from the Feather River in the Sacramento Valley south through the Sacramento delta, then pumps it up to a canal running south along the west side of the Central Valley, pumps it up again 2000 feet over the Tehachapi mountains into Los Angeles, and conducts it even further south to San Diego. The SWP was financed by California taxpayers.
Half that water has gone to irrigate the holdings of land barons, including the J. G. Boswell dynasty (200,000 acres) and their in-laws the Chandlers (145,000 acres), at that time owners of the LA Times.
The state could charge for water, thus recognizing that we the people own the water. The state could put a meter on every ground-water pump, and charge accordingly. Overnight, California’s fiscal deficit would become a surplus.
Yes, some water-hogging crops like rice and hay and alfalfa might move away, as they should. That would release water for the more valuable, intensive fruit and vegetable crops for which California is famous.
The farmers might threaten to “pass on” higher water prices to consumers. But that’s an idle threat, because shifting land and water into higher-valued and more intensive crops will raise the total supply of food marketed.
Ed. Notes: You can read a lot about the problem but very little about the solution, unless you frequent these pages.