Celebrating a Century of Subsidies The Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next week under a cloud of controversy. The agency originally designed to "reclaim" the western desert as agricultural land for small family farmers has been rendered virtually ineffective and become one of the primary purveyors of pork to western agribusiness.
Natural Resources Wasted, Misvalued at Taxpayer Expense
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Since its inception, the Bureau has subsidized water users in 17 western states by supporting the construction of numerous dams and irrigation systems that bring water to farmers in a blind devotion to their original mission: populate the wild, wild West through the creation of an agriculture-based economy.
Many of the Bureau's funded projects now divert increasingly scarce water resources into inefficient irrigation systems that lose up to 45% of water flow due to preventable causes including leaks and evaporation. Even though there are newer technologies that significantly boost efficiency, such as drip irrigation, the Bureau has inexplicably failed to implement them.
More importantly, the massive cost of implementing irrigation systems in the poor agricultural conditions found in western states far outweighs benefits, even for those receiving the Bureau's subsidized water. For example, last year the Bureau spent funds to send water from the Columbia River to northwestern farmers whose potato crops were of so little value that they were never even harvested for sale.
Meanwhile, others who have more productive uses for western water are forced to manage with less. The change in river patterns following the Bureau's construction of huge dams on the Columbia, Colorado, and other rivers threatens the livelihood of fishermen throughout the West who have watched their catches dwindle to mere fractions of previous years. At the mouth of the Colorado River on the Gulf of Mexico, the shrimp fishing industry has nearly collapsed because shrimp catches have fallen over 50 percent since the erection of the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams.
The only group profiting from the Bureau's programs is a small collection of subsidy-rich irrigators. The Bureau helps fund irrigators' projects through interest-free loans with repayment terms that extend up to 40 years. On top of that absurdly long grace period, if the Bureau decides that the repayment price for water exceeds their calculation of the irrigator's "ability to pay," then the Bureau will then absorb up to 50% of the initial cost with taxpayer dollars!
In practice, repayment is often delayed for more than 40 years due to lengthy project construction periods during which the irrigator's debts are exempt, regardless of whether they are already using water diverted from the river. Repayment is often reduced still further through creative accounting methods where miscellaneous revenues from other commercial activities are credited to the project and many project costs are attributed to non-irrigation uses.
Bureau beneficiaries also pay for the energy required to pump water at "project power" rates that are greatly discounted off of the market rate for electrical power. Finally, Bureau customers receive an assortment of additional subsidies from other government programs, like agricultural commodity payments.
The Bureau's mission to invigorate the West by making farmland in the arid desert conditions may have made some sense in the early 1900s. But, now, the rapidly growing West has a vibrant economy built on technology, financial, and other service industries, that has all but made the agency's dam-building days an historical footnote
Even Floyd Dominy, a 92 year-old retired commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation says that he regrets the amount of money the agency wasted over the years on subsidies to big water projects.
The Bureau of Reclamation's continued pursuit of antiquated policies is flushing taxpayer dollars down the drain with the West's precious water. To mark its 100-year anniversary, it is time to change the way the Bureau does business.
For more information, contact Keith Ashdown at (202)-546-8500 ext. 110
or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
TCS is at www.taxpayer.net
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