Family farmers have made significant investments in water efficiency and now produce nearly 90 percent more food and farm products with roughly the same amount of water used on farms 40 years ago. Along with continued conservation, farmers believe the state must pursue more water recycling and desalination, must create new water storage, both above and below the ground, and must improve water conveyance.
New reservoirs and canals will be costly, although failing to build them will cost even more in lost jobs, lost crops and lost opportunities for our people and our environment.
The beneficiaries of those new reservoirs and canals should be the ones to pay for that water development. The Farm Bureau has said so, consistently, for years.
California also needs to be honest about who, or what, will benefit from the new storage and conveyance.
Because of continued improvements in efficiency, agricultural water demand has changed little in decades. The main new demand for water has come from California's increased population and from redirecting water to try to achieve environmental goals. Much of that water has been redirected away from family farms and ranches, so that it can flow in rivers, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay to benefit fish.
Through new laws and through court decisions, society as a whole has made promises to the environment but has asked a small segment of society to pay the cost. A huge amount of water has been returned to rivers and streams during the past 20 years, all without any sort of public financing.
In short, agricultural water supplies have become the ATM for environmental water, and those withdrawals have been made without any fees.
As California builds new water storage and conveyance facilities, family farmers and ranchers will gladly pay their fair share. We will also demand an honest assessment of what that fair share should be.
If society as a whole demands that water be set aside for environmental restoration, then society as a whole – taxpayers including farmers, urban residents and Californians in all regions of the state – must be willing to share in the cost.
So the key question is not, "Should the beneficiaries pay?" but "Who are the beneficiaries?