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The Wall St. Journal Gets It, The Fresno Bee...Not So Much!

Yet, the paper of record in the heart of farm country, the Fresno Bee editorializes "As the rest of California comes to grips with the state’s historic new water mandates, there’s an elephant in the room. And it’s wearing a farmer’s hat."

Apr 13, 2015

A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal tells the drought story as we see it. You can read it for yourself below, but one thing they understand is that the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement has been a disaster for agriculture in our Valley. In their words, "during the current drought, about 400,000 acre-feet of water—enough to sustain 100,000 acres and 400,000 families—were used for test-runs (on the SJ River). Their conclusion? The salmon aren’t ready for the river, or vice versa." Wouldn't we like to have all that water now?

Farmers have been hit hard during the drought for their annual water allocations, and "since 2012 agriculture has averaged 15% and cities 55%. Supplies for wildlife refuges were only recently curbed to 75% this year. Farmers are getting zip."

And according to the USDA "between 1992 and 2012, about 900,000 acres of land was removed from production. More than 500,000 acres have since been fallowed."

Yet, the paper of record in the heart of farm country, the Fresno Bee editorializes
"As the rest of California comes to grips with the state’s historic new water mandates, there’s an elephant in the room. And it’s wearing a farmer’s hat."

The Fresno Bee has been a supporter of SJ River Restoration from the beginning, forcing farmers to pump groundwater to make up for the losses that have gone down the river. So, now they support groundwater legislation that would limit farmer's ability to pump. They say the current legislation "needs to be accelerated."

We would ask the Fresno Bee to recommend an acceleration of an un-do or a re-do of the San Joaquin River Restoration.

That would be a good first step. After that we can accelerate the modification of the Endangered Species Act to include some sort of accountability for environmental water use and the addition of a consideration for humans in environmental decisions. What would really help would be if the Fresno Bee editorial board had a clue as to how we got into this mess. Maybe the Wall Street Journal could give them lessons on the reality of water!!

California’s Farm-Water Scapegoat

Wall Street Journal
 

Bay Area greens have been starving agriculture for years.

Perhaps the only issue on which Bay Area liberals and conservatives down California’s coastline agree is that farmers use too much water and should be rationed. The fortunate in Silicon Valley and Marin County need a tutorial in Golden State water allocation.
 
According to the fable of the prodigal farmer spun by environmentalists, farmers are producing too many water-intensive crops and over-pumping groundwater. Big Agriculture is said to have negotiated dirt cheap water rates with the government that are subsidized by city dwellers and suburbanites. As a purportedly even greater injustice, Governor Jerry Brown’s new mandate to cut statewide water usage by 25% exempts farmers.
 
The reality is that farm water has already been rationed for more than two decades by the ascendant green politics, starting with the 1992 federal Central Valley Project Improvement Act. Federal protections for the delta smelt, salmon, steelhead and sturgeon (2008-2009) further restricted water pumping at the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, so 76% of inflows, mainly from the Sierra Nevada mountains, spill into San Francisco Bay.
In 2009 Democrats in Congress mandated that a spring salmon run be restored along a 60-mile stretch of the San Joaquin River that’s been dry since the 1940s. During the current drought, about 400,000 acre-feet of water—enough to sustain 100,000 acres and 400,000 families—were used for test-runs. Their conclusion? The salmon aren’t ready for the river, or vice versa. Environmental diversions consume 4.4 million acre-feet of water a year.
 
A common claim is that agriculture consumes about 80% of “developed” water supply, yet this excludes the half swiped off the top for environmental purposes. Farmers typically consume about 80% of the remainder, so only 40% of the total. Urban users get the rest. Note also that state and federal water projects, which export water from the Delta, have slashed contractual allocations more for agriculture than to urban users. See the nearby chart.
 
Between 1993 and 2006—normal years for precipitation—Central Valley Project allocations averaged 75% for farmers and 94% for urban users south of the Delta. (Those in the north get more in part because they aren’t affected by pumping restrictions.) During the subsequent three-year drought, agriculture was cut to 33% and cities 70% on average. Since 2012 agriculture has averaged 15% and cities 55%. Supplies for wildlife refuges were only recently curbed to 75% this year. Farmers are getting zip.
 
Agriculture has had to bear the brunt of the cutbacks because farmers can more easily offset supply reductions by pumping groundwater. Cities must buy water on the market or develop new sources (e.g., reclamation projects). Yet farmers are now paying a premium to drill deeper wells to procure lower-quality water.
 
By the way, water rates for agriculture are not subsidized aside from the de minimis interest payment that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation makes on the 80-year-old Central Valley Project. Urban users pay more for water because of higher treatment, procurement, infrastructure and energy costs. Water to Southern California cities must also be pumped over the Tehachapi mountains.
 
Now many aquifers risk depletion because farmers have had to tap groundwater during wet and dry years. This was not the case before environmental diversions. Over-pumping groundwater could make aquifers collapse permanently and land levels subside, externalities that farm communities will have to internalize.
 
Farmers have adapted to this undeclared water rationing in part by fallowing land. Between 1992 and 2012, about 900,000 acres of land was removed from production, according to the USDA. More than 500,000 acres have since been fallowed. One result is double-digit unemployment across the Central Valley—11.8% in Tulare, 13.1% in Fresno, 13.2% in Merced and 14.4% in Porterville.
 
Some farmers have also adapted by shifting production to high-value crops. Since 1992 cotton acreage has fallen by about 80%. Roughly 100,000 acres of alfalfa have been torn out in the last four years. Almond acreage has increased by a third over the last decade. While nut trees are water-intensive and cannot be removed from production in dry years, most were planted prior to the Delta’s pumping restrictions. New almond acreage has fallen by 80% since 2005.
 
In other words, farmers are responding to market forces, which conservatives ought to understand even if the concept is foreign in San Francisco’s Presidio.
 
Meanwhile, the Bay Area currently imports a large share of its pristine water (among the cheapest in the state) and some of its hyower electricity from the glacial Hetch Hetchy valley in Yosemite. So its water isn’t diverted to protect fish. But imagine if the government mandated that Hetch Hetchy be restored to its pre-development state. Water and power rates would spike. Marijuana growers and distributors—cannabis consumes about twice as much water as lettuce—would shut down or (horrors) raise their prices.
 
That won’t happen because of the Bay Area’s clout in Washington and Sacramento. But farmers don’t pack the same punch, so they’re getting fed to the smelt.

 

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