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'Public Trust' Next Big Fight(Part 2)

It is a huge mistake for Sacramento to attack Agriculture, its largest industry.

Jan 16, 2011


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'Public Trust' Next Big Fight(Part 2)

It is one thing to say that farmers should continue to look for ways to be more efficient when using our water supplies, which they have continuingly done since the 1800’s, and another to say that agriculture is breaking the law and its use of water is unreasonable(see article below). This type of publicity-seeking statement creates a vision for the public that isn’t accurate, and further polarizes our urban and rural citizens at a time when our state government is in a financial crisis with shrinking tax receipts. It is a huge mistake for Sacramento to attack Agriculture, its largest industry.  California agriculture produces over $40 billion dollars of crops at the farm level, and that doesn't even count the value added after the crop leaves the farm.


Plants are like people with their needs for water.  They need a certain amount of water to flourish.  If it is denied to them, they will suffer.  If they are over watered, they will suffer.  Therefore, there has never been an incentive for farmers to waste water.  Quite the contrary!!!  As expensive as water is, along with the additional cost of electrical energy to deliver it to the crop, no farmer is going to deliberately waste water.
For many years, farmers have led the way in conservation.  We were measuring our water before many of the urban users.  We have had return pumps to recycle water off of row crops for decades.  Virtually every vineyard and orchard has some form of drip or micro irrigation system.
Many of the folks blathering about farmers conserving water do not have any concept of what we are doing.  For instance, their demand that all canals be lined would defeat the win-win situation we have now in many water districts.  The seepage into the ground from the canals replenishes the underground aquifers and ensures available water during droughts. 
What is particularly disturbing is that some environmentalists refuse to apply the same conservation demands to environmental releases.  If it is shown that an environmental release is not accomplishing the goal for which it was established, then it should be stopped and the water diverted to use by urban or agricultural users.  We should all be held to the same standard.  

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Delta Water Overseer Wants To Reinforce Water Conservation

Contra Costa Times

Mike Taugher

A newly appointed Delta water overseer wants to use the state constitution to enforce farm water conservation, contending that even small improvements could result in big savings.

Craig Wilson is California's first Delta watermaster, a position created by sweeping water reforms lawmakers passed at the end of 2009.

In his first report to regulators, Wilson will argue Wednesday that farmers who use water inefficiently are violating the constitution's requirement that its use be "reasonable."

His recommendations, if adopted, would mark the first time the doctrine has been applied so broadly.

"It's been taboo," said Peter Gleick, a noted water expert and president of the Pacific Institute, an environmental research organization based in Oakland. "No one has wanted to step up and say, 'This is not a reasonable or beneficial use of water.' "

Gleick added: "We don't have enough water anymore to be able to avoid that conversation."

Wilson, a lawyer, contends that more efficient water delivery systems and irrigation practices already are in use in some farm regions, particularly where water is more expensive, and that they should be required elsewhere.

"Persons who do not employ some or all of these technologies, where they are economically justifiable, locally cost-effective and not harmful to downstream agriculture and other environmental needs, are simply using water unreasonably," Wilson wrote in a report to the State Water Resources Control Board and the new Delta Stewardship Council.

His recommendations include setting employees to policing wasteful practices and requiring water agencies that serve farmers to develop more sophisticated water-delivery systems.

Farmers in California collectively use about four times as much water as the state's cities, suburbs and industries, and that is why Wilson focused his first report on water use on farms.

A 2008 report by Gleick's organization found that California's farms could reduce water consumption 10 to 15 percent by adopting techniques some farms use.

Wilson said he does not expect his recommendations to yield that much in savings, but even a statewide improvement of 1 or 2 percent would yield hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water enough, potentially, for millions of new residents.

"I'm basically saying there's some significant savings, but it's not the same others are talking about," Wilson said.

Part of the reason that Wilson sees less potential for savings than others is because not every of water that is left unused is truly saved, he said.

That is because much of the water diverted from rivers and wells to farms is returned after it drains back into rivers or seeps into groundwater basins.

It is only the water that would have been taken up by crops and weeds, evaporated, or otherwise consumed that can be counted as conserved, Wilson said.

Water in Western states such as California is neither infinite nor unnecessary, which is why the right to use it has always been conditional. The constitution requires anyone using water to put it to "beneficial use," and that use must be "reasonable."

What is reasonable has never been fully defined, but environmentalists and, increasingly, some state water officials, are pointing to those concepts as ways to promote better water policies.

Many, and perhaps most, of the state's farmers use water efficiently, Wilson said.

Still, some agricultural organizations are likely to oppose new regulations.

"There are a number of recommendations in there that are concerning to say the least," said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

Wade said the recommendations go too far in equating water-use efficiency with reasonableness.

"The micromanagement that is being proposed in this report is unprecedented," he said. "The industry is enormously efficient."

Wilson will present his report Wednesday to the State Water Resources Control Board, which is not scheduled to take any action. He will later present the same report to the Delta Stewardship Council.

Mike Taugher covers the environment. Contact him at 925-943-8257.


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