[env-trinity] Eureka Reporter Op-Ed March 23

Byron bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Mar 24 12:24:52 PDT 2008


Guest Opinion: Why California farmers go with the flow

Eureka Reporter - 3/23/08

By Amy Kaleita, public policy fellow for environmental studies at the
Pacific Research Institute, San Francisco

 

The water shortage in California is leading some farmers to sell their
irrigation allotments to cities and other farmers in Southern California,
according to an Associated Press story. It is well within their rights to do
so, but while those farmers may benefit, the taxpayers will end up paying
the price.

 

California is currently experiencing one of the most severe periods of water
shortage in the last decade, thanks to eight years of drought conditions
along the Colorado River coupled with regulatory restrictions and increasing
demand. This year's first survey of the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada, the
spring snowmelt that provides another important source of water in the
state, estimated a snow depth of less than 60 percent of normal for the
season. Prices for water, normally around $50 an acre-foot (3.9 million
gallons) of water, may rise to as much as $200 per acre-foot this year. 

 

As a result, farmers who grow annual crops such as rice, cantaloupes and
tomatoes around Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valley, and who - thanks to
state and federal subsidies - are paying only $30 to $60 per acre-foot of
water, may make more money by selling their water than by growing and
selling the crops that water would normally irrigate. A spokesperson for the
State Water Contractor Association, which represents 29 water agencies,
noted that "virtually every agricultural district in the Sacramento Valley
is thinking about selling their water this year."

 

Who can blame them? These farmers are just doing what makes the most
economic sense for them. This situation, however, is less beneficial for
taxpayers. Because the farmers' water is subsidized, when they, in turn,
sell the water to a municipal supplier rather than using it to grow their
crops, the taxpayers are paying for food security they aren't getting. While
it's difficult to predict the precise impact the water situation will have
on food prices, rising prices are a distinct possibility as planted acreage
decreases.

 

Further, when the subsidized water is sold on the open market, the cost of
water reflects these artificial prices rather than the short supply and high
demand. As this means that city water rates don't accurately reflect the
shortage, the costs won't necessarily encourage consumers to conserve as
much as they would if the water was appropriately priced.

 

More regulation could address situations such as prohibitions on reselling
irrigation water, for example. 

 

However, regulations on the water supply system are already complex, and in
some cases, exacerbating the situation. A December federal court ruling has
forced water managers to limit pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
to protect the Delta smelt, an endangered fish. 

 

This situation illustrates why governments need to be extremely cautious in
allocating subsidies and passing policy that supports one segment of the
market over another. No industry exists in a vacuum, not even agriculture,
and the ripple effect can cause unintended and negative consequences in
times of stress.

 

 

Byron Leydecker

Friends of Trinity River, Chair

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810

415 519 4810 cell

415 383 9562 fax

bwl3 at comcast.net

bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org (secondary)

http://www.fotr.org

 

 

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