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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Food grows where water flows

By Mike Wade, Guest comment, Capital Press 6/20/08

There exists a lack of uniformity in reporting the annual use of water in California. According to the California Water Plan, applied water use is divided among urban (11 percent), agricultural (41 percent) and environmental (48 percent) uses during an average water year.

These numbers were developed under the direction of the California Department of Water Resources during a process that lasted more than a year and involved a wide range of interest groups.

But many groups today choose to ignore these numbers and instead use their own reasoning that results in farmers using 80 percent of the water supply. They discount all environmental uses in arriving at this inflated number.

Part of the reasoning for ignoring environmental water use is "it is not human use." But this argument doesn't ring true because at one time part of this environmental water was used by farmers and city folks. In 1992, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act established the annual taking of more than 800,000 acre feet of water from farmers and redirected it to the environment. A more recent example is last year's court-directed action to protect the delta smelt that has resulted in more than 650,000 acre feet flowing this year to the Pacific Ocean instead of to farmers and 23 million Californians south of the delta.

It just doesn't make sense to place a label of "environmental" on a portion of California's water supply and establish a "hands-off" policy toward it, all the while taking water from someone else and building up the environmental water supply. If this trend continues, which some groups would welcome, pretty soon the amount of water remaining for "human use" will cripple our state. We're already seeing a preview of what might happen as water is taken away from "human use."

A drop in water deliveries from the delta through state and federal facilities was anticipated earlier this year as the smelt-protection measures were enforced. Water districts scrambled to find replacement supplies and some were successful and some were not. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley were forced to plant fewer acres and institute layoffs among their workforce.

In Southern California, some farmers "stumped" their trees, a process of cutting back the tree to halt its production. Home owners have been asked to reduce their water use as a voluntary measure while many farmers are coming under mandatory cutbacks.

How do we climb out of this dry hole that seems to engulf our state when Mother Nature decides to hold back the rain and snow that all Californians need? Well, for starters, we might begin by taking a serious look at how much water is available in our state. Maintaining labels such as "human use" will not serve the long-term interests of all Californians and, instead, will only serve to further hamper efforts to establish a reliable water supply for future generations.

Mike Wade is executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.


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