Our Klamath Basin
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Food grows where water flows
Wade, Guest comment, Capital Press 6/20/08
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
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
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
Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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