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California can't afford more water problems

Capital Press Editorial March 26, 2009

Californians have come to expect a certain amount of gridlock from their state leaders. Even in crisis, the pols manage to keep progress at bay.

There are some indications that state officers finally want to address California's water infrastructure. Legislators are talking about borrowing $15 billion to expand the state's water supply. The decades-old debate is heating up again over the need to build new dams and reservoirs to catch more water, and a canal to move it to where it's most needed.

With the population climbing and the state suffering a third year of severe drought, we think it's about time.

A study released this month by the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at the University of California-Davis demonstrates the impact water issues have on the California economy. The study found that farmers in the Central Valley could lose $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion in revenue this year because of the drought and its associated impacts.

That in itself is not much of a surprise. The Central Valley Project has made a preliminary decision to cut off all water for irrigation this year. The State Water Project is set to deliver just 10 percent of its normal allocation to farmers. That leaves producers to leave land fallow or dependent on precious groundwater supplies.

The lack of water has an impact beyond the farm gate. The study estimates that Californians, both producers and those whose livelihoods are tied in some way to agriculture, will lose between $1.6 billion and $2.2 billion in direct and indirect income.

The study also estimates that 60,000 to 80,000 Californians will lose their jobs. Most will be relatively low-paid field workers who will find it difficult to find other jobs.

California's lack of a long-range water plan puts more than the state's substantial agriculture economy at risk. The ever-expanding population depends on a diminishing resource. Conservation will always be an important part of any water plan, but that alone won't solve the problem. While there's nothing the state can do to create more rain or snow, there's a lot it could do to catch, retain and move what does fall.

Opposition to these plans comes from expected sources. The Sierra Club has said that new dams are unnecessary.

Tell that to the growers who are losing income. Tell it to the merchants who depend on the farm economy for their livelihoods. Tell it to the families of the 80,000 displaced workers, who like the withering crops are fighting to survive.
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