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Fall 2011

New Vision for an Old Problem

While we have made huge advances in science in this county over the past 50 years, we may be able to predict what is going to happen in nature, but we cannot control it.  No one knows this better than farmers who make due with the hand mother nature deals them. 

California was blessed with a record year for rainfall.  Totals were 145 percent of normal and nearly all water users were assured 100 percent of their water supply.  Wildlife agencies were given a big surprise this year when record numbers of endangered salmon and smelt returned in abundance.  Credit is of course given to the bountiful water year equating that all we need is “more water”, but expecting our weather patterns to be duplicated by our water infrastructure system while supplying the water to grow the food that feeds our nation and meet the needs of 25 million thirsty Californians is nearly impossible. 

It is not Agency Responsibility Tableas simple as just adding “more water” to the system to preserve declining fish populations.  Many scientists have concluded that no matter what measures are taken certain fish species are going to continue to decline due to means beyond our control.  Continuing to focus on individual species and not the ecosystem as a whole, will only continue the decades long fight between competing water interests. 

A report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) titled, Managing Callifornias’s Water, concluded that we should abandon the single species recovery parameters of the Endangered Species and focus on entire ecosystems.  Trying to force mother nature to preserve a single species is simply not working.  “Today’s system of water management, developed is previous times for past conditions, is leading the state down a path of environmental and economic deteriorations.  We’re waiting for the next drought, flood or lawsuit to bring on catastrophe”, said Ellen Hanak, a PPIC economist and co-author of the report.

Hanak is completely right.  We are out of time and the same old solutions to solving California’s water woes are simply not working.  Pitting one water user against another has not saved one species or created any more water, but has only lead to legal fights that take years to resolve.  A drastic change in our approach is definitely needed.  Compromising only leads to each side losing, but drastic changes to our regulations might just be what is needed. 

We cannot afford to do nothing or go down the same path that we have been on for over 30 years.  Its going to take a new way of looking at the problem to come up with a solution.  Assuming that farmers must conserve huge amounts of water to solve California’s water crisis will only lead to massive swaths of farmland being followed causing food shortages and increased food prices.

It will be difficult to change that is guaranteed, but look at the stakes.  We live in a nation that manages out of crisis instead of being proactive about the solutions.  In many cases waiting for the solutions to be put in front of us is asking too much.  Agriculture as an industry must put forth acceptable solutions that will be a part of the bigger puzzle to solve the crisis. ■


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