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Summer 2008

California's Water Myth

Our Governor has declared what many ranchers and farmers in the region have known for some time, it’s a very dry year. In June, the Governor formally declared a statewide drought, but the declaration is only a statement of the obvious fact that we have a water crisis.
The reality is that agriculture is going to be hit the hardest.

Throughout the state farm workers are being laid off, fields are being fallowed and many family farmers are having to make tough decisions to protect their investments.

The sky rocketing costs of diesel and fertilizer is only adding to the pain that farmers and ranchers in the state are experiencing. But, most newspapers are reporting that agriculture is the one to blame because agriculture water consumption totals 80 percent of the total use for the state, which is simply untrue.

The myth that agriculture is to blame for the crisis that we are in is pointing the finger in the wrong direction. The decades of political bickering over California’s water situation have landed us very close to the worst drought conditions our state has ever faced and conservation alone will not be the silver bullet to solving the water crisis. In 2000, total water use in California was approximately 83 million acre feet per year. Urban water consumption consisted of 11 percent, agricultural consisted of 41 percent and 48 percent went to the environment. These numbers definitely prove that agriculture does not consume 80 percent of the states water.

Experts have said that if there is no improvement in California’s rainfall totals by next year, the state will have less water in its reservoirs than during the states worst drought in 1976-77. During the drought in the 1970’s our population was 22 million. Today’s population is 38 million, and is expected to increase to more than 45 million by the year 2030.

Our state has not built additional reservoirs for over 30 years. With millions of additional people in our state the water crisis could devastate California’s all ready weak economy.

Many water districts throughout the state are dealing with the water cutbacks by pumping groundwater, which is a short term solution to the problem. The long term solution is building additional water storage which may take decades, if ever approved by the legislature.

Water cutbacks in the north state are taking their toll on local farmer and ranchers. The Central Valley project has cut water deliveries to only 40 percent of the total allocation forcing many north state farmers to rethink their cropping patterns.

The unprecedented water rationing in our state is only the beginning if a viable solution to fix our obsolete water delivery systems is not made soon. California’s rich agricultural economy is not something our state can bear to lose over political bickering. ■


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