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California agriculture takes drought bullet for the State

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  • There are people who inaccurately try to justify larger water cuts to agriculture in this major drought year based on an inaccurate claim that agriculture uses about 80 percent of the California water supply. This claim is farcical. Once all data is considered, many estimates peg agriculture’s actual water use in the 40 percent range.

Attempts by the State of California to implement efforts to deal with the state’s drought – a three-year fry affair - get more ludicrous week after week.

It’s unconscionable how California government turns a mostly deaf ear to water conservation and better water planning for inevitable dry spells by doing little - nada – zilch – to help resolve the problem.

One of the latest nonsensical ideas is the State Water Resources Control Board’s July 15-announced emergency regulation asking urban residents to reduce outside water use or face a $500 fine.

The wording in the media release is primary, saying urban residents are “expected” to stop washing down sidewalks and driveways, water hose use without a shut-off mechanism is a no-no, and the use of potable water in a fountain or similar device is not allowed unless water is circulated.

Missing from the release is the ‘M’ word – M-A-N-D-A-T-O-R-Y. Residents found guilty of an outdoor water-wasting sin could be fined.

While this new state action maybe the most dramatic thus far for urban water users, the plan pales in comparison to state requirements to reduce water use this year for California’s $40-billion and highest tax-generating industry – agriculture.

Unlike city dwellers, the State enacted mandatory water cutbacks earlier this year eliminating state water allocations to farms. Since then, an estimated 800,000 acres of Central Valley farm land were fallowed which eliminated thousands of jobs, and more forced folks into taxpayer-paid social services programs.

According to several estimates, the water cutbacks will cost California agriculture about $2 billion-plus in lost income through smaller crops and yields.

This not only cuts deeply into the farmer’s effort to try to learn a living, reinvest in the farm, and plan for the future. It has already eliminated thousands of jobs and income for many farmworkers who plant and harvest crops (and all the work in between) and for agribusinesses which provide seed, nursery trees, equipment, and a plethora of other services required to grow a good crop.

So while urban residents can choose whether to voluntarily cut back water use, farmers have basically taken the bullet for the State as a whole.

There are people who inaccurately try to justify the larger water cuts to agriculture based on an incorrect claim that agriculture consumes about 80 percent of the California water supply.

This claim is farcical. Once all data is considered, many estimates peg agriculture’s water use in the 40 percent range; not twice the amount.

Yes, farmers generate income with water to grow crops to support their families. The 10,000-foot view is that farmers grow food to fill bellies which benefits everyone.

And as the world population increases exponentially, it’s farmers who will shoulder the responsibility to feed the growing world with less land and water than in the past.

In addition, for generations farmers have engaged new technology to save water, not only from an input cost savings point of view, but to save water for society as a whole general.

Agriculture supplies the most basic need in life - nutritional sustenance.

Thank farmers – not blame them.

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