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Water conservation: It's not just for agriculture

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Until urban water users are cut back to a fraction of their allocations, little will likely change in California water policy.

Conservation. It’s been a big buzzword over the years, and for good reasons. Conserving energy in locations where utility companies charge out the wazoo for power makes good economic sense.

Conserving natural resources is certainly good for wildlife and the host of agricultural uses that compete for land space. Conserving water: well, that’s just for farmers!

A University of California, Davis professor said as much recently as growers gathered on California’s Central Coast to learn about new technologies available and in the pipeline the help growers conserve water. While the professor was being somewhat sarcastic, what he said still rings true: urban residents have not been asked to conserve water as agriculture has been forced to conserve. Even more succinctly, urban water users continue to waste more water than agriculture ever will.

We recently published a story on the proposed California Water Action Plan (CWAP) – a public draft copy is available here – that purports to address California’s shrinking supply of water for human use.

As with many public proposals like this, details are short but talk is long on how water is important.

One mainstream news article quotes a county official in northern California as saying any discussions in the plan to force agriculture into further conservation measures would be a “non-starter.”

Yet that’s exactly what is among the first of 10 broad suggestions in the draft CWAP. While the plan does call for a 20 percent reduction in urban per capita water use by the end of 2020, it puts conservation measures ahead of real short-term and long-term water solutions.

Truth be told: absent the drought we’re in right now, we generally have the short-term water supplies if regulators and the interests they’re beholden to would stop allowing the millions of acre feet of water once used for agriculture to simply flow out to sea.

Some say it’s likely too late for many growers as the hard decisions to fallow or sell land are being made now. Growers cannot continue to hold out for empty promises and political studies. Local governments aren’t going to allow farmers to not pay their property tax bills, which are difficult to pay when the land isn’t generating an income through farming.

Until urban water users such as the Metropolitan Water District, the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and Clark County, Nevada have to make due with 10 percent or less of their water allocations, as California agriculture has repeatedly been forced to do, nothing will change. People will continue to talk; governors will order reports written, articles will continue to be published on California’s water woes, more wells will go dry and food production will decline.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Anonymous (not verified)
on Nov 14, 2013

Wow - I knew we were growing lots of 'whine" but this is a very common vintage. I have worked to promote urban and agricultural water efficiency for 25 years and I can tell you that urban water users (on average) have adopted more practices and hardware to increase water use efficiency than agriculture has. Urban water agencies are easier to work with, don't threaten my life and my job, don't contact their Congressmen buddies to complain and seem to accept that we must all improve our water use practices. It became really confusing when farmers at agencies with limited supplies and minor water rights went to permanent crops - and then yelled when droughts and short supplies occurred. Time to confront reality. Marginal lands should be retired. Water-intensive low-value crops should not be grown. Groundwater must be controlled by Counties (if not the State) so that we maintain this essential resource. The foothills of the Sierra are being planted in vines and almonds. Do farmers really think that they can suck California dry so we can export to China. Sorry, reality bites.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Nov 19, 2013

That water that "simply flows out to sea" is providing enormous environmental and public health benefits. Without it, the Bay Area would become the largest and most populated toxic waste dump in the country. I suppose some of the folks in rural California might like to see that happen, but I think that says more about their own "me first" attitude when it comes to everything, not just water.

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