Farm Press Blog

When disagreements abound over water


It won't be just the fish that lose when water can't be properly allocated, or there isn't enough to go around.

Read between the lines of some stories and you will sometimes find the premises contained therein to be quite interesting. Some are even disturbing.

Deep within a story published online by the Stockton Record is a premise that water for San Joaquin Valley agriculture is somehow a tertiary use at best for water stored in California reservoirs.

While groups such as the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance seem to think the primary purpose dams have is to help certain species of fish, Delta farmers are upset about the increased level of salt in their irrigation water because of low river flows through the Delta. Talk about muddying up already murky waters.

If it weren’t for dams holding back waters along rivers like the American, Tuolumne, Trinity, Sacramento, Pit, McCloud and others, humans could not live much of the year in Central California because of flooding.

While flood control was foremost on the minds of proponents and builders of California’s dams, irrigation water for agriculture had to be on their minds as well. It most certainly was on the minds of those who put up the capital to build canals and ditches to convey water to millions of acres of California farmland.

After the completion of Shasta Dam, towns like Red Bluff and Chico were able to expand their footprint and grow in population as the dam stabilized water flows down the Sacramento River. It also provided a consistent source of cool water for migrating salmon along the Sacramento River as water to feed the river is taken from the bottom of Shasta Lake.

It’s ironic that sport fishing interests feel the need to criticize the use of water for agriculture when the water they enjoy is the direct result of dams built first to protect property from floods. Irrigation water for the farmland that followed was seen as an immediate benefit. If anything else, this news suggests a need for more water storage facilities in California to hold back even more water for dry periods such as this.

Even more disturbing are the complaints of farmers in one region against growers in an adjoining region over something all of California agriculture is short of: water. Like has been said here previously, farmers can stand together on common issues or they most certainly will lose their ability to farm. When that happens we all lose!

Like one California ag leader told me: on-stream dams have a whole host of benefits for humans, the environment and wildlife alike. Of the lakes created by dams, he pointed out that people can swim in them, fish can live in them, humans can boat on them, animals and humans can drink from them, farmers can irrigate crops because of them, and we can stabilize downstream flows, all to the benefit of humans and the environment.


Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

Anonymous (not verified)
on Nov 11, 2013

You have to be kidding. Running a story about all the benefits with none of the problems. Is your world really black and white? Do we not need sand for beaches, natural river flows for all types of fish and habitat, etc. The number of salmon did not suddenly increase when dams began providing cool water - the numbers crashed.

A balance is useful but it seems that you are saying that until every river is dammed we won't have enough boating, swimming and alfalfa. All farm land is not equal - some is more fertile. People can boat and swim in rivers, natural lakes and the ocean. Stop growing water intensive crops to export - water is useful for more than profit.

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