Monday, February 22, 2010

Running on Empty in California

Attached to a fast-tracked Senate jobs bill is a piece of legislation from California Senator Dianne Feinstein disguised as an employment program for California's Central Valley. California's Democratic Senator Feinstein has proposed legislation that would divert a large portion of California's public water supply to Southern California agribusinesses to allow the farms to plant. This is the beginning of the end. The short sighted measures to solve the loudest problem. Senator Feinstein has abandoned her environmental principals to try and help the agribusinesses that depend on reliable water deliveries by increasing the agricultural water allocation four fold in the next two years. However, this will not solve what is the fundamental problem. There is not enough water.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (Delta) is a natural estuary of more than 738,000 acres, the Delta is the key pathway linking the water transfers from northern to southern California. This is how more than 25 million people and 2.5 million acres of productive farmland receive their water. The Delta is a patchwork of nearly 60 islands and tracts surrounded by natural and man-made channels much of which is below sea level. The Delta relies on more than a 1,000 miles of levees to protect land and key infrastructure from floods and daily high tides. Delta levees prevent salty water from San Francisco Bay from intruding into the Delta and contaminating the fresh water that supplies communities and farms. The Delta waterways convey water from Northern California rivers to pumping facilities in the southern Delta.

The SWP was constructed in the 1960s and early 1970s by the Department of Water Resources. Construction of the CVP began in 1935 and various facilities were added in subsequent decades. Except for the construction of the SWP’s Coastal Aqueduct in the 1990s, no significant improvements have been made to either system in nearly 30 years. Modern day California exists because of massive water diversions and the water infrastructure built in the past. Although 75% of precipitation falls in the northern portion of the state, more than 75% of the demand for water is in the southern portion of the state. California’s elaborate network of water storage and delivery systems has allowed the state to meet it diverse and ever growing water needs year-round by storing and moving water when and where it is needed and mining irreplaceable groundwater supplies. Water demand has continued to grow

Only in drought years is the true stress on the system obvious. Precipitation varies widely from year to year. Multi-year droughts have occurred throughout the state’s history, as have devastating floods. In California varied climate it’s possible to have both floods and drought in the same year. California’s water system was developed over decades to address that variability and provide more reliable water supplies year-round. The original intent to smooth the variations in annual precipitation was corrupted to divert water to the most powerful. California has a long history of water wars over water rights and diversions. State officials recently projected that California’s population will reach 50 million by 2032 and 60 million by 2050. There simply is not enough water. California local water agencies have invested in water recycling, conservation, groundwater storage and other strategies to stretch supplies, but the demand has outstripped supply for over 50 years as evidenced by the groundwater usage in the central valley.

The truth is that California has been using more water than is renewably available to support the population, businesses and agriculture of the state and the majority of water, almost 80% goes to agriculture. For more than a half a century the Central Valley of California has been one of the most productive agriculture regions of the world. This has been made possible by the ample supply of water used for irrigation. The limit to California’s agricultural is water availability. Water available is a combination of surface water diversions and groundwater pumping. Approximately one sixth of the irrigated land in the United States is in the Central Valley (Bureau of Reclamation, 1994) and approximately one eighth of all groundwater pumped in the United States is pumped in the Central Valley. California uses almost 31 billion gallons of water a day for irrigation. Agriculture uses 80% of the water to produce 2% of the revenue. Either food in America is grossly underpriced, or California is misallocating their resources. This is 351 gallons of water a day for each agricultural dollar earned each year. While a portion of irrigated water is recharged to groundwater, some is lost and California does not have enough water available annually to keep up this usage level. It is too much demand for water and cannot continue. This is a misallocation of our water resources and to add an $11 billion bond to build more water infrastructure to try to squeeze a little more water out of the system will not change the fact that there is not enough water for this to continue, thought maintenance of the existing infrastructure is essential for continued life in southern California. The wealth of the giant agricultural ranches in California is based on the cheap water for irrigation and these agribusiness will fight to keep their wealth and the majority of the annual water flow of the state.

Water allocations in the state exceed the entire water budget available. The time has come for California to determine how much of it’s water can be allocated to agriculture in good years and bad and limit agriculture to the size that can be supported by allocated water.

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