Every apology, folks. I simply don’t seem to be thinking extracurricular thoughts about water these days. I am positive that I will again, and when my mind whirs with thoughts I don’t say at work, I’ll want a place to put them. Until then, thanks for looking here.
Monthly Archives: May 2009
I have expressed doubt about using center pivot irrigation systems here in California before, so I feel obligated to point to this piece on new center pivot systems going in on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley.
This piece in the NYTimes gets at the ferocity with which growers in CA resist groundwater management, by the state or by mutual agreement.
If he lived in almost any other state in the arid Southwest, Mr. Watte could be required to report his withdrawals of groundwater or even reduce them. But to California’s farmers and developers, that is anathema. “I don’t want the government to come in and dictate to us, ‘This is all the water you can use on your own land,’ ” said Mr. Watte, 57. “We would resist that to our dying day.”
Wow. Mr. Watte is loosely linking governmental regulation of a commons to collective death of himself and his farming peers? If pressed, he probably wouldn’t admit that emotional connection, but speculating wildly, I bet he feels something close to that. Man. That makes policy discussions really difficult. On one side you’ve got a nerd saying “You’ll notice that in adjudicated basins, growers take approximately 83.4% of annual safe yield…” and on the other you’ve got people feeling, “They are coming and we will die.”
The strangest part to me is that I think this fervent resistance to groundwater monitoring and regulation is completely path dependent. It is coincidence that California doesn’t monitor groundwater; I don’t think it was ever a policy decision or anything. It just didn’t come up until growers believed they had a right to pump whatever they wanted and tell no one ever, falling groundwater levels be damned. Now I find it bizarre that they are so deeply vested in the right to unmonitored groundwater pumping. I bet that if they’d happened to come up in a system with monitored and regulated groundwater (like 48 of 50 states), they’d never once miss that right. As irrefutable proof, I point out that Google searches for “free our groundwater” and “deregulate groundwater” return no hits. No one in regulated groundwater systems lobbies for the right to pump at will. People don’t articulate that right when they don’t have it. Look: nothing, in an otherwise long list.
We’re here now, and a big battle over regulating groundwater is on the horizon. Good to know how deep feelings run. But even though I want to respect people’s views in general, frankly, I think the opposition to monitored and regulated groundwater has become passionately and arbitrarily wed to a privilege that will end up hurting them most (if aquifers get sucked dry). I’ll have to think about good ways to move people out of that position.
On the one hand, I’m pleased when bright people from outside Water take a crack at offering solutions. Maybe they can question the basic assumptions that insiders have grown so used to that they don’t even see their biases any more. On the other hand, this is pretty painful to read. I love the realization that eating California produce is eating embedded sunshine and water. I love the suggestion that other states take on more row crop production; spreading around our food production will add to resiliency in the face of climate change. But Philpott doesn’t mention the extraordinarily large elephant. I’m afraid he didn’t even see it. He somehow managed to look up a bunch of ag statistics and miss the field crops and cattle industry.
Remember? (pg14) Field crops (grains to be fed to cattle for milk and beef) use about 60% of the applied water in the state, on about half the irrigated acreage in the state. Those field crops go through cattle; by the time the meat is food, the water content in that meal is another order of magnitude more wasteful. (slides 10-12) The meat and dairy industry’s demand for more than half the irrigation water in the state makes it sensitive to drought, as you see in articles about thinning herds and insufficient feed. (ht Aquafornia)
Truly, the water demands of California row crops are not the problem for which musing bloggers need to suggest solutions (like an area of origin tax). That’s not where the huge gains can come from or even an inefficient use of water. Reducing in-state meat production is the arena with huge potential for freeing up water1. My first hope would be that people would eat drastically less meat. My second is that they would only eat pasture-finished meat, of which California cannot produce nearly as much as it does grain-finished meat. My third is that the Great Plains would return to grazing large herds, if people must eat lots of meat. My final, futile hope is that people who blog about California water would ask me questions first. I am doomed to tilt.
1 Not because field crops are necessarily inefficiently irrigated or inherently require a lot of water. Because growing field crops for meat and dairy production is the majority of our agland use and feeding them to cattle intensifies embedded water tenfold.