They should start by reading Ostrom.

I was reading this article, about how there is stimulus package money for drilling wells for ag relief even though groundwater levels are falling and the well water they can pump is salty.  It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, so I wasn’t that excited about it.  I was going along, thinking stray thoughts.  Heh.  They got a quote from Errotabere.  He gets quoted for the grower’s perspective all the time.  Wonder how he got to be the quote guy.  Is his last name Basque?  I could look that up, but it would take seconds of effort and that’s hard.  I was pretty interested in his quote:

“We don’t need any more straws going down there ’cause we’re already doing a pretty good job of sucking it dry,” said farmer Dan Errotabere, who has dug three wells as deep as 1,200 feet to irrigate his tomatoes, almonds and garlic in recent years. “We’re using this water as a last resort, but pretty soon we’re going to need a policy to protect ourselves from ourselves.”

That sounds almost like a plug for groundwater regulation. He is on the Fresno County Farm Bureau. Is he possibly setting the thin edge of a policy wedge here? Huh.

Then I was kinda interested in Salazar’s comments:

Salazar, a former rancher and environmental lawyer, told California farmers the wells and other taxpayer-funded projects would help their businesses stay alive.

“I’ve watched acres of our land dry up. I’ve gone to the bank with my brothers and not been able to get financing myself,” he said. “You’re all wondering what is your future in 30 years, and I know there’s a lot of pain right now.”

I think he hit the most vital part of this whole discussion, on bank financing. I think the banks that extend ag credit and mortgages will be the ones to determine how far and fast the ag sector in California contracts. They’re the ones who have to bet on fuel and fertilizer prices, and availability of water, and yields in other parts of the world. I have no idea how they calculate that. Wish I did. (As a public service, I will repeat my predictions here. If you are wondering what your future in 30 years will look like, you should ask yourself. Is my acreage in the top 6 million acres of irrigated ag in California? Am I in the bottom third of irrigated ag in the state? If you think the answer is no (or then yes), you should move your operations to the east side or the Sac Valley before everyone else finds my blog and tries to do that too. You’re welcome.) So that was kindof interesting.

But then I saw a mention to a guy who says that his canal is cracking, because the ground is subsiding under it as the aquifer gets drained. I was all, huh. What district, I wonder? I want to see pictures of cracking canals. Is it, like, a lateral or something? So I searched for the guy’s name, and found a picture.

Dennis Freeman, who oversees a primary canal that irrigates the valley's farm fields, surveys buckling caused by subsiding land due to to many wells tapping the underground water in Dos Palos, Calif., Thursday Nov. 19, 2009. 'There's no doubt about it, the canal is sinking,' Freeman said, gesturing at cracked and buckled concrete panels lining the structures edge. 'There's more wells going in, because our growers gotta get water to their crops. But we're always concerned about the effect that will have.' (AP Photo/Russel A. Daniels)

JESUS CHRIST! That is a serious canal! That’s no district canal or puny lateral. That’s big! What is that, the Friant? It is cracking?! That got me curious, so I tracked it down. That’s the Delta-Mendota Canal (connecting the Delta and Mendota, which is the city that gets all the press for feeling the brunt of the drought). It is run by the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Users Authority, which has the kind of website I haven’t seen since GeoCities.

To me, this is such a fantastic example of the real world policing itself.  Growers in the SJV can fight for their inalienable rights to groundwater self-determination all they want.  But if they suck that commons dry, it will break the canal above it.  Honestly, I can’t imagine a bigger (water) problem for growers in Mendota than a collapsing Delta-Mendota canal.  They pay for construction and maintenance on those canals themselves.  Finally, this problem is visible (cracks you can see!) and personal for everyone on the Mendota end of the canal.  I expect to see a whole new emphasis on collaborative decision making and sustainable yield.  I am telling you right up front, west side growers that don’t read my blog.  If you want to get Other People’s Money for this (like federal dollars for the projects in a gw management plan or maintenance money for your cracking canal), you are going to need buy-in from enviros or Rep. George Miller will block you.  I suggest you start thinking right now about how much you love the San Joaquin River Restoration, or the Delta Smelt.

(If you are game to pay for it all yourself, you may continue hating as you please.)

1 Comment

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One response to “They should start by reading Ostrom.

  1. Mr. Kurtz

    >>Errotabere. He gets quoted for the grower’s perspective all the time. Wonder how he got to be the quote guy. <<
    I think he is quoted frequently because he knows and cares a great deal about agriculture and water. As in the comment you noted, he is also not a knee-jerk booster. Exactly the kind of person Ag Leadership ( was designed to help develop, and it did.