My Dad once told me that the only thing anyone ever manages is risk. You see that here, in this story about uncertainty and Westlands. The lede:
Like many Central Valley farmers, Todd Allen says it’s the unpredictability of his water supply that causes the most damage.
You know, Mr. Allen doesn’t have to be uncertain about his water supply. He could look at historic supplies and see that Westlands has always gotten at least ten percent of contract allotments. He could plant to match that ten percent and never worry again. (Actually, he can’t, because climate change will introduce even more variability than we’ve seen this decade. But, for the next couple decades, he can probably be sure of at least ten percent.) But what Mr. Allen wants is something different. He wants enough water to plant most of his acreage, and he wants certainty. He wants to offload that risk; in real life, without legal protection, the fish would feel the brunt of that variability. Bummer that Mr. Allen has to live his life during the transition period for climate change. He (and the rest of us) will feel the effects of increased variability first hand.
Allen is a mid-sized producer of lower-value crops on land whose productivity is further impacted by drainage problems. With transferred water known to cost up to $500 an acre-foot and a new well more than $500,000, he took the realistic option and reduced his production to 40 acres of wheat.
Soon Westlands’ attorneys were calling to add his story to court briefings challenging the bio-ops. Wanger pointed out Allen’s example in his May 27 ruling on flow restrictions protecting salmon, saying such human impacts — along with pollutants entering the waterway, along with other possible stressors — were missing from the agencies’ documents.
It is kindof bullshit to come in as junior contractors, explicitly accepting a risk regime, then later complain that you can’t manage the variability. That was what they bargained for when they started. They got used to more supplies under a governing regime that was willing to shunt that variability to the Delta, but a few years of regular supplies, even decades of them, shouldn’t become the new standard of acceptable risk for them. High risk activities suck, but the appropriate response is to recognize what you’re working with and not allow yourself to depend on them. That type of farming operation should only ever have been bonus, bonus production when the water is high. Mr. Allen is looking at the right response, although he probably doesn’t like it.
Allen said he was building a promising future, having upgraded irrigation equipment and purchased new land in the past few years. He wasn’t expecting such an impact from something beyond his control.
“I was really starting to turn the corner, and all of a sudden … I feel like I’m being punished and I’ve done nothing wrong,” Allen said. “Now I’m thinking about getting another career going in case this falls apart.”
Yes. He needs something stable to support his family, which being the junior contractor wasn’t ever and especially will not be from here on out. It is a shame that he didn’t understand the risk regime he entered, and gambled on more reliability than was ever there. It is even more of a shame that he feels victimized. I hope he understands that he’s in the vise of big forces, and doesn’t direct that at any particular person (like a judge, say). What he did wrong was believe that what he observed around him was guaranteed by something (if nothing more than his lived experience). It is a human mistake to make, but the same big forces will inexorably exact the full cost of that error.