Dr. Gleick might or might not agree with my last post arguing that the PPIC report has an underlying theme of extracting water from ag. His complaint is elsewhere, that the report doesn’t recommend agricultural water conservation and include yields from ag water conservation as part of the solution.
The report’s biggest blind spot is agriculture, the state’s largest water user. The authors discount the vast potential for improving agricultural water-use efficiency because they misunderstand how it works in the real world, they overestimate its costs, and they misconstrue, misrepresent or minimize the benefits of these improvements. Why do they ignore this potential? Because they make the simplistic and false assumption, promulgated by some in the agricultural industry, that all excessive farm water use is already recaptured and reused.
This conclusion is at odds with history, science, field studies and the actual experience of California farmers. In reality, abundant water is lost to unproductive evaporation or to other sinks where it is not recaptured. Other benefits accrue from agricultural efficiency improvements as well, including better water quality, improvements in the timing of flows in important stretches of California’s rivers, reductions in energy demands and a savings of real water. Every one of these advantages would contribute to solving problems in the Delta and elsewhere. Efficiency improvements must therefore be central to any portfolio of recommendations for a new California water policy.
This editorial made me realize that I’m starting to see a schism around this issue. Dr. Gleick and the Pacific Institute are leading a faction that thinks there is enough inefficiency in ag water use that there are substantial salvageable amounts of water (and other benefits) to be gained from ag water conservation. I’m an example (although surely not a leader of anything) of someone who thinks that the basins have negative water (as shown by falling gw levels), that ag should switch to more efficient practices for the other benefits, and we’ll end up getting a good deal of water from ag by retiring irrigated lands.
On the one hand, this isn’t such a big difference. I strongly suspect both groups would call themselves enviros, and agree on prioritizing the existence of a bait fish while crushing out property rights of real Americans everywhere. We can all aspire to be the target of one of Devin Nunes’ rants together.
On the other hand, maybe there’s antagonism developing? I don’t love reading that my take on the situation is the one promulgated by the ag industry. Surely I’ve been clear enough here that no one mistakes me for an ag apologist. (More of a Kunstler-esque collapse pessimist, which is an entirely different motivation.) I read the Pacific Institute report, wrote about it here for a couple weeks. Then I came to a different professional judgment, which is that I don’t expect the SJV and lower Sac Valley to get much water out of conservation, although there are other good reasons for better ag water management. Which is what I imagine the authors of the PPIC report did, although I can’t speak for them, of course.
I hope I’m wrong about a schism forming, since I know (a little bit) and respect (a lot) people who hold both positions. They all care a great deal about getting us out of our current mess, and I am guessing they have substantial overlap in priorities (and that mine map fairly closely). Hmmm. Maybe one of the unlooked-for benefits of anonymity is that I can remain undeclared in my personal interactions with folk, stay low-pro. That will be my plan. You guys would not believe how mild-mannered I am in real life, all meekly polite and shit. They’ll never guess.