Like an old timey blogfight.

Dr. Lund objects to complaints like mine about exporting water in the form of almonds. He says ‘no no, we also import a lot of water in other forms.’ I have two responses to this. First: I don’t give a shit about other places. If they want to wreck their natural resources to sell feed to animals in California, I can’t bring myself to care.

Second, I don’t agree with the underlying assumptions about virtual water and markets. I do not believe that we are working with fungible materials.

When water leaves Shasta Dam, it is public resource that can do things like be a sparkly river and host leaping fish. I am a public in California, and I have one-thirty-nine millionth of an interest in that. When that water gets pulled away to water almonds in Chico, it is converted from a substance that could be a river to dollars for an almond grower. Applying that water to almonds stripped away my interest in the resource; I cannot claim any of that money. My 1/39M of an interest has been changed to something I have no claim on when it is almond dollars.

BUT! say the market folks. You have a different money because of the awesomeness of California agriculture. Because of the awesomeness of California agriculture, instead of paying 15-20% of your income on food, you only pay 5-10% of your income on food. WONDERFUL! I exclaim. I would like to turn that difference, which is now cash in my hand, into a river for fish. I cannot. That money is not the same as water in the river and cannot be converted back. A good thing for me (cheaper food) is not a replacement for what I lost (a tiny piece of a right to a river environment).

These waters are not fungible. Water in the Sacramento River is not fungible with water from wherever else the footprint applies. Those waters have different properties. All of the water in the Oglalla cannot provide a river for me between Shasta and Sacramento. So I do resent that luxury crops export millions of acre-feet of Californian water away. The dollars they bring back do not do what the water would have done. I have experienced a loss that is not comforted by indirect monies to me.


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5 responses to “Like an old timey blogfight.

  1. dzetland

    You’re right. There’s no glory in depleting your water to equal others’ stupidity. It’s mad to convert a public good (river flows) into a private good (almond irrigation water) and then claim that the profits help the public. It’s just like the Wall St private profits and social losses.

    What I’ve said, all these years, is manage your water for public good (river flows) then let private interests use the remaining, sustainable yield for profits or whatever (this implies markets for bulk water and pricing for M&I).

    Then you see what you get and you pay the price of food and you import/export based on others’ actions. There will be some idiots that kill themselves to sell you cheaper products. That’s a problem for idiots.

    (Oh, and I think Jay was maybe saying that it’s wrong to focus on virtual water only in CA, as there’s virtual water everywhere and we should focus on something else — river levels perhaps? — that is easier to track and more salient, but maybe I’m reading in too much.)

  2. OTPR, nice retort. I subscribe to your blog and Lund’s and generally admire both of them. But I did not appreciate the patronizing tone of Dr Lund’s post dismissing critics of California’s agriculture having exceeded the carrying capacity of its watersheds as “unhelpful” and “kvetchers.” Given that the professor leads his examples of the benefits of virtual water by saying that virtual water from the Midwest supports our dairy industry, maybe it would be useful to look at what that dairy industry has done to our scarce real local streams and groundwater. See: Manure and Water Pollution.

    Add in public and animal health (corn, E. Coli 0157, BSE) and the bio-security threat created by putting massive concentrations of animals in one place in an era of foot & mouth disease and California becomes an example of resource mismanagement on a massive scale. It would have be useful if the watershed folks at UC Davis had got out in front of this before the US EPA had to be called in.

    Anyone who thinks this is purely a California problem may be depressed to learn that for the last decade Central Valley mega dairies have been fleeing pollution regulations by moving their herds to equally unsuitable drylands of Idaho, Texas and Arizona. All the while, it was fashionable at Davis to crow about California having outstripped Wisconsin as a leading dairy state, even though Wisconsin has the water and grass that makes it the logical place to keep cows, if not in the horrendous numbers that Californians seem to find acceptable.

  3. jaylund

    Apparently water is sacred for its own sake in one place, as a substitute for focusing directly on environmental, economic, and social objectives? To each his/her own. (Economists have a Latin phrase for this which I cannot remember.) Seems like a recipe for perpetual unproductive conflict to me.

    With tongue in cheek, we seem to have virtual manure, with people on blogs giving and not giving manure about other people, resources, and aspirations elsewhere.

  4. Francis

    Dear ONTPR:

    You’re not only picking a fight with every single non-environmental user of California water (including yourself), you’re also challenging the very idea of the appropriation to a beneficial use (which pre-dates California’s statehood).

    Now, maybe you’re right and environmental flows under the public trust doctrine should be given such high priority as to dramatically reduce water available for M&I and ag. But I think your argument would have a little more weight if you recognized the massive shift in California law, policy and history that you’re advocating for.

  5. JDrzal

    Absolutely agree. I’m from Chico and I’m an almond grower, though a small one. I’m on a well, and so are most of the almond growers around Chico. A few of the bigger one’s pull water from Butte Creek and have done their part, along with Pacific Gas & Electric, to decimate salmon runs in the creek. I suppose that’s the same thing you’re talking about.

    Not much Sacramento River water irrigates almonds here, maybe a few in the Orland area from Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District who is just itching to sell Sac River water and replace it with groundwater.

    Sac River water irrigates almonds down thata-way. If you look closely at the recent video of Obama touring the CV, you can see row after row of new bareroot almond plantings. Guess you call that going all in, betting Jerry the Great will deliver the pipe and Dianne the Great will deliver the water.