Also, it isn’t for any one person to police what is a “serious” conversation about water.

From the same post on virtual water at the California Water Blog:

Talk of virtual water detracts from serious discussion of economic, environmental and hydrological objectives and processes important for real water and environmental systems to function. Virtual water discussions are all the more counterproductive coming in the midst of a very real and serious drought.

Conversations about the amount of water in almonds are especially important during very real and serious droughts. One of the strains of rhetoric that comes out during droughts is that farmers are especially deserving of water, generally for one or a combination of these reasons:

  1. Pathos and nostalgia about farming, with talk about generations on the same land and weathered faces on salt-of-the-earth type people.
  2. Farmers grow the food that feeds the nation.
  3. Farmers are especially dependent on water, and so droughts affect them disproportionately.

Once it is established that farmers are especially deserving, the follow-up is that because of some or all of these things, water should be directed to farmers even at the cost of the loss of fish species.

To the extent that “growing the food that feeds the nation” is an argument for prioritizing scarce water for farmers over endangered species, it is worth discussing what that means. If it means growing the lentils and rice that provides most of the daily sustenance for our people, then I could be persuaded. If it means growing a luxury snack for the remainder of the world, then it is no longer an argument that persuades me. Other people can decide where they stand, but first they need to know what is grown in the state and what happens to it.

During a real and serious drought, these arguments come to the fore and are substantially unchallenged in the press. They animate legislators’ political discussion as well. Giving the context to evaluate that rhetoric in real time is not counterproductive.


ADDED: April 2.  A couple links to examples of the rhetoric I referred to above.

From a farmer writing an op-ed in the SFChron:

When farmers “use” water, we are growing healthy, affordable, local food. It doesn’t make sense to criticize farmers for using water to grow our food …

From the Farm Water Coalition, in a press release about snow survey results:

Today’s announcement that California’s snowpack is a mere 32 percent of normal is continued bad news for farmers throughout California that grow the food consumers find at the store.

Note that when they are speaking amongst themselves, the conversation is about “key export markets”, primarily nuts.  Also, when they speak amongst themselves, the outlook, especially for nuts, isn’t that bad.


Filed under Uncategorized

9 responses to “Also, it isn’t for any one person to police what is a “serious” conversation about water.

  1. onthepublicrecord

    You guys don’t need me to link to examples to prove that this rhetoric is out there, do you?

  2. Nope. I’m grateful you that posted on this.

  3. No, but I had to look up “hathos”.

  4. onthepublicrecord

    Shoot! I got it wrong. I am going to correct that in the original.

  5. jaylund

    We easily distract ourselves in policy discussions. For some parties, distraction is a strategy – sometimes even a business plan. It is sad.

  6. Thanks, although according to Wiktionary “hathos” is a recently invented word: “Blend of hate and pathos. According to journalist Alex Heard, this word was coined in 1985 when he was searching for a word to describe the “cringe-y feeling you get when celebs go AWOL” and attended a Super Bowl party where he and another guest, then-Bob Dole press aide Scott Richardson, exchanged ideas until they came up with “hathos.”[1][2] The word’s first apparent use in print was in an essay by Heard, published in the The Washington Post on May 17, 1987.” I thought that you had used it deliberately.

    I am not sure what Jay is talking about, but I do think that raising the question of whether growing almonds for export in the rain shadow of the Coastal Ranges is a good idea when the are many other demands on a limited supply of water, and keeping the almond trees alive through periods of drought by pumping groundwater deeper and deeper, perhaps all the way to China, is a legitimate point of debate.

    My own view is that it may be possible to support continuing farming operations even on marginal land, but that is going to require that those farmers are willing to pay, or organize others into paying, for a significant reconfiguration of the existing water conveyance system that will allow much more water to be taken at periods of high flows so that the excess over current demand can be used to recharge the groundwater basins on the Westside. Which was more or less the original intent of the San Luis Unit of the CVP – to counter overdrafting of groundwater. Interesting how that worked out.

  7. Professor Lund, is your argument that arid rain shadow agricultural business models should prevail in a world still believing in a mid-twentieth century engineering telos of progress and betterment?

  8. Damn! Another word that I have had to look up! Telos, “the end term of a goal-directed process; especially, the Aristotelian final cause” from But a good question. Are the goals of the mid-twentieth century still applicable today? I am not sure that you should pin those old goals on engineers, however. They, which included me at the time, were just doing what they thought the people wanted. But times have changed and now everyone, including most engineers, are more concerned with sustainability than “development”.

  9. @Robert Pyke I must confess, John Bass sends me running to edictionary on a regular basis …