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:
- Pathos and nostalgia about farming, with talk about generations on the same land and weathered faces on salt-of-the-earth type people.
- Farmers grow the food that feeds the nation.
- 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.