Governor Brown lists three reasons in the ABC interview below.
- The lack of delivery from the water projects and water rights curtailments of junior appropriators is already sufficient cutback.
- It would end Californian food production and displace hundreds of thousands of people.
- Our historical water rights system gives (some) farmers precedent.
1. This argument doesn’t impress me much, because we know that farmers are still getting water. They had a cheap surface water cutback, but replaced that supply with groundwater. About 500,000 acres out of 9,500,000 acres were fallowed. The remaining 9,000,000 acres used water to keep permanent crops alive or finished other crops. Growers paid more money for this water, or they increased their overdraft. Their actual cutback was 500,000acres/9,500,000acres = 5.2%. I’d be happy to grant that growers deficit irrigated, or watered the very minimum to keep crops alive, so that percent might be higher, even 8% or 9%. That’s about in line with urban water conservation last year. The water right curtailments and lack of project water are not imposing a burden on agriculture whole disproportionate to the burden urban users shouldered last year. We will know that agriculture has matched the 25% cuts being imposed on urban users because 2.4 million irrigated acres will be fallowed.
2a. Brown said “Of course we could shut it off,” said Brown. “If you don’t want to produce any food and import it from some other place.” I will never understand why agriculture is discussed as a toggle, either on or off. If we cut back some ag water, all the other growers will refuse to grow food in solidarity? You could still have A LOT OF AGRICULTURE, even if you cut back A LOT. That’s because there is a WHOLE LOT now. Ag could cut back the 2.4 million irrigated acres just with tree nuts and alfalfa. California could still supply literally every other thing it grows now, every single leaf of spinach.
2b. Brown mentioned displacing hundreds of thousands of growers (because if one water district* gets cut off, every other grower in the state leaves as well. The growers, united, will never be divided.). I note that growers have been drawing down groundwater so that personal and municipal wells are going dry. This fastidiousness about driving people from their homes is not reciprocated. But look, if it is going to be very hard on farmworkers, we could help them by … giving them fat cash. We can come up with money more readily than we can create water.
3. Our historical water rights system. My guess is that until they (Gov Brown and the State Board) are absolutely forced to it, they will not take this on. Partly out of respect for history and law, partly because where would you start, partly because the lawsuits would start. But Gov. Brown knows full well they are an unfair, convoluted mess. Two more years of drought and emergency powers will get turned on the water rights system too**.
*I propose they start with Dudley Ridge Water District, which has not one resident and is wholly owned by a few corporations.
**Here’s what you do, State Board. Spend the two years getting ready to put the next system in place. Don’t even glance at the existing system. Grant every person a headright of 30gppd that travels with them. Cities can administer the aggregate, based on population. Figure out what instream flows should be. Decide which five million acres should be farmed and grant those lands 3.5 acft/acre. In years with more water than that total, users can buy more directly from the State.