Think what I could do with “direction” and “creativity”!

I’ve been seeing the  word ‘flexible’ come up from agricultural advocates.  Here is Cannon Michael’s June 2nd testimony to Congress:

The most helpful thing that Congress can do for drought-stricken states is to encourage, demand and mandate, where necessary, creativity and flexibility on the part of federal water management and regulatory agencies.

Here is Representative Valadao announcing the legislation he is introducing:

Additionally, Rep. Valadao’s legislation will provide federal regulators with direction and flexibility…

Flexibility is code for “not enforcing the Endangered Species Act” or disregarding environmental requirements when building new storage.  Somehow, from agriculture advocates, flexibility only ever applies to the environment.  In practice, California agriculture has been moving away from flexibility as they change from annual crops to permanent crops.  They are not so keen on being flexible themselves.  We could have a genuinely flexible agricultural system, if that’s what we wanted.  If flexibility were the top priority for California agriculture, we could:

  • Have a flexible water rights system of 4M acres of top priority ag that gets water in dry years, another 1M acres that gets water in average years and another 1M acres that gets water in wet years. That would be quick and responsive to hydrology.
  • We could auction off the rights to grow 500,000 acres of trees and vines, and maintain the rest in annual crops.
  • We could require irrigation district delivery to be on-demand, and modernize all rotation-based delivery systems.
  • We could require all farms to keep a substantial cash reserve, so they do not need any individual year’s profit and can fallow in any year without financial fear. That would make them flexible.  Or we could have a government program to support growers in years they must fallow.
  • We could put more money into maintaining and distributing a wider variety of seed stocks, so that more experimental crops can be grown.  We could pay growers to “try something new” that they might be able to draw on later, if flexibility is required.
  • We could have easements on farmlands so that they can be “flexibly” turned into bypasses or groundwater recharge basins in flood years.

Flexibility is nice, but it has broader applicability than ‘breaking the ESA’.  As rhetoric, it seems inarguable; who could argue for rigidity?  But sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  Flexibility might not feel as wonderful when applied to one’s own cause.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Think what I could do with “direction” and “creativity”!

  1. Good summary. The real flexibility is in the water rights and allocations decisions, as you point out. We would add that the overriding “filter” is the Public Trust Doctrine, holding that the water is to be protected and maintained for all persons and for future generations. Water is not a private property right, legally or morally.

  2. “Collaborate” is the word repeated over and over again here in the southern half of the Central Valley. The favorite phrase repeated by public figures is “secured surface water supplies” while the favorite phrase of farmers is “We’re gonna keep pumping.”

  3. Rogene Reynolds

    “We could require all farms to keep a substantial cash reserve, so they do not need any individual year’s profit…” So, do we require the ancillary businesses to keep a “substantial cash reserve” also? Packers, haulers, equipment businesses, tax rolls – all suffer when land is fallowed. This idea needs more vetting. Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Rogene Reynolds, South Delta.