Dr. Sunding’s most recent cost-benefit analysis of the AroundDeltaWaterGo has some exciting tidbits that you’ll be reading in the news soon. I’d like to call out one small item to make a different point about rhetoric:
Look! The AroundDeltaWaterGo helps some farmers and hurts others. Choosing to build the ADWG is a choice to favor some regions of farming. Farming in California is not a single thing with an On/Off switch. A decline in acres farmed is not ‘the end of California agriculture’. Retiring an objectively large amount of ag land (say 3 million acres) would still leave an objectively large amount of ag land (six million acres). I would like to see some real pushback against the rhetoric that lumps all regions and types of farming, because that obscures the choices I wish we were making.
The last point I quoted above brings up another myth about California agriculture that I’d like to go away. Why should California be devoting so many irreplaceable resources to feeding everyone else? Some dude said at the Israel*-California Water Conference**:
To me this is really a profound opportunity to do something for the whole world,” Mr. Thebaut said. “The population of the planet is projected to be 10 billion people by 2050, and consequently food security and international security is at stake. The farms in California throughout the Imperial Valley, the Central Valley, and along the coast, really supply a minimum of one-third of the food supply of this country. The country’s population is right now about 324 million people, and it’s projected to be 438 million by the mid-century, so consequently the responsibility of the agriculture industry to be able to meet these demands is profound.”
Why? The Great Plains could be farmed for grains and vegetables instead of corn and soy. We do not have to meet increasing demand for cheap meat (wine, nuts), even if people want it. Why is it California’s responsibility to feed as many people as we are at the cost of our own rivers? California also has endemic species and ecosystems that are real nice. Why isn’t is it our responsibility to preserve those, when food can be produced elsewhere? This banal, unexamined rhetoric (farming is all or nothing, we should produce all possible food) doesn’t help make hard choices.
*Dear reader, I want you to know that I am much more openminded about drought advice from Israel than I am about drought advice from Australia. I hate hearing about Israel’s approach to water only about a third as much as I hate hearing about Australia’s approach to water. I can tell you Israel’s approach: they threw huge money at the problem and they’re the size of a garden (500,000 acres). You can afford just about any water technology at garden scale. Hell, we could afford nearly any water technology if we had only 500,000 acres to irrigate. For that matter, we could afford entirely careless water spreading if we had only 500,000 acres to irrigate.
**Special aside to Mike Wade, who has never once commented here even though he comments absolutely everywhere. Dude. I can solve your certainty problem. California ag could have extremely reliable, certain water on about half its current area, even in our highly variable climate. When California ag says they want reliability, they seem to mean: we want the public to guarantee water for us at a price we like no matter how much we decide to use (which is always benchmarked to the highest historical use). There is a very reliable stretch of the hydrograph that could be dedicated to farming, and if farming used only that, they could build their stable vibrant farming communities with decent confidence about the future. I’d happily discuss ways to support those communities, because I like ag tourism.