As the golden state suffers from an extended drought, California’s state-wide water-rationing sentiment betrays the wrong priorities for the state’s wealthy coastal residents and leadership. For years, the state’s agricultural segment has been the scapegoat of environmentalists who control the legislature and much of the wealth of the state. Water resources have been diverted for green interests at the expense of farmers who tend to drought-starved farms in the central valleys of the state. The volume of complaints has only intensified with Governor Brown’s exemption of the agricultural interests from the mandatory 25 percent reduction in usage to be imposed state-wide.
A closer look at the history of rationing and allocation throughout the state over the past 25 years portrays the difference in priorities and power between the farmers and the coastal elites. Environmentalists complain that agriculture is producing too many water-intensive crops like almonds (1,929 gallons of water required per pound of almonds) or avocados (74 gallons of water required per pound of avocados). Thus far, there are no reports of wealthy bay-area elites omitting slivered almonds and roasted avocado slices from their Cobb salads.
Beginning with the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act, agricultural water has already been rationed for pet environmental protections in the region. Protections for steelhead and salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have so restricted agricultural water diversion that 76 percent of inflow from the Sierra Mountains ends up in the ocean. These types of water resource diversions waste 4.4 million acre-feet of water per year. That is enough water to sustain almost one-half million acres of land and several million families per year.
There is no greater example of inconsistent sentiment and wrong priorities in California’s water rationing than the plight of the delta smelt. The smelt is a tiny finger-sized fish, which is an endangered species at the center of the fight for water allocation. When the smelt count dwindled to four females and two males because of breeding issues in the saltier-than-normal waters, water was reallocated by law to lower the saline ratio of the aquifer. As a result of cuts to water allocation for farming, 300,000 acres of California cropland went fallow and unused. Unemployment rates in some areas of the central valley have soared to over 14 percent because if the farms are not working, workers are not farming. Environmentalists lament that it is the will of the American people to not let the beautiful fish go extinct. Instead, their policies are about to make the Californian farmer go extinct.
The wealthy coastal and resort-living emerald valley residents are quick to pontificate about the “water hogs” of agriculture. Their claims ring of hypocrisy when one considers that the water consumption per capita in Palm Springs, “the oasis of the desert,” is an astounding 201 gallons per day. The 57 pristine golf courses of Palm Springs each consume about one million gallons of water per day. That is enough water to supply a family for four years.
It is easy to pick on the farmers, as they statistically use 80 percent of the state’s water supply but generate only two percent of California’s gross domestic product. It is the ancillary industry that is connected to farming, like dairy and beef concerns that expands its significance to the economy of the state. The resentful sentiment of the coastal elite toward agricultural needs for adequate water resources betrays wrong priorities and portrays the inevitable demise of the California farmer.
Opinion by Chris Marion
Photo by Dan DeBold – Flickr License