A recent L.A. Times article on Westlands Water District misses the full story and instead portrays Westside farmers as bad actors in their struggle to grow food.
The article begins by repeating the myth that agriculture uses three-quarters of the water in our state. A recent example of this by The Hamilton Project titled “Nine Economic Facts About Water in the United States” displayed a large graphic showing agriculture consuming 80 percent of California’s water.
In fact, the report included a footnote that echoed long-published information by the Department of Water Resources that on-farm use of developed water is only 41 percent when environmental water is taken into account. Why is it so hard for writers to admit that reality?
New technology pioneered on the San Joaquin Valley’s Westside proved that crops are able to flourish in soils where salinity levels might spell doom in other areas. The grasslands area encompasses about 100,000 acres that is flourishing with high value crops because farmers, government agencies and environmental organizations worked together to reduce problem drainage into the San Joaquin River. Even the EPA called the project “a success story.”
Surface water has been delivered through the federal Central Valley Project for decades and until the early 1990s it also served to halt the subsidence of lands due to groundwater overdraft. Government officials and the public recognized the importance of continuing farming in an area that produces a bounty of food.
Federal regulations that restrict water deliveries to Westside farms, when combined with drought conditions have forced farmers to increase groundwater pumping. The result is a return to periodic land subsidence in areas affected by the surface water restrictions.
In 1992 an Act of Congress (CVPIA) removed a million acre-feet of water from farmers each year and redirected it to environmental purposes. What Congress didn’t do at the time was find a solution to Westside drainage problems and the problem continues.
The failure of federal agencies to provide a statutorily mandated drainage service to the lands along the Westside is compromising valuable farmland. This obligation has multiple solutions. Some are more expensive than others and taxpayers deserve a cost effective solution to the problem. After all, they have a vested interest in their pocketbooks and the ability of the land to continue to produce food.