Drip irrigation is commonly used in California citrus groves

Drip irrigation is commonly used in California citrus groves.

Major media still wrong on agricultural water use

My iPhone buzzed incessantly over lunch with the usual activities. Across the Mexican restaurant full of patrons sat a citrus farmer I know. On his way out the door he commented to me about his continued quest for irrigation water.

I then received a tweet from a friend asking if I’d read the latest editorial in the Sacramento Bee that dissed farmers and their use of water. That was all the invitation I needed to check my SacBee App and find out what she was talking about.

Given my friend’s employment with an agricultural organization and her livid response, I could almost guess the Bee’s editorial without reading it.

I was almost right; it was worse.

Under the headline: “Overwatering is a crime – except for state’s biggest water user” the state’s prominent newspaper rips into agriculture, blaming it for wasting water in an epic drought year.

Somewhat shocking is the fact that a major California newspaper that is arguably more trustworthy than others sounded more like the irrelevant, loud-mouthed, childish environmental antagonists that ripped into California agriculture earlier in the month via social media after a Chico newspaper columnist sounded off about her drive through “the armpit of California.”

I truly appreciate the people who keep me posted on such issues from around the state; I can’t express just how valuable they are to what I do, but I digress.

State figures differ

I can’t be certain where folks get the 80 percent figure that people like to cite as agriculture’s share of the total state water pie; I recall seeing the number in a UC Davis report at one time. I didn’t research where the author came up with that number, but it’s plausible that’s where folks found that figure and are dutifully repeating it.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has a whole different set of figures that I’m inclined to believe, given the source. DWR cites three years – a wet year, average year, and dry year – in its statistics. Those were 1998, 2000 and 2001, respectively.

In 2000 agricultural users consumed 42 percent of the state’s dedicated water supply, environmental users got 47 percent and urban consumed the remaining.

That’s hardly the 80 percent the Sacramento Bee was talking about.

For those thinking "that was then, this is now," I'll point out that with the exception of 2006, in no other year since then have California farmers received a full allotment of surface irrigation water, yet they've managed to produce higher yields per acre with less water.

I’ve spoken with California Rice Commission officials and they report that their use of water is tallied among the 42 percent and does not get credited to the environmental use of water, in spite of the obvious environmental benefits rice water has for a whole host of birds, mammals and other creatures. Take that for what it’s worth.

So here we go again: having to defend agriculture’s use of water by calling out blatant lies that are repeated as gospel by journalists who should know better.

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Their claims are even more ridiculous when you consider agriculture received little to no surface water this year.

I’m sure there won’t be an official report issued next spring by state regulators on the percentage of water that went to urban, agricultural and environmental uses in 2014 because it won’t help the argument that agriculture wastes water.


Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette or email me at [email protected]


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