Need to be proactive becomes more critical as drought continues

There was a time when we wondered why anyone would write a letter to the editor. It seemed as though conspiracy theorists or people kidnapped by aliens from outer space had the best chance to be published in urban newspapers. Our all-time favorite letter to the editor got right to the point. The person who wrote it only needed two sentences: “I’ve never written a letter to the editor before. Now I feel better.”

From our experience it does make you feel somewhat better if you get your letter published. When this column was written we were waiting to see if our letter to the San Francisco Chronicle would be published. We were prompted to respond to yet another attack on alfalfa, and cotton, as well. It was, as you’ve probably guessed, the low value high-water use statement that continues to surface.

The letter writer had an easy solution for protecting Delta smelt; just eliminate the use of “subsidized irrigation water” for alfalfa and cotton. The water that would be saved would be allocated to the Delta. You can bet that the continuing drought will bring out more easy solutions and target alfalfa and other crops.

The Chronicle letter was somewhat similar to a letter that appeared in the Modesto Bee about a year ago. However, the Modesto Bee letter that prompted our response went beyond the low-value high water use criticism. The letter writer also claimed that alfalfa receives government payments and he added that 80 percent of developed water goes to agriculture.

The 80 percent figure is way off the mark and continues to find its way into articles published in the mainstream media. It’s constantly repeated by environmentalists and from what we’ve seen it’s never challenged by journalists who fail to do fact checking. According to the State Department of Water Resources, the figure for developed water — both state and federal — is around 40 percent for agriculture, while the amount of water allocated to the environment is closer to 50 percent.

At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, it’s no secret that the mainstream media tilts toward the side of the environmentalists. As reported in a column last year, for example, the 80 percent water use figure was repeated in a newspaper article even though the journalist was given the correct information and the source. How difficult is it to check the Department of Water Resources Web site?

The misinformation in newspaper articles and on op-ed pages is a reminder that a proactive approach is needed. A good example is the California Rice Commission’s effort. We recently learned of their “Little Water, Big Results” program aimed at educating urban residents on water efficiency. Program information also pointed out that growers have slashed water use by almost 40 percent in the last 30 years. What also caught our attention was wildlife habitat information and a $1 billion benefit to the environment. The information appeared in a Sacramento newspaper ad and it was delivered to all members of the California Legislature.

The Rice Commission will release more information later and CAFA will also continue its education efforts. There’s no question in our mind that environmental groups will use the current drought to further their agenda regardless of how severely it impacts agriculture.

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