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California agriculture's use of water is not the problem

California agriculture's use of water is not the problem

As pies go, California’s surface water allocations are divided into very uneven thirds: In round numbers 10 percent goes to the cities, 40 percent to agriculture and the remaining half to the environment.

This is just surface water – not groundwater.

All was fine with urban residents as California lumbered into its fourth year of drought. After all, they were not being forced to do without. They were merely asked politely if they’d mind, perhaps if they felt like it, cutting back on their use of water.

All that changed on April 1 with a very real order by California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. for city dwellers to cut water use 25 percent.

The wailing from the cities and many urban journalists is really embarrassing.

You have to dig through the popular press, but the reason for the inequities we face regarding water allocations are in a recent story about angry Bay Area residents over the taste and smell of their drinking water.

While the drought gets its due blame, the story goes reports that a 1998 legal settlement between the water agency that supplies East Bay cities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife is largely to blame for limited access to better drinking water.

The reason East Bay water users have distasteful water stems in large part from the apparent depth of which water stored in reservoirs can be tapped. In short, the deeper the water the better it tastes.

Except that deep water is also colder and government regulators say that water is better left for fish, not humans.

Therein is the rub with farmers.

As a grower friend of mine likes to ask. "Why isn’t the environmental community forced to defend its use of water allotments and practices like farmers?"

Put another way - when did humans become secondary and subservient to environmental uses of water?

If we’re to “let no good crisis go to waste,” perhaps this is an opportunity for farmers and urban residents to come together and suggest that environmental agencies and groups scientifically defend their use of water and put into practice technological advancements farmers regularly employ to get the best use from every drop of water.

How do we help the non-farming community better understand that the water-thrifty technologies farmers employ today are used in conjunction with other costly and time-consuming practices aimed at ensuring only the correct amount of water is used on plants, and not a drop more?

America’s 'and grant colleges have entire departments dedicated to helping farmers understand how to use the technology necessary to employ efficient irrigation practices.

The idea that California’s farming community readily employs such technology and advice suggests they are not the water thieves some paint them out to be.

The challenge is how do we help people understand this so that we can change the ridiculous and immoral policy that makes humans tertiary considerations of water on this planet.

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