The Oregon Natural Resources Report - Agricultural News from Oregon

Water War Does Not Bode Well for Agriculture

January 10, 2010

By American Farm Bureau Federation,

To have food you must have water. This may seem like commonsense to farmers, but unfortunately many consumers don’t connect the two. Consequently, a tug-of-war game being played out in some states over water rights is pitting municipalities and residents against farmers and ranchers. Little do consumers know, they will really be on the losing end if farmers do not have adequate water supplies to continue producing food for our nation.

Muddying the Waters – It is tough enough for producers who continually face drought and other natural water shortages without further being impacted by state water regulations. I have long said the issue of water supply will be one of the biggest challenges facing not only agriculture, but our country as a whole, in the next several decades. The question is when does that challenge become a crisis?

As water supplies dwindle, it only makes sense that state and local governments would impose some sort of water restrictions on residents. But ongoing feuds about allocation between agriculture and household use, coupled with environmental groups using the opportunity to try to add more restrictions to agriculture’s use of water, only muddies the issue.

Take for instance what is currently happening in California. Facing a three-year drought, the government is buckling down on water consumption by residents and farmers. But while residents are being told they can’t water their lawns during specific hours of the day or wash their cars at home while leaving on the water hose, farmers are being forced to fallow as much as 30 percent of their cropland so not to use water. Now, throw into the mix dozens of water-related lawsuits, most filed by environmental groups, who promise to provide a prolonged judicial drought even if it rains like crazy. It’s a tough predicament for California producers.

The struggle for water can also be seen in the decades-long water fight between Alabama, Florida and Georgia, which recently intensified when a federal judge ruled that Georgia has few legal rights to Lake Lanier, the main water supply for Atlanta. Metropolitan Atlanta has roughly 5 million residents and projects more than 2 million more by 2030. Without the use of Lake Lanier, the government is already looking into further tapping into water resources used by farmers across the state – water that’s already being partially diverted to Florida and Alabama to fuel power plants and sustain a federally protected mussel population.

Finding Resolution

Not only are we facing these water challenges in the U.S., but worldwide governments are contemplating how much more freshwater sources they will need to meet population needs by 2050, when the global population is expected to reach more than 9 billion people.

Instead of all the in-house fighting we need to look for resolutions here at home, like building reservoirs to buffer drought years. The construction and use of irrigation reservoir systems could divert what could potentially be a major agricultural crisis. For example, Alabama recently passed legislation to create small ponds to store water during rainy seasons.

We need to continue to talk with consumers about the necessity of water to produce food. If we don’t the turf fights will continue and solutions will not be found. Water is one of our most vital resources. If we don’t protect it now by building resources for the future, our children and grandchildren will reap the dry, dusty consequences.

  
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Discuss this article

Joe L Del Bosque January 10, 2010

I’d like to make a few clarifications regarding the article. First, many farmers on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley that are in the heart of the drought-impacted areas have had to fallow closer to 40 or 50% of their farmland. It is estimated that 500,000 acres have been idled due to the drought in the San Joaquin Valley. Second, the third year of this three-year drought is largely a regulatory drought. The total rainfall in the northern watersheds, where water is captured and stored, received 95% of normal precipitatiion in the winter of 2008/2009. The reservoirs in the north actually had more water in storage in 2009 than they had in 2008, but farms were allocated less water in 2009 than they received in 2008. The reduction in 2009 was due in large part to the restrictions imposed on conveyance through the Delta by the Endangered Species Act.

Doug miell January 11, 2010

Another aspect of this issue is being played out across many Australian irrigation regions, where past water allocation policies are being reviewed to address a serious imbalance between water used for irrigation and the requirements of both cities and the environment.

A major impact is a significant reduction of water for irrigated agriculture and the restructure of regional communities and rural industries as they adapt to less water availability and output. This is over and above any impacts from drought and climate change.

The old adage: “where there is water there wealth,” becomes very evident when the water used for irrigation is removed from a region.

If there are any bright spots in this adjustment process they are reflected in the productivity gains that farmers are making as they adapt to the reality of less water availability.

Water use efficiencies achieved through adoption of new distribution, measurement and monitoring technologies, careful crop and field selection and a much tighter control on inputs and timing of irrigation applications are delivering some amazing results.

We will definitely need the ingenuity of the irrigated agricultural community to continue to rapidly adopt and expand on these best practices if we are to meet the food security requirements of a growing world population base.

Mike Hudson January 17, 2010

What the author did not mention either was that the CA Central Valley last year produced a record crop of Tomatoes – how can that be if all this acreage was fallowed????
Also let’s talk about “food production” a little, and how our water is being used by corporate AG in CA:
We have close to 1 Million Acres of Almonds in CA, most of them in the Central Valley, and most of these Almonds are grown for export to the world. No famine of any kind will break out if we were to cut back almond acreage.
We grow over 1 Million Acres of Alfalfa Hay to ship to Japan so that essentially Japanese ranchers can raise their luxury Kobe Beef on California water.
We also still grow about 1/2 million acres of heavily subsidized cotton in CA. Cotton production is the one crop that shrank over the last decade because some of the land it is grown on had to be retired due to pollution and bad drainage.
These 3 crops above use close to 10 MILLION ACRE FEET of water – and most of us haven’t eaten one thing yet that was produced with this water. To put 10 Million acre feet in perspective, it’s 1/3 of the entire State of California’s water consumption.
If you’re worried about food safety and water supply dependability, start chopping down some of the stuff we don’t need and that benefit only the handful of corporations who grow it.
One Westlands grower made 80 Million $$ last year reselling (!!!) his farmwater to developers down south – what does the farm bureau association think about that? If it’s farm water, it shouldn’t be used for development, especially not while other farmers are crying the blues.

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