n a recent article, the LA Times blamed California’s increased water use, in part, on farmers’ decision to grow permanent crops that “can’t be fallowed.” I wasn’t sure what it meant, but last Friday I went to a Southern California Water Committee meeting in agricultural Kern County and I got an earful.
San Joaquin Valley farmers have switched from cotton to tree crops like almonds in a big way. The switch was made in part because stricter environmental regulations, especially for air pollution control and pesticide use, are crimping profits, as are rising energy costs. So now, a drive through the southern San Joaquin Valley is a drive through tree groves, not cotton fields. And that’s causing a big problem.
Kern County supervisor Ray Watson told the group that farmers have a tough decision this year, as water deliveries from the Central Valley Project to the western San Joaquin have been cut to zero (as in zero, no water deliveries). They can get enough groundwater to produce a crop from half their trees, but that means letting the other half die, and it takes about eight years (with good water) for new trees to begin producing. Or they can minimally water all their trees so they barely survive, but will produce no fruit or nuts – no income.
As a result, unemployment in California farm towns is reaching 40 percent, and even 60 percent. Yet the Sierra snowpack that provides the valley with water is at 90 percent of normal. What’s happening?
Simple. The environmentalists took the water.
California – the nation’s largest producer of tomatoes, lettuce, almonds, apricots, strawberries and many other crops – risks agricultural losses of over $2 billion for the upcoming season and $3 billion in total economic losses in 2009. According to a University of California at Davis study, 80,000 jobs could be lost in the Central Valley.
Although global warming is expected to receive much of the blame for this economic disaster, government regulation is a more significant – and preventable cause – of it, according to The National Center for Public Policy Research.
For example, state and federal water officials have sharply cut agricultural water deliveries in California so that more water can go out to sea as part of an effort to protect the Delta Smelt – a three-inch long fish listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In February, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced a “zero allocation” of water from the Central Valley Project, cutting off the massive federal irrigation system that serves numerous California farms. The supply of water from California’s State Water Project is 20 percent of normal.
“By demanding that the water flow into the Pacific Ocean, government meddlers have forced farmers to abandon production, threatening both the nation’s fresh food supplies and the jobs of farm workers, many of whom are among the nation’s poorest minorities,” said Mr. Smith. “Ironically, the cut-off of agricultural water has done nothing to help the Delta Smelt. Every year less water is diverted for agriculture, yet the fish population continues to decline.” (National Center for Public Policy Research)
By the way, the Endangered Species Act also protects certain bass species in California. Their meal of choice? Smelt. Logical people would find something wrong with that, but we’re not dealing with logic here.
The Obama administration, eager to please immigrants and supposedly concerned about the plight of poverty stricken farm workers, is allowing the water shortage to continue – and indeed, the Dems are doing all they can to further the crisis, in the eyes of the National Center, which points at a hearing today before the House Committee on Natural Resources on the California drought.
Only witnesses from federal agencies will be allowed to testify at the hearing – the same folks who are managing water resources to protect the smelt and the bass – and we will hear blame placed on climate change, farming practices and population growth. Guaranteed, we won’t hear much about the role of activist-inspired environmental policies in creating a “regulatory drought” in California.
Not testifying will be unemployed farm workers or farmers who have been forced to chose between untenable options because of curtailed water deliveries. Not testifying will be any of the thousands of scientists who don’t go along with absolutist global warming dogma. Also missing will be any representatives of California’s water industry, who could address the state’s failure to build infrastructure to meet the state’s growing population.
The National Center has categorized this proceding correctly – they plan to show up for the hearings with a kangaroo in tow.
Update one: Representative Ken Calvert showed up at the hearing with a bagful of Delta smelt and some harsh words for the Dems.
And, unrelated but interesting timing, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service just announced that it is going to conduct a status review of the smelt’s listing. Don’t get your hopes up, though – these almost never change anything.