Friday, July 25, 2014

Monopolists in Agriculture say NO to responsible groundwater management, and YES to tax-funded dam building

"Does anybody check the numbers?"
2014-07-25 from "River Currents" column by Ron Sorok:
A few weeks back, I got a call from a local TV news station asking me to comment on a state Farm Bureau news release. It was a curious press release. In a nutshell, it blasted the state for even considering groundwater management legislation. Instead, we were told that we just needed to build more dams.
Well, it certainly is understandable that the Farm Bureau has some intense feelings about this. After all, most of the groundwater mining in California is done by agriculture. Groundwater management, ideally, tries to make groundwater use sustainable---and in the long run using more groundwater than is being recharged is not sustainable.
But even more important was the implication of the press release that if we only could build more dams we would not have to worry about keeping groundwater use sustainable.
Well, the USGS reports that 150 cubic kilometers of water have been evacuated from California’s groundwater basins over the past 160 years. In California’s San Joaquin Valley alone, the long-term groundwater overdraft is 2-million acre-feet per year and accelerating in California’s unregulated environment. The USGS thinks it might be twice that number.
We’ve also got some agency numbers about the yield (“new” water developed) from all the new or expanded dams that Congress might authorize and might be funded in the upcoming multibillion dollar water bond: it amounts to only 10% of the USGS San Joaquin Valley groundwater-overdraft estimate and 1% of the existing water use in the state.
A 10% groundwater solution for just one region in California. And who in their right mind thinks that this overdrafting farming region will get a significant share of the water from these proposed deadbeat dams costing almost 9 billion dollars. Your guess is right, not much under the beneficiary-pays principle.
And to put the costs into perspective, the Federal Central Valley Project delivers about eight million acre-feet of water in a typical year. Farmers, a few cities, and a few power users are still paying for this project. What do they still owe? About two-billion dollars. And they complain about their water and power bills now.
So somebody over at the Farm Bureau can’t do math very well.
Of course some of our state and national leaders can’t do math well either. The math challenged just might think that we can avoid responsible use of the state’s groundwater---its best drought reserve---by building more expensive, low-yield dams on California rivers. But we shouldn’t let them do it. The numbers don’t lie.
And rivers matter too.

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