By Richard Colman
California does not have a water shortage. The federal government, through subsidies, mismanages the water that is available in California.
The impact financially is enormous.
Orinda residents, who obtain their water from the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), pay about $7 per 1,000 gallons of water. Growers who receive federally subsidized water in such areas as Fresno, can pay 42 cents for the same amount of water.
Thus, an Orinda resident is paying 17 times more for water than a subsidized grower.
Municipal water can cost more than farm water because municipal water requires purification facilities, a maze of pipes, and maintenance.
On July 11, 2017, EBMUD raised water rates 19 percent.
Bad water policies in the form of subsidies coming from Washington D.C. are creating a phony shortage.
There really is no need to construct more facilities to store water in California.
In a typical year, 45 million acre-feet of water are available for consumption in California. This amount is based on how much water, from precipitation, is left over after evaporation and water flow into the Pacific Ocean.
An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons. A family of five will use an acre-foot in one year.
An acre is about the size of a football field. An acre filled 12 inches high with water constitutes an acre-foot.
The 45 million acre-feet of water available would be enough for 225 million California residents. Currently, California has 39.5 million people.
So why is there a water shortage?
Much — about 40 percent (16 million acre-feet) — of the that water is given away free by the federal government. A local irrigation district may charge a pumping fee, so a grower does have to pay something for water.
This policy of free water for agriculture began in 1902, when the federal government, in order to settle Western states, approved the donation of free water to individuals wanting to farm small plots of land.
In California, 80 percent of all water goes for agricultural purposes. (Some of the 80 percent goes for environmental purposes.) The remaining 20 percent goes for municipal and industrial use. In numerical terms, 39 million acre-feet goes for farming, leaving 9 million acre-feet for municipal and industrial use. These nine million acre-feet are enough for 45 million people.
Thus, agriculture is the water hog. Powerful agricultural interests argue that farming creates food for people and that water for farms must be protected.
However, much of California agriculture is used for specialty crops like almonds, pistachio nuts, and avocados. A small amount of farm water goes for cotton and rice.
Enjoyable as almonds, pistachio nuts, and avocados may be, these foods are not essential for human nutrition.
California agriculture is assumed to be a large industry. California is a state that has an annual total economic output (gross domestic product) of $2.4 trillion per year. (For the entire United States, total economic output is $19 trillion per year.)
Agriculture, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is $54 billion a year. The figure of $54 billion per year equals 2.2% of California’s total economy.
The 39 million acre-feet of California water going to agriculture needs to be examined.
If the federal government got out of the water business, farmers would have to pay market rates for water, instead of receiving free water. Thus, a farmer, instead of flooding his field with water, might, if charged a higher price, could use water-efficient sprinklers, saving water.
As long as the federal government gives water away for free, there will be overuse of water and frequent water shortages and phony droughts in California.
Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan tried to stop water subsidies to California growers. These presidents got nowhere.
As stated earlier, if California had no farms at all, there would be enough water for 225 million people.