"There are four more very, very serious problems that flow directly from California’s huge agribusinesses wasteful use of water:
- There are estimates that fully 20% of all the electricity used in California is used to move water from where it is to where it is currently wanted. A significant amount of this electricity is produced by highly subsidized (that means our tax money) hydro-electric power producing dams. Think Hoover Dam for instance, but there are hundreds more. As more and more water is diverted from dammed up rivers, less and less electricity is generated.
The California Aqueduct, which you have seen if you have ever driven from Los Angeles to Sacramento, begins at the Oroville Dam. It then runs 444 miles to the South, and up hill all the way since the Southern end of the San Joaquin Valley is higher than the North end. Then it arrives at the Tehachapi Mountains and it has to be lifted 3,400 feet straight up to get over the mountains. This happens in five stages. The fifth stage lifts all that water higher than the Empire State Building on top of the Eiffel Tower. Some of this energy is recovered on the downhill side, but not much.
- When fields are watered by flooding and by rolling sprinklers, the overwhelming majority of the water evaporates into the sky. But the water that is left behind contains lots of minerals, and particularly damaging is salt. When the irrigation water is recycled, the salts continue to build up as the “unsalted water” goes into the sky. Eventually, the salts in the soil build up to the point where the land is useless for growing anything and will remain that way forever. As you drive through the San Joaquin Valley even now you can see places where the land looks as if it were covered with white snow. Sorry, that is salt and that land is out of production forever. Continued wasteful irrigation simply speeds up this process.
- Because huge agri-business can use heavily subsidized water to grow cotton in a desert, and because the same huge agri-businesses receive huge subsidies directly from the U.S. Congress, they can set the world price for cotton so low that small farmers in Africa, who have successfully grown cotton for generations, can no longer compete and have given up growing cotton. However, without cotton, those African small farmers might starve to death and we cannot let people starve to death so we send the unemployed African cotton farmers direct relief payments. In November, 2005, the U.S. government issued this press release; “The Millennium Challenge Corporation offers the most significant opportunity for many key countries to address long-term development obstacles in cotton. It will result in hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into the region in grant form in a way set by recipient countries.” And the grants for the first three countries total $737 million.
And when we are talking about U. S. farm subsidy payments, we are not talking about lunch money!! Data from 2005 is the latest available and it shows that California cotton farms received $649,415,000. Arguably the state’s biggest cotton farmer, headquartered in Corcoran, California, received payments of $4,503,023 from 2003-2005. In addition, nine individuals associated with that business received an additional $4,286,864 during the same period. One California cotton farmer received $8,789,887 in payments from the U. S. government all the while using cheap water to grow the cotton. And that is just one example. And always remember that these are YOUR tax dollars we are talking about here.
- The California salmon industry has collapsed because so many rivers have been dammed that many salmon cannot reach their spawning grounds. Add to that, the fact much smaller amounts of water are being released in the few remaining rivers. Here is just one example; in 2007 only 90,000 adult salmon returned to the Central Valley to spawn. In 2002, just five years ago, the number was 804,000."
Bottom Line: As we have seen with the ethanol debacle, bad policies can lead to tragic consequences in many places, domestic and foreign. Time to replace bad policies with sustainable ones, and ending