For a long time, I have wanted to drive AROUND the Salton Sea, e.g., the east side of the Sea. Yesterday, we decided it was a good time to do that. When we got to the South end of the Sea, what we saw astonished me!
In an absolute DESERT, we are growing alfalfa. The fields go to the horizon, and there are hundreds and hundreds of stacks of alfalfa. This is in a place where the summer temperature reaches 120-125 degrees! And they are growing it by flooding fields. And without water, the land is absolutely barren. This is where 20% of all California's water is used.
I know that the Imperial Irrigation District is one of our favorites so you should enjoy this insanity.
Not only this outrage, but most of their customers are the dairy farmers hundreds and hundreds of miles away.
Until yesterday, my opposition to alfalfa has been intellectual and mathematical. Now it is visceral!
Was he sure that he saw IID land? Yes -- he says that "the photographs were taken on 111 between Calipatria and Niland, which as nearly as I can tell from the IID Annual Report is dead centered in the IID."
Note that only 15% of California's water is used to grow alfalfa, but 23% is used for irrigated pasture, hay and alfalfa. IID uses about 3MAF on many crops, but IID uses about 7.5% ALL water in California, and 75% of the water California gets from the Colorado River.
So why do farmers grow alfalfa in IID? Because they only pay $17/AF of water (recall that urban consumers pay over $1,000/AF for water).
I used to think that $17 was cheap, until I read this* (via JC):
The Turlock Irrigation District's irrigation increase includes raising the basic charge, now $20 per acre, to $23 in 2009 and $26 in 2010. This charge will cover the basic allotment of water, which is higher in wet years than in dry years. Water exceeding this allotment will cost $15 for the first acre-foot and $20 per acre-foot thereafter....Didja see that! If you use enough water, you get more at half price! Those rates are not just crazy low,** but the decreasing block rate structure makes them uneconomical (and perhaps criminal, given the current drought). I used to think that IID was the Champion of Mismanaged Water,*** but I am amazed to find that TID/MID are vying to be even more foolish. Egads!
The Modesto Irrigation District's farmers pay $23.50 per acre for the basic allotment of water, then $11.75 per acre-foot.
Bottom Line: Farmers "waste" water because it's too cheap to conserve. IID and others need to raise prices/allow markets to reallocate their water supply before their water is seized due to chronic mismanagement.
* The link isn't to the same story that JC emailed to me -- because I couldn't find it online. Worst website of the month: The Modesto Bee.
** Yes, I know that prices reflect the cost of delivery. What they SHOULD reflect is the value of water, but that will not happen until water rights are more widely traded and/or water prices reflect scarcity.
*** IID, which already has problems with demand exceeding supply (duh! I wonder why) is imposing rationing in a typically backwards way (across the board).