Saved by drip?

Posted on | July 25, 2009 | 1 Comment


A REPORT this week from the Pacific Institute argues that using pricing to encourage California farmers to switch from flood irrigation to sprinklers or drip could conserve 5.6 million acre-feet of water a year. According to the report’s co-author Peter Gleick, this is the equivalent to:

    • More than 16 times the amount of water that can be stored in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir;
    • Triple the water that can be stored in the far larger San Luis Reservoir;
    • 4.5 times the water than could be stored in the proposed Temperance Flats Reservoir;
    • 19 times the water restored to the environment in the recent Delta smelt ruling.

To that list, he could add, it could supply all of Southern California’s urban users.

Today’s Associated Press / San Francisco Chronicle follow-up on the report includes:

… Many farmers with historic water rights have no incentive to conserve, the report said, because they get their full allocation of canal water every year no matter the weather conditions, while others get none….

“These guys are living in a fantasy world. When you’re talking about reappropriating water rights, you’re messing with the value of property and it’s enormous. It’s Socialism 101.” – Shawn Coburn, farmer

…”We need to move beyond the status quo, because it’s clearly not working for farmers.”  – Heather Cooley, lead author of Sustaining California Agriculture in an Uncertain Future

UPDATE: An informed water-watcher saw this post and alerted me to the writings of a public policy wonk who publishes the blog On The Public Record. An earlier, similar report by the Pacific Institute elicited this December 2008 response from OTPR, the headline,  “I would like to start by name-calling.”

I must say, the Pacific Institute has balls of steel. They do what everyone else is scared to do: they predict how much water could be saved by changing how agriculture uses water. They give estimates, say that efficiency measures could save 3.4 million acrefeet. This is important. Now we know that the Pacific Institute is talking about more water than new dams would yield. Even more audacious, the Pacific Institute says that agriculture can save a couple reservoirs worth of water just by using more sophisticated irrigation methods and crop shifting. It can still be ag! Better ag! It can be even better ag, and we can have another 3.4 million acrefeet of water!

To continue reading, click here.

To read last week’s On The Public Record response to the latest Pacific Institute report, click on the headline. “Of course, that would require a functional state government.


One Response to “Saved by drip?”

  1. Adan Ortega Jr.
    July 25th, 2009 @ 6:41 pm

    The Pacific Institute has been “myth-busting” in editorials preceding this report denying that water has much to do with current economic hardships in the California Central Valley. I’m just beyond understanding how this usually reliable source of information could be lured into the anti-growth extreme of the environmental community discounting clear human impacts of drought with academic gymnastics. All this to say that those efforts blunted any possible positive reception of this report they may have wished for from the agricultural community. Perhaps the Institute can consult with its no-growth allies and make recommendations that would guarantee end to all the single-species ESA lawsuits and allow agriculture the ability to continue providing affordable local food grown in California.

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