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The importance of California’s agricultural water supplies

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In abstract

We can not accommodate critical dialogue on the demand facet of water questions with out engaged on the provision facet.

By Chris Scheuring, Special to CalMatters

Chris Scheuring is senior counsel for water coverage on the California Farm Bureau. He can also be a household farmer in Yolo County, rising walnuts, almonds and pistachios.

Wendell Berry famously stated that consuming is an agricultural act. That makes all of us into farmers, and nowhere is that extra true than in water phrases.  

For farming is irreducibly the method of mixing dust, water and sunshine to convey forth from the bottom what we have to eat. And irrespective of who you’re, it’s true:  any individual, someplace, should commit quite a bit of water to the method of feeding you.

Some have been sidestepping this truth within the ongoing coverage evolutions over the way in which we should seize, retailer and transfer water in California. Yet even essentially the most ardent city environmentalist finds herself on the native grocery retailer or the farmers’ market – filling her basket with California-grown nuts, vegatables and fruits.  

Some of these crops can solely be grown right here, or in a single of the few related agricultural climates all over the world, in an irrigation-based agricultural economic system.

Take almonds, every now and then the whipping-post of California water use: They can’t be grown in a spot the place it rains in the summertime. Iowa, for instance, is terribly chilly in February – which is exactly when almonds want delicate Mediterranean winter climate for his or her blossoms to be pollinated. Mediterranean crops want a Mediterranean local weather, which normally means delicate winters and sizzling, dry summers.

Beyond that, the case for California agriculture is made by our farming practices and their regulatory backdrop, no matter pure reticence California farmers might have about being regulated. We do it extra effectively right here, and with extra oversight, than in most various agricultural venues all over the world. I’d examine a California avocado favorably to an avocado wherever else on the earth, on these phrases.

That’s why I’ve at all times thought {that a} delicate pressure of NIMBYism runs via the retrograde concepts that some have about “reforming” agricultural water rights right here and constraining the water tasks that in the end ship meals to the world.  With almost 8 billion folks on the planet, pinching off California’s agricultural water supplies is a sport of whack-a-mole which is able to trigger the identical water points to come up elsewhere.

Without query, we should proceed on our trajectory of making California farming extra water-efficient. If you’ve gotten been watching California agriculture for a technology, you already know that a lot of the panorama has transitioned from old school flood and sprinkler irrigation to extra environment friendly drip and micro-sprinkler strategies – even within the case of row crops. We should proceed this path; new applied sciences associated to irrigation proceed to be developed, together with higher monitoring of utilized water and crop water use.

We should additionally acknowledge inherent conflicts between agricultural water use and the natural world which might be dependent upon our rivers and streams. 

Gone are the times in California when a grizzly bear may paw a salmon out of the Suisun Marsh, however we will work collectively to search out non-zero-sum water and habitat options that may take benefit of alternatives to guard and rehabilitate species of concern, the place it may be carried out with out disproportionate human influence. Again and once more via public enactment, California has demonstrated its will to maintain the setting in thoughts as we transfer ahead.

Further, we should additionally carry ahead processes to develop new water supplies for California’s farms and rising cities, whether or not these are storage amenities above floor or beneath floor, or stormwater seize and aquifer recharge, or desalination or recycling. In the face of a altering hydrology and the anticipated loss of snowpack, we merely can not accommodate critical dialogue on the demand facet of water questions with out engaged on the provision facet. Otherwise, we’re chasing a receding goalpost – and we won’t get there.

Finally, do not forget that farming will not be a query of “if,” however “where.” We’re going to eat – all of us all over the world – and we’re going to farm so as to take action. So we should always shield California’s agricultural water supplies, as a result of the case for California water getting used on California’s farms is powerful.