Monday, September 8, 2008

Doing More With Less

California farmers could save the equivalent of three to 20 dams' worth of water annually
Kelly Zito, SF Chronicle, September 8, 2008

In a study released today, researchers at Oakland's Pacific Institute say that before Californians take on costly new dam and reservoir projects, state and federal policymakers need to build on existing methods for reducing agricultural water use. The report, titled "More with Less: Agricultural Water Conservation and Efficiency in California - A Focus on the Delta," stresses that agriculture remains an important part of California's economy. However, with farmers using about 80 percent of the water drawn from the critically ill Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, agricultural water conservation must expand quickly.

While water use in California has been a historical source of conflict between urban and agricultural consumers, the issue has taken on new urgency in recent years amid predictions of a drier climate, booming population growth and ecological damage to the delta. The agriculture industry, however, bristles at the notion that its operations are wasteful. "The idea that farmers are not seeking more efficient ways to do business is an insult to California agriculture," said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. "Changes are occurring when it's cost-effective and when the technology is available."

The researchers suggest that dams, or a proposed peripheral canal - which would route water around the delta, where certain fish populations are crashing - may be necessary. But first the state must create a better system for tracking water use. The study also recommends that the state develop a more rational water rights system aimed at cutting waste. Under the law, users with the earliest water claims have the highest priority for receiving water. Experts say it may be time to re-evaluate how and to whom water is allocated.

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