Spreck Rosekrans is an Economic Analyst at EDF.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial “California’s Man-Made Drought” (Sept. 2), buys into the false choice of fish versus jobs. It is disappointing that the Journal, given its financial focus, fails to address or even acknowledge opportunities for market-based solutions to improve water use efficiency. The editorial also ignores many salient aspects of water management in California.
The WSJ seems to believe that the “pumps” are off (pumps which convey water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to cities and farms to the south). The pumps were never “off” but pumping rates were reduced during spring months to protect endangered fish. While the legal rulings are in place due to concern over Delta smelt, it is only one of several species whose populations have plummeted in recent years as diversions of freshwater have reached record levels. The pumps are now at full capacity. Lester Snow, Director of California’s Department of Resources, estimated that protecting fish in the Delta reduced overall pumping only about 5% for the year. The largest reason for reduced deliveries is that California is in its third year of drought.
The WSJ notes high levels of unemployment in Central Valley towns. It does not mention that these towns have been economically depressed for decades and have been especially hard hit by the recent downturn in the construction industry.
The WSJ states that San Joaquin Valley farmers are an “endangered species”. Many farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are getting full supplies, in spite of the drought. Due to California’s water rights system, those who were the last to develop their land are awarded the most “junior” water rights. They are also hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to the United States for the cost of their water delivery systems – a debt that would be measured in billions were it not for the ZERO INTEREST loans they have carried over many decades.
The WSJ fails to mention that California, in spite of the drought and fishery protections, is projecting a record tomato crop.
The WSJ omits any mention of the coastal communities that have been devastated by the closure of salmon fishing for the last two years.
The WSJ does not tell its readers that those agricultural communities with ample supplies have little incentive to invest in efficiency measures such as drip irrigation. Were they allowed and encouraged to sell more of their excess supply, we would not find the price of water to be less than $10 per for an acre-foot on one side of the valley and up to $600 on the other side.
Finally, the WSJ does not mention how hard people throughout California are working to improve water management so that we can support our world-class agricultural economy and our growing population (now at 38 million people), while continuing to protect our natural resources. The Environmental Defense Fund, along with other environmental groups, are working closely with agricultural and urban water stakeholders to develop long-term solutions so we are not forced into false choices.