FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Water Kings of California

A small group of wealthy farmers receive the vast majority of water and subsidies from the federal Central Valley Project, concludes a groundbreaking report issued on December 15 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The study was issued as Indian tribes, anglers, commercial fishermen and environmental groups are challenging the negotiation of long term contracts between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and CVP growers because of their disastrous impacts upon salmon and other fish populations.

The EWG investigation is the first to name individual recipients of water subsidies in California. It concludes that the CVP, authorized in 1936 to support family farmers, is providing up to $416 million of subsidized water at the expense of fish and the environment.

It dispels the erroneous notion that many people still have of agriculture being made up of individual yeoman farmers in the Jeffersonian tradition right out of the classic Grant Wood painting of a farmer holding a pitchfork, with his wife standing steadfastly beside him.

“It confirms that large agribusiness operations not the small family farmers that federal projects were intended to benefit are reaping a windfall from taxpayer-subsidized cheap water,” according to the report, written by Bill Walker and others.

In 2002, the largest 10 percent of the farms received 67 percent of the water, for an average subsidy worth up to $349,000 each at market rates for replacement water, according to the study. Twenty-seven large farms each received subsidies each worth $1 million or more at market rates, compared to a median subsidy for all recipients of $7,076.

The report contends that one farm Woolf Enterprises of Huron, Fresno County–received more water by itself than 70 CVP water user districts, for a subsidy worth up to $4.2 million at market rates. Woolf Enterprises is a member of the huge Westlands Water District, a district that Craig Tucker of Friends of the River describes as the “Darth Vader of California water politics”

Other revelations of the report include:

* CVP farmers get about one fifth of all the water used in California, at rates that by any measure are far below market value

* In 2002, the average price for irrigation water from the CVP was less than 2 percent of what LA residents pay for drinking water, one tenth the estimated cost of replacement water supplies and about one eighth of what the public pays to buy its own water back to restore the San Francisco Bay and Delta.

The report says, “The original intent of the federal water projects, set out in the Reclamation Act of 1902, was to encourage Western settlement by small family farms. Today, artificially cheap irrigation water in the Central Valley has led to a host of problems, including the inefficient use of water, devastation of fish and wildlife habitat and severe toxic pollution”

George Miller (D-Martinez), the author of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act that made fish and wildlife a purpose of the project for first time, hailed the release of the study. Miller has been very critical of attempts by the Bush administration to “fast track” Central Valley water contract renewals without sufficient public notice and comment regarding the impacts of increased water diversions on endangered and threatened fish.

“We have known for years that the Bureau of Reclamation rewards its favored customers with cheap water at the expense of everyone else, including the American taxpayer,” he said. “Now the Environmental Working Group has calculated that price tag and at over $400 million, it is staggering”

“What is especially outrageous is that the Administration is secretively negotiating long-term water contracts worth billions of dollars that would provide these same handouts to these same special interests for decades to come, while the rest of California is either running short of water or paying top dollar for it. I wrote a water reform law in 1992 to end these costly giveaways, but the Bureau of Reclamation is ignoring the law and the public and trying to lock in these subsidies for generations”

Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Westlands Water District, blasted the study, claiming that the report “completely cooks up a fanciful description of the subsidies.”

He said the actual cost of water to individual farmers in the district is not 7 to 8 dollars per acre-foot, as the study contends. “That’s the cost to the irrigation district, he stated. “The individual farmer in the district will actually pay $20 to 90 per acre foot.”

He was particularly critical of the report’s conclusion that the average price of irrigation water was less than 2 percent of what LA residents pay for drinking water.

“First off, LA is paying for taking the water twice as far, twice the cost of conveyance. Then they have to pump the water over the Tehachapi Mountains, all at enormous cost.” he said. ” Then the water is treated with chlorine and then shipped through water systems to homes all of that, too, at enormous cost. To make this comparison doesn’t make much sense. This is junk economics.”

However, Walker emphasizes that CVP farmers are receiving between $60 million and $416 million in water subsidies each year, depending on how the “market value of the water is defined. The subsidy amounts are the difference between what should have paid for the water minus what they actually paid. The subsidy was calculated at three different rates the Bureau of Reclamation’s “full cost rate ($60 million), the State Environmental Water Account rate ($305 million), and the Replacement Water Rate ($416 million).

The State Environmental Water Account rate is the difference between the average CVP rate and the price paid for CVP water by the Environmental Water Account, a state-federal joint agency, to restore fish and wildlife habitat in the Bay-Delta. The Replacement Water rate is obtained by comparing the average price for CVP water to the estimated coast of replacement water supplies from proposed dams and reservoirs on the San Joaquin River.

“No matter what market value is used for comparison, the total subsidy to CVP farmers exceeds the actual amount they paid in 2002, about $48 million. That means that CVP water users are getting a minimum discount of 55 percent below market value, ranging up to almost 90 percent, for the water they receive, the report states.

As a solution, the study advocates far-reaching water policy reform. “Reforms to make details of water subsidies public, limit the amount and value of water subsidies to large farms, and encourage conservation by pricing water at rates closer to market value are needed to end the disaster for taxpayers and the environment by the Central Valley Project, the report advises.

I commend Bill Walker and the other writers of the Environmental Working Group study for doing the first real in-depth analysis of federal water subsidies and their impacts in the Central Valley. For years, fishing organizations, environmental groups and California Indian tribes have complained about the cost of federally subsidized irrigation water projects on fish and wildlife, especially on salmon and other anadromous species. This report documents with hard data how a project meant to benefit small farmers has in fact mainly served the needs of the Westlands Water District and other large Central Valley agribusinesses with enormous costs to the taxpayers, fish and the environment.

To read the full report, go to: http://www.ewg.org

DAN BACHER can be reached at: danielbacher@hotmail.com

 

More articles by:

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail