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California Water in the News, Again. What's the Real Story?

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Written by Ray Batten |

Over the last few years, the California water issue has been on the front page almost every day. Drought, endangered fish and big ag have been named the perpetrators of the gloom and doom. The real story may be not only more interesting, but even more serious.

The gems of California agriculture are the San Joaquin Valley and the Imperial Valley. Both are deserts with water. The San Joaquin Valley includes approximately 8.5 million irrigated acres and is almost completely irrigated with water from the Sierra snowpack, while the Imperial Valley draws water from the Colorado River for its 500,000 acres.

San Joaquin Valley
The San Joaquin Valley

In the early 1900s, visionary folks drew up a plan to make the Golden State a reality. Taking snow pack and turning it into water, storing it in mountain reservoirs behind a network of dams, and building a very advanced system of ditches to deliver the precious water to the dry – yet fertile – farm ground and the city folks below. City and rural water districts were organized, land was cleared, fields were leveled and drain ditches built.

The design and subsequent finished product was built around the premise that someday there would be 15 million people in the cities to drink, play and use the water, plus maybe 4 million acres of farm ground to nourish.

California flourished and grew. People came from all over to experience the dream. Jobs abounded, fortunes were made and California became the place where dreams come true. Remember Walt Disney?

Enter a typical drought cycle in the early 2000s with 35 million citizens and nearly 9 million acres now feasting on the California water system. Add to that the endangered spices acts, powerful environmental groups and outdoors fans now all vying for a piece of the pie. Thousands of acre feet are used to flush the non-indigenous Delta Smelt into the San Francisco Bay, and the building of additional storage becomes a matter of litigation and not construction, so nothing gets done.

This amazing state still produces a high percentage of all vegetables, nuts, milk and protein for the American people and the world.

The story continues to shed light on the California farmer who has adopted every available technology and methodology to become efficient and sustain the viability of the industry.

They are great "Stewards of the Land" and have tirelessly worked to do more and more with less and less.

In many ways, the current focus on California water has frozen a large number of water users in the agriculture sector who could improve their water to crop delivery systems because they fear possible state and federal regulation actions that might negatively impact their land value.

In more direct words, the water may be worth as much or more than the land, so if they reduce the amount they use the old term of "use it or lose it" looms heavy.

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