02.24.2012 1

The government-imposed California dust bowl

Dust Bowl

Photo Credit: erjkprunczyk/Flickr

By Rebekah Rast — Of all the problems within California — pension and budget deficits, high unemployment, an over-eager environmentalist agenda and a failed taxpayer-funded green energy firm — add a government-made dust bowl to the list.

Yes, California farmers who produce much of the produce that our nation depends upon are being strangled by a government imposed water shortage.  To understand this situation, you first need to know that two-thirds of the state’s water comes from Northern California while two-thirds of California’s population is in the southern part of the state.  But the most disconcerting part of the water problems in California involves the very middle of the state — the Central Valley.

The Central Valley can also go by another name: the salad bowl of the nation and quite possibly the world.

Agricultural production in the Central Valley of California accounts for $26 billion in total sales and 38 percent of the Valley’s labor force.  Farmers in this area grow more than half the nation’s vegetables, fruits and nuts.  In fact, if you buy domestic artichokes, pistachios, walnuts or almonds, there is about a 99 percent chance that they were all grown in California.

But in order for these products to grow, the Central Valley needs water — and the past few years the government has been withholding that vital resource.

Much of California’s water is pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the federally owned Central Valley Project (CVP) and the California State Water Project (SWP).  To understand the size, scope and capacity of these water systems, with California boasting a population of roughly 37 million people, these two projects deliver water to more than 27 million people.  The CVP alone provides water to more than 600 family-owned farms, which produce more than 60 high-quality commercial food and fiber crops sold for the fresh, dry, canned and frozen food markets.

However, since both projects are under government control, something of a water war has ensued in California between Central Valley farmers and an environmentalist-driven agenda.  The federal government is retaining water in the Delta to protect a three-inch fish called the delta smelt and other salmon species in the name of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Therefore those who depend on California’s unique water systems are faced with an ever-diminishing supply and are forced to make some tough choices.

Due to the limited supply of water going into the Central Valley, farmers don’t know one year to the next how much water they will receive, so they must decide what to plant and what once-productive farmlands to leave fallow. For perspective, farmers have been losing more than one million acre-feet of water annually — enough to irrigate 300,000 acres or a land area roughly half the size of Rhode Island.

This not only affects the prosperity and livelihood of these farmers, their families and entire communities, but the world’s food supply as well. Some farm communities in the Central Valley struggle with unemployment rates as high as 40 percent, which should come as no surprise since more than 50,000 people live and work in these communities dependent on the agricultural economy.

U.S. Congressmen who represent much of the Central Valley have had enough of the government control over the state’s water and introduced The Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, H.R. 1837.  If passed, this legislation would restore water supplies to the Valley and therefore provide job certainty to farmers and communities and decrease reliance on foreign food sources.

Original co-authors of the bill are California Republican Representatives Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and Jeff Denham. The bill is slated to be debated on the House floor the last week of February.

Along with ensuring water flow back to the Central Valley, this bill also gives CVP water users incentive to pay back the federal government for constructing the project in the 1930s.  California needed the help of the federal government to build the project at that time; however, many would now like to see the project belong to those who actually use and pay for the water.  This should do nothing but please the government as it is projected to raise federal revenue by $300 million.

This bill also prevents a billion-dollar salmon fishery from being built with taxpayer dollars.

Lastly, a very critical part of the bill provides necessary protection to water users.

“This important legislation is rooted in the 5th Amendment, which protects all Americans against the seizure of private property without just compensation,” says Rep. Nunes.  “Today, contracted water that is desperately needed in an economically depressed region, and which has already been paid for, is being taken by the government and dumped into the Pacific Ocean.  Congress has a 14th Amendment duty to right this wrong.”

You see, some water users in California had access to the resource before California was even a state and therefore hold senior water rights over federal and state laws.  Others had water rights before the state built its project, the SWP, and therefore have senior rights over state laws.  But because the state and federal governments work collectively on water standards, and since they each own a different water project, dubious government projects — including the Endangered Species Act (ESA) — are taking over the rights of those who have senior water and private property rights.  This bill ends that trend and protects citizens’ rights.

This bill would bring relief to farmers in the Central Valley and those to the north in the Sacramento Valley.  Going back to the many issues that plague California, this bill is a welcomed change.  It costs nothing, yet restores the rights of citizens, raises federal revenues and puts thousands of people back to work.

To put it in perspective, despite a near-record precipitation level of 198 percent in California last year farmers only received 80 percent allotment of their water supply.  This year the situation looks bleak, with farmers expected to only receive 30 percent of their once-promised allotment.

“It’s hard to believe that a government would be willing to withhold water from its citizens in an attempt to protect a fish,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG).  “You might see this behavior from a corrupt dictator in another country, but it should never happen in America.”

In a state like California, water equals opportunity.  If that opportunity continues to diminish the state will lose its most productive industry and be left with nothing except a government-imposed dust bowl.

Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and a contributor to NetRightDaily.com.  You can follow her on twitter at @RebekahRast.

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