Following the paths for water

Aguanomic’s David Zetland is collecting great sources on the rights and economic of water. My time is restricted currently, but think it is worh passing on as it stands.

TP1: Favoring Farmers

This week, we have a few rants from an anonymous guest (The Teal Pimpernel?). Here’s the first:

There is a water conservation bill under consideration right now that your readers really need to understand because it contains some truly awful mathematics. AB2175 says all urban water use in California accounts for 9 million acre feet (one AF equals approximately 326,000 gallons) and demands that urban water users conserve 20% by 2020. It also says California’s huge agribusinesses account for 34 million AF and it requires farmers to take a 1.5% reduction in that amount.In other words, households will have to conserve 1.8 million AF while farmers only have to conserve one half a million AF.The math gets worse. Households pay $1,000 or more for an AF while farmers pay as little as $2. And how is this water used? In households, 45% of the water use is for flushing toilets, 19% for showers and 14% for laundry. Farmers use almost all of the water for irrigation, primarily by flooding fields or spraying it into the air. A full 60% of irrigation water never reaches the crops it was intended to irrigate! That means agriculture wastes 21 million AF every year. That is two and a half times more than all the water used in urban uses.Why do farmers waste so much water? Because it is so cheap. It is as simple as that. California’s entire water problem could be solved with one simple, fast, easy action. That is re-price water according to its real value. Nothing else will solve the water problem so completely. In addition, farmers will shift to higher value crops to recover the new water costs so the value of California agriculture will increase sharply. Everybody wins.

David asks: Although I didn’t write this, I agree with its main points. Do you? (David asks)

Reader Francis replies:

Farmers in Imperial Valley (due east of San Diego) pay about $12 per acre foot for ag. water. Why so cheap? Because it’s all downhill from Hoover Dam and the water’s not potable.

Households in San Diego pay about $1,000 per acre foot. Why so expensive? San Diego’s at the end of a very long pipeline that goes over mountains. (The energy cost of water delivered into LA and points south is enormous.) The water is potable. The system meets fire flow standards. San Diego’s an expensive place to live, so water department staff get paid accordingly. etc.

Put another way, even if San Diego could take the water currently flowing to Imperial Valley, the price wouldn’t drop any.