Does new irrigation report make case for land fallowing?
California ag is only .5 percent inefficient, according to a just-released study by the Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT) at California State University, Fresno.
I have no reason to doubt the findings of the eighty-page report, which seem to carefully made, at least to a layperson like me.
The findings are based on a thorough review of published research and technical data as well as state of California publications to assess the overall potential for agricultural water-use efficiency to provide new water supplies. The report found that little potential exists for new water unless large swaths of agricultural land are taken out of production, which technically is not water-use efficiency.
“Unless large swaths are taken out of production.” That’s really the issue that the study implicitly directs our attention to. Or mine, anyway.
As a way of freeing up water supply, fallowing is one option. That would of course be contentious, especially so for one of the underwriters of the CIT report, the California Farm Water Coalition. Cheap food, after all, is a persuasive argument.
There are more and less likely regions of the Central Valley that might be taken out of production. Many if not all of them are in the San Joaquin Valley and Tulare Basin.
Speaking of which, Patricia McBroom at the California Spigot recently argued for restoring Tulare Lake:
If the lake were recovered - representing about 200,000 acres of farmland - it could hold the liquid equivalent of about three new reservoirs, and could charge the depleted underlying aquifer as well. It’s a grand idea, supported not only by Zuckerman, but by the 200 organizations that make up the Environmental Water Caucus.
Even the CIT report identifies the unsustainable scale of overdrafting on the aquifer as a major issue, if not one within the scope of their study. It is not their obligation to draw conclusions about that fact. But it should be a major concern for someone, shouldn’t it? McBroom’s piece at least synthesizes into a solution several interests - including groundwater repletion - that bring into greater balance available water supply with demand.
Not that that is likely to happen anytime soon. It seems that the CIT/CFWC argument is that “we are doing nearly everything we can to conserve water and we are still forced to overdraw groundwater because we don’t have enough available supply to meet our needs so that we can supply cheap food with cheap water and cheap labor.”
Clearly, one must conclude from the CIT report one of two things:
1/ Ag land must be taken out of production
2/ Additional water supply must be found to support existing ag demand.
Since current “alternative conveyance” studies are based not on increasing export of water but only ensuring its dependability (see this NRDC piece on the so-called “co-equal goals” principle for a refresher), we know where the hard line of pro-ag reasoning must eventually lead: to the unrestrained export of Delta water south, and a destroyed Delta ecosystem.