The flexible law of tough love

The Pacific Institute has just published an analysis of the economic impacts of recent water supply cutbacks on Calfornia’s economy.

The study concludes that drought impacts were relatively minor, and echoes UofP economist Jeffrey Michael’s not very well-liked earlier conclusions that suggest that the crash of housing construction set about by the Great Recession was the major force at play in San Joaquin Valley job losses.

People in the San Joaquin Valley disagree. In his comments at the bottom of Mike Taugher’s Contra Costa Times article on the report, Mike Wade, of the California Farm Water Coalition, offers the following:

Studies that attempt to misdirect the impacts felt by the recent water delivery restrictions caused by environmental regulations and the drought is a slap in the face to those who have lost jobs and farmers forced to leave fields unplanted. Like previously stated by politicians attempting to discredit the effects of the cutbacks, this study introduces statewide agricultural production to minimize regional impacts. Linking unemployment in the Westside rural communities of Fresno County to countywide losses of home construction jobs is a fallacy. Anyone who has visited and met the people of these communities would realize their dependence on the farm economy. To do otherwise is misleading.

He’s correct, of course - in part at least - that, from the perspective of the dozens of large landowners and small towns in the Westside of Fresno County, this is misleading.

The real question underlying all of this is whether a small part of a large state, with its disproportionate power, influence and bullying demagogues, will be able to fundamentally alter federal environmental law.

Here’s Bully-in-Chief Nunes and his Fox News Ed McMahon, working their tactics:

But shouldn’t an analysis of economic impacts of the allocation of statewide resources be statewide in scope? Otherwise, why not make an even smaller scope of study? Why not take just the farmer who lost the most on the Westside, or the town with the highest rate of unemployment, and extrapolate? For example, we could extrapolate from Mendota and find that California had a 40% unemployment rate.

Or since we are talking welfare here, why wouldn’t we take measures of the impacts of South Central poverty and conclude that all schools in California need large injections of teachers, facilities, and equipment?

It is true, as Mr. Wade states, that the Westside suffers more both today and historically than other parts of the state’s agricultural economy. But that doesn’t make the Pacific Institute’s study “misleading,” as he claims. It makes it a statewide study.

There are very straightforward legal, geographic, and geologic reasons why the Westside suffers. All of these have been covered ad nauseum, but perhaps most relentlessly by Lloyd Carter.

Posted by John Bass on 16 Jun 2011 | Comments (4)


The writing of this report pulls on multiple sources for information but the presentation of that information does not provide a complete portrayal of real life.  For example, it speaks to the fallowing of acreage in Fresno, Kern and Kings counties while comparing those numbers to Tulare County.  Water flows into these counties from different sources—-Delta Mendota Canal and State Aquaduct for the three Westside counties and the Friant-Kern Canal and mountain rivers for Tulare.  While drought affected farmers in all the counties, the environmental restrictions impacted the Westside counties, not Tulare.

Citing the downturn in the housing construction industry as the leading factor in statewide unemployment is factual.  But to infer that it also is the primary cause in Westside communities such as Mendota is not accurate.  In a March 30, 2009, article by Fresno Bee reporter Chris Collins, he writes “Normally during a tough farming season, unskilled workers on the west side can fall back on construction jobs. But with the sour economy, that is not an option.”  In other words, it is the farm economy that drives unemployment in Mendota and other westside communities.

This report will likely bring smiles to those who wish to take water away from farmers who use this valuable resource to grow the food and fiber that we all rely upon.  But the accuracy and value of it should be held to higher standards.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

Even if we accept Mike Wade’s interpretation of what drives unemployment on the westside, it doesn’t change the underlying facts. Westlands by definition has no guarantee of water quantity in any given year. They are sucking hind teat. Those with water rights senior to theirs will always take priority as will the environment. The efforts by Devin Nunes to jump Westlands to equal status with senior water rights holders is going to go down in flames, as will efforts to circumvent the ESA.
As long as Westlands has no guarantee of water quantity they will be unable to guarantee anyone a job.
It’s a self fulfilling prophesy and a lousy business model.If you choose to farm on the west side you take the hand that is dealt to you and/or you file suit every ten years or so to attempt to upgrade your status.
Contrary to what Mr. Wade thinks this brings no smile to my face.
I have no more or less compassion for those who farm in the central valley than I do for the farmers who were forced out of growing asparagus and tomatoes on Sherman Island due to the lack of fresh water that is a direct result of diverting water to points south including Westlands.
It’s a simple redistribution of wealth.
Money goes where water flows and money buys influence.

Hi Mike, thank you for your comment.
Seems to me the choice is pretty clear. If you will indulge this condensed, simplified account of that choice: Either water is taken away from the ecosystem in the Delta, or water is taken away from the Westside.
You advocate for the latter, emphasizing (smartly) the general principle of food security.
Others advocate that environmental stewardship is a moral obligation of a wealthy society.
Isn’t it that simple?

Hi Chris, thank you for your comment.
I think it important to re-state what you said about “smiling.”
This water stuff is serious business. What is going on is the result of not having enough of a resource to do everything everyone wants. It’s about scarcity and how a society will behave in the face of it.
We here like to poke fun at demagogue-types like Fox Nunes (or new name for the Rep.) or NIMBY-type positions like the one advocated by Restore the Delta, but this is satire, which is more about crying than laughing.

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