New Mandate Would Crack Down on Cities, Let Corporate Growers Off the Hook – All for Minimal Water Savings
A proposed regulation supported by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) would impose permanent water conservation mandates on about 400 California cities and water agencies that collectively serve about 95% of the state’s residents, according to a press statement from the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN).
Newsom administration regulators claim the measure would save about 413,000 acre-feet of water annually, or enough to supply about 1.2 million households.
But Max Gomberg, a water policy expert, former SWRCB member, and a senior consulting analyst for the California Water Impact Network, said the new rule does nothing to reign in the most profligate consumers of the state’s water: Central Valley agribusiness.
“While additional urban conservation is important, it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the savings that could be realized by adjusting agribusiness allocations so they are equitable and resilient to climate change,” Gomberg said.
Gomberg said agriculture uses 28 to 35 million acre-feet of water annually, which constitutes 80% of California’s developed water.
“Most of the surface water is transported by the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project,” said Gomberg. “Together, they pump between 5 to 10 million acre-feet of water annually. And much of that water – generally around 3 million acre-feet – is used by a very small number of corporate growers to produce high value, water-intensive crops such as almonds and pistachios for export.”
Further, said Gomberg, “Water deliveries to corporate growers are supported by hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies. Essentially, taxpayers are subsidizing corporations that produce luxury crops for sales overseas.”
Gomberg noted such crops aren’t essential to the national food supply, nor do they contribute significantly to California’s $3.7 trillion GDP.
“Almonds and pistachios collectively generate about $5 billion in revenues,” Gomberg said. “That represents windfall profits for the growers – particularly given the subsidized water they receive – but it’s hardly a boon for the state economy.”
Finally, said Gomberg, many of the state’s almond and pistachio orchards are planted on toxic lands in the western and southern San Joaquin Valley, where soils are high in selenium and salt.
“When these lands are irrigated, selenium and salt leach out, contaminating rivers and aquifers and threatening community water supplies, fish and wildlife,” Gomberg said. “By accelerating their retirement now, we could save millions of acre-feet of water for both sustainable agriculture and urban residents. Many California residents are already doing their part for water conservation. It’s time the Newsom administration held the water barons to account.“