“Water, water, everywhere” is a quote by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner published in 1798. Here we are 217 years later and there is still plenty of water–just not everywhere. The ecological system is very much a closed loop; however, the distribution within that loop can change dramatically.
Springtime flooding in various parts of the Midwest left devastation in residential neighborhoods. Our friends in California are facing drought conditions labeled ‘extreme’ and ‘exceptional’ while other regions of the US remain burdened with ‘severe’ and ‘moderate’ conditions. Over 55% of the continental US has a less than adequate water supply.
This uncertainty of water supply has fallowed over 600,000 acres of agricultural land in California. Water is being used to sustain tree crops (think nectarines and nuts) merely to keep them alive. Row crops are at the mercy of allocations that are at 1% of normal rates.
California’s water distribution is roughly 50% environmental (streams, wetlands, habitats), 40% agricultural (9 million acres irrigated with a $22 billion crop value) and 10% urban (people =5%; landscape = 5%). I would assert that the 50% environmental allocation could be cut at this time to allow for the crop production to feed people. California farmers are not raising corn to make automobile fuel, they are raising produce for human fuel.
The tragedy in all of this water shortage is that liberal governmental bodies want to regulate every drop of water. If you are a landowner who drills a well to find ground water to sustain the agriculture on your soil, the tax man wants to get paid and the commissioner wants to limit your draw. The big winner is Badger Meter (NYSE:BMI) who has the technology to monitor all of the usage.
We need policies and practices that balance the support of our farmers with the obligation to sustain our environment. New urban farming ecosystems are being built on a trial-size scale. They could alter how food is grown and distributed over the next decade, but we still have to deal with the present issues at hand. If water is such a commodity, then let it be bought and sold like a commodity and not rationed by the bureaucrats. The free market will set the price and use of the water available in any region.
In the poem, the Ancient Mariner has an albatross hung around his neck to remind him of what he did wrong. Maybe that is what the legislators in California need in order to find their way out of the mess that they created.