Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Water Contract Renewals Stir Debate Between Environmentalists and Farmers in California

Any issues related to water is just totally uncalled for. Do more & Debate less, the more the debate the more would be time & money loss incurred.

Water Contract Renewals Stir Debate Between Environmentalists and Farmers in California

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 14 - The time has come for thousands of farmers in California to renew their water contracts with the federally run Central Valley Project, the country's largest irrigation system and for many years a major source of friction between the state's powerful agricultural and environmental interests.

The farms served by the Central Valley Project cover nearly 4,700 square miles and get about 20 percent of California's water supply. That has made the new contracts, some for 25 years and some for 40 years with options to renew, the center of a debate over how much water in the state should be dedicated to growing crops and at what price.

When construction of the Central Water Project began in 1937, the idea was to protect the state's farmland from water shortages and floods and provide cheap water for family farmers. But as the state has grown in population, there has been a growing push by cities and environmentalists to break the farmers' grip on the water, or at least make them pay more for it.

A report to be released on Wednesday by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group that has tracked federal subsidies in agriculture, estimates that the subsidies in the Central Valley Project are worth up to $416 million a year at market rates for replacing the water. The calculation, based on data collected by the group over 16 months, shows that the median subsidy for a Central Valley farmer in 2002 was $7,076 a year and for the largest 10 percent of the farms, the average subsidy was worth up to $349,000 a year.

Five years ago, the United States Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the Central Valley Project, began negotiations on 223 water-supply contracts with individual farmers and big irrigation districts, serving farmers from Redding to Bakersfield. Those negotiations are expected to be wrapped up early next year, and many critics of the bureau, including the Environmental Working Group, are not happy that they will apparently continue supplies of federally subsidized water for farms.

"Reforms to make details of water subsidies public, limit the amount and value of water subsidies to large farms and encourage conservation by pricing water at rates closer to market value are needed to end the disaster for taxpayers and the environment wrought by the Central Valley Project," the Environmental Working Group report states.

Many farmers reject that analysis, including the president of Woolf Enterprises, a family-owned farming business based in Huron, near Fresno, which was identified by the group as the recipient of $4.2 million in subsidies. Woolf Enterprises grows almonds, cotton, tomatoes and other crops on about 20,000 acres in the area served by Central Valley Project. Read More...
The New York Times > National > Water Contract Renewals Stir Debate Between Environmentalists and Farmers in California

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