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Feds fail California farmers with drought

California drought
California drought
Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Announcing that California farmers cannot expect water from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, Washington turned its back on the Golden State during the worst drought in recorded history. Instead of redirecting the vast system of federal reservoirs and canals that carry irrigation water to the drought-stricken Central Valley, federal officials want to wait-and-see the effect of this year’s snow-pack on reservoir levels. Holding vast reserves of water in the federal Central Valley Project, San Joaquin Valley farmers can only watch their land and crops dry out, potentially plunging otherwise viable farms into bankruptcy. Central Valley farmers only received 20% of their annual water allotment, leaving the nation’s biggest breadbasket in jeopardy. Letting California die of thirst hurts the nation’s Gross Domestic Product when federal Central Valley Project has bountiful water supplies.

Setting records in 2014 for snowfall in the Midwest and East Coast, there’s so excuse why the federal government can’t redirect its water resources to the Golden State. “We will continue to monitor the hydrology as the water year progresses and continue to look for opportunities to exercise operational flexibility,” said Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor, admitting that the state’s snow-pack remains about 30% of normal. When Gov. Jerry Brown declared as drought emergency Jan. 17, he asked the White House for help. President Barack Obama announced that California would receive $160 million in federal aid for drought relief, a drop in the bucket of what’s needed to salvage the Central Valley’s agricultural business. Meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Palm Springs last week at the posh Sunnylands estate, Obama found time to play golf at a well-irrigated golf course.

Federal officials must get their priorities straight about giving preference to golf courses over farmers, currently facing financial ruin over the state’s water shortage. When you consider the record-breaking snowfalls in the Midwest and East Coast, it’s disgraceful that federal officials deny California farmers water relief. Hitting golf balls on well-manicured golf retreats shows a hypocritical policy. White House drought policies. California officials managing the State Water Project warned farmers about upcoming shortages, lowering expectations about water relief. “They’re all on pins and needles trying to figure out how they’re going to get through this,” said Gale Holman of the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, informing farmers they’ll pay top dollar in private markets for water. Watching the federal and state water agencies drop the ball is inexcusable.

California’s precious water resources should not go irrigating greens and fairways on the state’s golf courses. Instead of lecturing homeowners on water conservation, Brown should put the state’s golf courses on notice that the agriculturally industry would get first dibs. Fed’s Reclamation Project must figure out a way to get California’s farmers water first before other industries. Whether the Midwest and East Coast floods or California’s drought is related to climate change, the Water Reclamation Project should figure out a way to get water rerouted to the state’s irrigation system. Instead of throwing up their hands, the federal government should urgently reroute water to California’s Central Valley. If meteorologists predict more drought, the feds should be spending on more desalination plants and the pipelines needed to supply drought-stricken farmers.

No farmer should be forced to shutter their business because California’s water resources go to golf courses or other recreational projects. Brown and Obama need to put their heads together and figure a way the State Water Project and Fed’s Reclamation Project can get on the same page. With all the water that goes to golf courses in the state, there’s no excuses to deny farmers. Taking the bull by the horns, Gov. Brown and the Democratic legislature plans to introduce $687 million legislation to direct the Water Resources board to recycle drain water and replenish ground water supplies. “This is not caused by partisan gridlock. It’s cause by Mother Nature herself,” said Brown, referring to California’s drought problems. Besides water runoff, Brown better look to ways to contain watering recreational facilities like gold course, redirecting the resource to the agricultural industry.

Dealing with floods in the Midwest and East Coast, it’s high time for the federal government to detour water resources to drought-stricken California. Blaming California’s drought on climate change doesn’t change the reality on the ground that there’s too little water for agriculture. Watching family farms dry up doesn’t address how to fix the problem. Nor does playing on well-irrigated golf course. No matter how much money the feds throw at the problem, there’s a simple way of diverting more water from the East Coast and Midwest to California. Instead of making water the next political football, Obama should help find the resources to build desalination plans, regardless of the costs. Whether or not California’s problems are due to global warming, the feds have the technology and resources to divert plenty of water to parched farmers waiting for answers.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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