Friday, April 3, 2015

Growers' group calls out misreporting on drought

In the past week on various issues, a large portion of what used to be known as the mainstream news media has shown itself to have become reckless and out of control. Facts and objectivity -- to the extent that they ever mattered -- have completely gone out the window, and the agendas are so obvious that most of these outlets don't even bother to hide them anymore. Fortunately they've mostly been reduced to preaching to the choir as the rest of us have found more credible sources of information, or at least learned to gather a cross-section of opinions and make up our own minds. But their influence over the disengaged is still disturbing, particularly when the issue involves our personal freedoms under the Constitution or a potential public health and safety threat such as the drought.

As I wrote on Facebook the other day, I've been generally impressed with the California press pool that's participated in the drought-related teleconference that state officials have been holding on a regular basis. But a call Wednesday to discuss Gov. Jerry Brown's executive order attracted virtually everyone -- from the New York Times and Washington Post to small community papers in California -- and a couple of the questions were breathtaking in their ineptitude. The reporters whined that farmers "are using 80 percent of the water" and demanded to know why they haven't been asked, or forced, to conserve. As we sit in our fourth year of drought, they seemed genuinely unaware of the zero percent Central Valley Project allocation for the second year in a row, the 20 percent State Water Project allocation, the shutoff orders to junior water rights holders or the 400,000 fallowed acres last year.

To their credit, state officials corrected these reporters' statements matter-of-factly, with Department of Fish and Wildlife director Chuck Bonham even admonishing one that now is not the time for finger-pointing. But the "farmers are just skating by" meme has survived in some of the reporting and editorials in recent days, prompting California Citrus Mutual to issue this release this afternoon:
Governor Brown made California history this week when he issued an executive order calling for cities and towns across the state to implement "substantial" mandatory water reductions in an effort to curb wasteful water use and make California "more drought resilient."

It is no shock, least to whom the agricultural sector, that California is experiencing a water crisis. The impetus of this crisis, natural or political, is up for debate. But regardless of the cause, agriculture has suffered the most losses as a result.

Approximately 46% of California's fresh citrus is produced in the Friant Service Area and will receive zero percent surface water allocation for a second year in a row.

The Governor recognized this fact in a press release Wednesday stating that agriculture users "have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocation and thousands of farmworkers laid off."

Nevertheless, it's too often reported that the agriculture industry is guzzling up 80% the State's diminishing water supply. This is not true.

According to the State Water Resources Control Board the average annual water supply in the State of California from rain and snowpack is 200 million acre-feet. 58.8% of that total remains undeveloped. The remaining 41.2% (82.5 million acre-feet) is developed water. Of that, 41% is used by agriculture to grow food and fiber for people. 10.8% goes to urban and industrial use. 47.8% is used for environmental purposes.

By the Governor's Order cities and towns across the state must reduce water use by 25%. This represents a savings of approximately 1.5 million acre-feet, the amount currently in Lake Oroville, in 9 months. Based on current water use this equals a 2.7% savings in California's total annual water supply. While this by no means comes close to the "mandatory reductions" that Friant water users are grappling with (100%), it is something.

But what if there was a mandatory reduction on the use of developed water for environmental purposes (remember, undeveloped water is also used by the environment)? How much water could California save then?

A 25% reduction in environmental water use could equal a savings of approximately 9.85 million acre-feet in one year (or 7.39 million acre-feet in 9 months). Less than 4% would need to be cut to save 1.5 million acre-feet.

It has been suggested that that agriculture is "exempt" from mandatory restrictions when in reality the only user of water that has not been asked, or forced, to take a cut is the environment. Is that balance?
Now certainly Citrus Mutual is an interest group; they're looking out for their members and they have opinions, some of which may be up for debate. And certainly it's fair for reporters to ask whether there might be more restrictions on ag in the future. But CCM's point is well taken that agriculture has been far from "exempt" from water-saving measures in this drought. Look, if you're a reporter covering a drought that's in its fourth year, there's little excuse for not being aware of the steps that have already been taken to respond to it, particularly when some of those steps have affected one of the state's leading industries. And there's no excuse at all for deliberate deception and misrepresentation.

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