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Dude, where's my water?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

postcard_final.jpgThe East Bay Municipal Utility District last week ordered me and 1.3 million other customers to cut our water use by 20 percent immediately. Many other Northern California water companies and cities, while not rationing water yet, are urging residents to save water. And Los Angeles is embarking on an ambitious multyear water conservation campaign.

Where's the water? The immediate answer is that a severely dry winter left only half the usual amount of snowmelt in EBMUD's water sources. The long-term concern is that global warming is turning the already arid West drier and hotter.

And then there's the 2.5 billion gallons that go year in and year out to farmers in the Central Valley, who pay less than 2 cents on the dollar compared to what LA residents pay for drinking water. That amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of half a billion dollars a year to 6,500 farms in the Central Valley Project – many of which are large corporate agribusinesses that also receive cotton, rice or corn subsidies.

The state Constitution says that water belongs to the people of California. At a time when I'd be risking a fine to water my lawn or wash my car, I'd at least like to get a fairer price from the CVP. But the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently renewed the 25-to-50-year contracts of most of the irrigation districts that deliver the water to the farms, and is in negotiations with the 600-pound gorilla of California water, the Westlands Water District, to give it even more water. If you want to tell them how bad an idea that is, you can contact the Bureau here.