Claims that California farmers can conserve more than 4-million acre-feet of water in a report released this week, lack any relationship to reality, according to the largest farm water organization in the state.
The report was compiled by the Pacific Institute, which issued a similar report last year that was heavily criticized by representatives from the University of California and California State University systems.
"The assertion that California farmers can conserve 4-million acre-feet of water is absurd and borders on pie in the sky reasoning," said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition whose membership represents 6 million irrigated acres. "The report clearly demonstrates that its authors lack a thorough understanding of California agriculture or the markets that our farmers serve around the world.
"The report, for example, calls for a shift from field crops to vegetable crops. This scenario totally ignores market demands, which are the things that dictate what crops a farmer grows.
"If our farmers follow the institute's suggestion then grocery stores would be glutted with more vegetables than anyone wants to buy. Prices would collapse and the crops would be wasted," Wade explained. "This new report bears no resemblance to reality."
Wade further noted that much of the information used to formulate the conclusions in the report is several years old. "Technology is constantly changing and affecting how farmers apply their irrigation water," he said.
Previous studies conducted by expert economists and resource specialists as part of the CALFED process indicated that on-farm changes by California farmers could result in a savings of 240,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water.
The Pacific Institute also calls for farmers to turn away from crops that are irrigated with flood irrigation.
"Most often flood irrigation is the only avenue to irrigate these crops," Wade pointed out. "In addition to providing the water needed for the plant to grow, the water also seeps into the underground and provides a recharge to the groundwater.
"The institute is calling for farmers to turn away from recharging the underground water supplies which could result in overdrafting our aquifers. It just doesn't make sense."
A preliminary version of the report that was reviewed by multiple individuals last month bore a striking resemblance to last year's report, Wade indicated.
"Entire sections from last year's report were realigned within the newest version," Wade explained. "Cultural practices undertaken by California farmers are swept aside by the report as new scenarios are offered that would require farmers to discard years of proven practices.
"The Pacific Institute dusted off its earlier report, added a few words and is offering the same conclusions that drew a sharp rebuke from members of the academic world who are experts on real-world irrigation research," Wade added. "This new report does nothing to advance credible water policy discussions.
Source: California Farm Water Coalition