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Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: He comes not to praise the aqueduct, but to bury it

By From page A2 | July 27, 2014

My friend Tom, who grew up in Davis, but realized one day that the sun doesn’t rise and set only on Yolo County, wrote the other day with “a few notes on water usage in California.”

For starters, Tom suggests we stop growing cotton. Yes, cotton. While many folks in the north state assume cotton is a crop grown exclusively in the Southern states, California has thousands and thousands of acres of these beautiful plants, which look like vast fields of just-popped popcorn at harvest time. While most cotton is grown in the San Joaquin Valley, in recent years we’ve even had some blooming in Colusa County.

“Cotton is a water guzzler,” Tom contends. “Why we grow cotton in California is mind-boggling. If we minimized the planting of water-guzzling crops, we’d probably go a long way toward reducing water consumption.”

True enough, but which one of our esteemed elected officials is willing to tell farmers what they can and can’t grow?

“Your column noted that leaky pipes consume 10 percent of the water usage in California. About the only good thing about that is much of it will wind up as ground water, but otherwise, that’s ridiculous.”

Yep, since the fate of the Golden State hangs in the balance, maybe we ought to consider fixing those leaky pipes. Then again, Tom has an even better suggestion.

“The California Aqueduct that stretches from the Delta to Southern California travels through the western San Joaquin Valley, which is one of the hottest and driest places in the state.”

I’ve seen it many times. Even dangled my feet in it a time or two on a hot summer afternoon. A thing of beauty. A marvel of engineering. A way to make the dry ground bloom. Once barren, now bountiful. And on and on and on. It’s truly amazing as you travel from one end of the state to the other to see the incredible variety of crops we grow. All, of course, thanks to abundant water.

But Tom is not here necessarily to praise the California Aqueduct. No, as he notes: “Given that the aqueduct is uncovered, it’s logical to expect a lot of evaporation. I’ve heard that anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the water in the aqueduct gets lost to evaporation from the time it leaves the Delta until it reaches its destination.”

Wow. Add that to all those leaky pipes and it’s no wonder we’re short on water.

“Why not do something to reduce aqueduct evaporation?” Tom asks. “The next water project should use a pipe instead of an open canal.”

Unless that pipe leaks.

“And how about putting some covering on the aqueduct?”

Stop making sense. It’s much easier just to demand that folks quit washing their minivans in the driveway.

According to Tom, “Agriculture may be suffering now, but for 100 years agriculture has gotten an easy ride on water. Farmers and ranchers got cheap, subsidized water that led them to establish farms and ranches in extremely arid areas where, without cheap water, it would have been impractical.”

Then again, Tom, we’re talking about yet another record almond crop in California, and I just saw where Yuba County is openly bragging that it exports farm goods to a whopping 33 countries. So much for farm to fork.

In fact, if California farmers strictly followed the farm-to-fork mentality that is sweeping the region and raised only enough food to feed the local population, we’d literally be swimming in water.

As for the folks in North Dakota who rely on California’s bounty, well, they can eat potatoes.

Tough times call for tough measures.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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