The Western View: Part Two in the Water Wars

Dan Water, Western View


The Metropolitan Water District in Southern California took exception to my recent Western View about water. Their first reaction, in an email to AgNet management, seemed to say the whole commentary was a pack of lies. But the letter only pointed out two things, which I’m happy to explain.

The first is, they said they didn’t buy that 13,000 acres of Blythe farmland to take the water and stop the farming. They bought the land and have leased it back to farmers, with a program that tries to balance ag and city water demand. It’s a complicated agreement they worked out. The short version is, subject to MWD needs, between 10 and 35 percent of the land may be fallowed at any one time, but the remainder is kept in production. The MWD provides compensation when the land is fallowed. They’ve also worked out rent reductions for farmers that grow crops that require less water. There’s more to it, but it sounds like a compromise that keeps farming alive, but allows MWD to find water for its city customers.

Their second and final point was, the land that MWD bought south of Sacramento in the Delta presently does not provide water to them. They bought it for environmental reasons, and to provide land to facilitate building the proposed water tunnels if that project goes forward.

My main point with the essay was, we must not forget the lesson of Mulholland and the Owens Valley. Mulholland single-mindedly pursued water to grow more cities. HIs back room business dealings got the water but destroyed the economy of an entire region. The price of his success was the loss of thousands of acres of farmland and thousands of people out of work and out of their homes.

It seems the Metropolitan Water District has also taken the lesson of Mulholland to heart, at least for now, and are more conscientious about considering the needs of farming as well as their cities. I’ll eat all the crow they want if they keep that attitude.

Farmers are not their enemy; we grow their food. The cities are not our enemy; they are our customers. It behooves us to find solutions that work for both groups.

The Western View: Part Two in the Water Wars

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West and Citrus Industry Magazine. Visit us on the web at www.citrusindustry.net

About the Author

Len Wilcox

Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.