Water Becomes The Nation’s Most Important Resource

The Lempert Report
July 23, 2021

The New York Times has an important piece that explains that during this historic period of drought in America’s Western part of the country, farmers are choosing to sell unused water to other farmers rather than using it themselves to grow their crops.

The reason is simple – they can make more money selling water than they can selling the food they produce – and as we have discussed here before – they don’t have to deal with farm labor shortages. The Times reports that a grower of premium sushi rice has concluded that it makes better business sense to sell the water he would have used to grow rice than to actually grow rice. And why a melon farmer has left a third of his fields empty. Why a large landholder farther south is thinking of planting a solar array on his fields rather than the thirsty almonds that delivered steady profit for years. “You want to sit there and say, ‘We want to monetize the water?’ No, we don’t,” Seth Fiack, a rice grower in Ordbend, on the banks of the Sacramento River, told the Times, who this year sowed virtually no rice and instead sold his unused water for desperate farmers farther south. “It’s not what we prefer to do, but it’s what we kind of need to, have to.”

California’s Central Valley is the country’s most lucrative agricultural belt, but now it is confronting both an exceptional drought and the consequences of years of pumping far too much water out of its aquifers. Across the state, reservoir levels are dropping and electric grids are at risk if hydroelectric dams don’t get enough water to produce power. Climate change is supercharging the scarcity says the Times. Rising temperatures dry out the soil, which in turn can worsen heat waves. Over the past few weeks, as you’ve read and seen on the news, temperatures in parts of California and the Pacific Northwest have been shattering records. By 2040, the San Joaquin Valley is projected to lose at least 535,000 acres of agricultural production.  California’s $50 billion agricultural sector supplies two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts and more than a third of America’s vegetables — the tomatoes, pistachios, grapes and strawberries that line grocery store shelves from coast to coast.