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Water policymaking gets a boost from the drought

The drought prompts legislators to take action on water management.
Droughts, typically slow-moving disasters that unfold over a period of years, tend to provide opportunities to make policy changes that improve long-term water management regulations in California, said Doug Parker, the director of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources California Institute for Water Resources. Parker was a guest on City Visions, a call-in talk show on San Francisco's local public radio station KALW.

"This is one of the things that has happened in past droughts," Parker said. "If you look at the drought of 1976-77, that was the beginning of a push for irrigation efficiency in California. The state put money into weather stations across the state."

The drought that ran from the late 80s to early 90s led to changes in state law that partially opened up the opportunity for water markets in California. The current drought has resulted in new groundwater management legislation.

The focus of the hour-long program, hosted by David Onek, was the impact of the drought on the food Californians eat.

Parker explained that the state's agricultural industry is part of the global food market. If California residents choose to eat foods from other areas to reduce their water footprints, they are likely increasing their environmental footprint due to impacts in those other places and transportation costs.

Boycotting certain crops perceived to be water guzzlers probably won't have the intended impact either, he said.

"Growers will shift what they do because of the drought," Parker said. "But these are long-term decisions. They don't have the flexibility to make quick changes because of the drought."

Nathanael Johnson, the food writer for Grist.org, was also a guest on the show. He agreed that boycotting California produce because of its water use is ill-advised.

"If you are choosing not to buy almonds or avocados from California, you're not supporting the farmer," Johnson said. "You're not putting water back in the aquifer. You are making it tougher for that farmers to make a profit. Boycotting just discourages farmers."

One of the people who called into the show asked about the affiliation and funding sources of the California Institute for Water Resources.

"It is a unit of the University of California, part of the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources," Parker explained. "We are located at the Office of the President. We have offices in every county in the state working with growers on irrigation and other things. We are funded by the University of California and also have funding form the U.S. Geological Survey."

The same caller asked why cotton is grown in California during the drought. Johnson said there is no overarching rule that dictates what crops may be grown where.

"Individual farmers are making those decisions," he said.

Parker pointed out that California cotton acreage is just a fraction of what it used to be.

"Most of the cotton grown is of higher quality that doesn't grow as well elsewhere," he said.

Posted on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at 2:53 PM
Tags: Doug Parker (16), drought (163)

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