Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Farmers Lose the War

Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Farmers Lose the War

Article excerpt

In "Western Groundwater Wars" (FORUM, Spring 2001), Jeffrey Ashley and Zachary Smith give an informed overview of the fragmented laws and policies regulating groundwater in the West. Groundwater is a fragile resource at risk. Demands on groundwater come from agricultural irrigators, livestock producers, and urban populations. If groundwater supplies are used at a rate faster than they can be replenished, they will be depleted to the point of nonrenewal.

Most groundwater in the West is used for agricultural purposes, but agriculture is losing some of its groundwater supplies to increased urbanization and population growth. In California alone, the population is projected to reach 49 million by 2020, and there is a projected net decline of 162,000 hectares of irrigated land due to urbanization.

The key question for Ashley and Smith is whether increased demand for groundwater and increased population will put western farms out of business. The answer may lie in economic and political pressure from influential interests typically concentrated in cities. The flow of population to the Western states means people need houses. With the rising cost of homes in populated cities like San Francisco, people are buying homes farther away from their jobs. In Sacramento, California, a new housing development sold out in one day from buyers working in the Bay Area--a one-way, two-to-three hour commute. Farmers surrounding the Sacramento area can typically make more money selling their land than from the food they produce. Thus agricultural land is being lost to the demands of increased population and development interests.

Cities encroaching on agricultural land are willing to pay a high price for water to ensure the needs of an increasing population. …

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