Promoting More Efficient Use of Federally Supplied Water
The main reason why federally supplied water in the arid West is not always managed efficiently is that it is sold far below the cost of providing it, a characteristic that does not engender wise husbandry. For example, several long-term contracts in the Central Valley Project provide water for only $3.50 per acre-foot (refer to table 3-1), whereas new sources of supply such as the Auburn Dam would cost the federal government or the state $200-$300 per acre-foot per year for construction costs alone (see chapters 2 and 3 for estimates of the construction cost subsidy for irrigation). Clearly, it makes little sense to construct expensive new facilities if contractors are not using efficiently the water they have.
The Reclamation Act of 1902 was originally intended to facilitate settlement of the arid West with small family farms. But today it is largely outdated, and the trend has been toward administrative and legislative relaxation or removal of acreage limitations and residency requirements. Alongside this has been a shift away from the original social goals of the reclamation program. The West is settled, and concerns today focus on meeting new demands for water by a growing population for urban and industrial uses, as well as for recreational and other instream uses such as maintenance of fish and aquatic wildlife habitat. Increasing competition for limited water supplies and the rising cost of new supplies have heightened awareness that water must be used more efficiently. In this chapter various proposals for promoting more efficient use of federally supplied water are examined and evaluated.