Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tulare County Leads the State in Dry Wells, and Agricultural Expansion

ACWA reports on DWR Director Mark Cowin's comments at a drought hearing this week,
Cowin said DWR is implementing a number of water management changes, including a drought barrier in the Delta and temporary urgency changes in operations. He said about 1,900 wells have gone dry in California and over 1,000 of the dry wells are in Tulare County.
Below is a table showing the change in harvested acres between 2013 and 2007 compiled from County crop reports.

change in acres 2013 to 2007
field fruit/nut veg total % ch
Kern -173783 113035 -19324 -80072 -8.7%
Kings -51693 13050 18 -38625 -6.8%
Tulare 101546 72518 -334 173730 20.4%
Fresno -154386 39916 -48240 -162710 -13.8%
Madera -22280 37560 100 15380 5.2%
Merced 46204 10263 1528 57995 10.3%
Stanislaus 50118 56865 12887 119870 27.5%
San Joaquin 24000 49000 -25200 47800 7.6%
Total -180274 392207 -78565 133368 2.5%
-5.9% 21.7% -13.4% 2.5%

Tulare leads growth in total acres, whereas Stanislaus leads growth in percentage terms.  Kern has the greatest growth in fruit/nut which are usually permanent crops.

To what extent is the Valley suffering from a man-made drought?  While it is politically popular to point fingers at the Endangered Species Act, I don't think the Delta Smelt planted those orchards.    

Friday, May 1, 2015

Governor Brown attempts to justify the $15+ billion construction cost of the Delta tunnels. "Yes, this costs money, but compared to what? A stadium? (Water) is the basis of human existence.”

"Compared to what?"

That's actually a good framework for thinking about the wisdom of investing tens of billions of dollars in the Delta Tunnels.  But the Governor needs to define the real trade-offs instead of creating false choices - neither stadiums, civilization or the "fabric of modern California" is at stake - all of which he referenced in yesterday's news conference.

What are valid comparisons?
  • Higher investment in alternative water supplies like stormwater capture, water recycling, and limited use of desalination.
  • Higher investment in water conservation and maintenance such as fixing leaking pipes.
  • Higher investment in Delta levees that simultaneously protect public safety, water supplies, transportation infrastructure, energy infrastructure, and property.  [If the Governor is really worried about a Delta earthquake, why is he only worried about water exports - and not saving lives and this other critical infrastructure too?]
  • Letting a few thousand acres of crops go fallow - and given the tiny water yield of the tunnels - this isn't much of a loss. [Actually, a viable finance mechanism for the tunnels could require ag-urban water reallocation, so there could be less farming with the tunnels than without - especially when the impacts on Delta farming are included.] 
There is plenty of evidence to to show that billions of dollars spent on tunnels are a clear financial loser when compared to all of these alternatives.

It is important to remember that in the original proposal where the tunnels were part of the BDCP - the State's consultants could only economically justify the tunnels by putting an enormous dollar-value on the 50-year permit.  Yesterday, they conceded that the permit was not happening.  Thus, the economic analysis their consultants produced to support the BDCP shows that the tunnels are no longer economically justified.

Of course, spending less on water-related projects is a valid choice too - so it is not entirely unfair to compare the tunnels to non-water related projects.  If the Governor wants to have a discussion about the fabric of civilization, I would suggest that he compare it to spending on education and universities, public safety, or healthcare.  But even if we are going to compare it to unnecessary-sounding projects that also involve lots of concrete, I would be willing to bet the tunnels have a worse return on investment than most stadiums, or even a bullet train.