Last week’s Los Angeles Times “Dust-up” on California water issues concluded with an underwhelming undebate in which Lester Snow (Department of Water Resources) and Mindy McIntyre (Planning and Conservation League) agreed to agree that Gov. Schwarzenegger’s new water conservation mandate is a great plan for the state. The governor is calling for a 20 percent reduction in per-capita urban water use by 2020. This new goal is being promoted in part by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian’s (D-Burbank) AB 2153, the so-called ” Water Efficiency and Security Act.” Snow and McIntyre fail to mention two of the biggest gorillas in California water politics, agricultural water rights and water subsidies. Snow notes, “Urban water users consume 8.7 million acre-feet per year, and under this plan, Californians would save enough water to serve more than 2 million families a year”–but he leaves out the fact that irrigated agriculture uses three times that amount, or roughly 80 percent of the state’s developed water supply each year. McIntyre, for her part, promotes the idea that the governor’s administration should make sure the water conservation mandates are ” the ABâ€’32 of water.” What’s misleading about comparing water use reduction targets to the bold greenhouse gas reduction targets in AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, is that water is a resource with assigned (if occasionally precarious) appropriations rights. We don’t need to create new markets to promote water use efficiency in California, we just need to improve the markets we already have. To do that, agricultural water use has to be part of the discussion.
Skaidra Smith-Heisters is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.