Fish versus farms is false choice

By Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla

As California awaits rain, some interests are exploiting the drought to further their water-taking ways. These water-exporters frame the drought as “fish vs. people.”

This is a rerun of 2009, when they used the recession’s high unemployment to call for more water exports. These folks fail to point out that the farm worker communities found within these water districts suffer from high unemployment even when there’s plenty of water flowing through the system. California does have a water management problem that is harming the vast majority of us, but the cause is horrible water resources policies and practices.

The mega-growers in the Westlands and Kern County water districts are calling for more pumping during the drought to water the permanent, thirsty crops they planted on arid, unsuitable lands. These growers were not supposed to plant cotton, almonds, grapevines and pistachios on this land, but were to get “surplus” water in wet years for crops that could be fallowed in dry years. They broke that promise and planted permanent crops. They want all of us to pay to continue their unsustainable practices.

Their poor planning and water management has put them in a bind. At least the Metropolitan Water District, which serves the Los Angeles basin, has enough water in storage to get through the next two to three years if this dry period should continue. Three reservoirs serving MWD are close to 100 percent of capacity even now.

Governor Brown declared a drought, and the water buffalos in Westlands and Kern County are using it to push for construction of the peripheral tunnels. That boondoggle will cost ratepayers and tax payers more than $60 billion with interest and operational costs. And 70 percent of the water would go to those same mega-growers.

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