Iowa Public Television


Western Crop and Water Subsidies Raise Concerns

posted on April 17, 2009

An estimated 4,000 people marched across California's agricultural heartland this week to protest the lack of water available to San Joaquin Valley farms.

A 3-year drought combined with cutbacks in water available for irrigation, is forcing farmers to leave large swaths of land unplanted.

The march is designed to draw attention to the region's unemployment rate, which exceeds 40 percent in some communities on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley caused by lost farm jobs.

But a recent Associated Press report criticized the federal government's efforts to fight the arid conditions. According to A.P., Uncle Sam has distributed more than $687 million to hundreds of farmers in drought-stricken California and Arizona over the past two years. And some say the subsidies actually do more harm than good.

Western Crop and Water Subsidies Raise Concerns

In the west, USDA Subsidies for thirsty crops like cotton and rice often are aided by additionally subsidized water from the Bureau of Reclamation. Nevertheless, many sections of the southwest have been ravaged by intense drought conditions in recent years – raising concern that government crop subsidies are aiding high water use.

Last month in California, the Bureau of Reclamation announced major water cutbacks. The move could force some farmers to switch to less water-intensive crops or leave fields fallow.

Some environmental groups have questioned the practice of so-called "double-dipping" on federal subsidies for crops and water. Urban leaders in the once booming population centers of the southwest also are expected to squeeze agricultural interests for water usage.

The Colorado River, which irrigates farmland and supplies municipal water throughout the West, is at or near record lows in many sections. Some experts believe the water table of Nevada's Lake Mead could drop low enough in the coming years to stop power generation at nearby Hoover Dam.

Despite the drought issues, USDA economists say a surging population and dry weather are causing water shortages – NOT USDA's policies.


Tags: agriculture crops farms government money news USDA water