American Elephants

Obama Will Veto Any Attempt to Fix This Mess. by The Elephant's Child

California’s great Central Valley has been called the breadbasket of America. Certainly it has been a great agricultural region, and the Congress of the United States has turned it into a dust bowl. Unemployment is huge, but statistics do not include those who have stopped looking.

Those sticks in the photo are a young orchard deprived of water by the use of the Endangered Species Act to protect the Delta Smelt — a very small inedible fish.

The Endangered Species Act is one of those laws cooked up in Washington D.C. that was well intentioned, but questionable in its effects. It quickly became a weapon in the hands of radical environmentalists. A claim that an “endangered” species was present was enough to shut down huge proposed projects — at least through years-long court battles — often permanently.

It is easy to claim that a species is endangered, and hard to confirm. In the history of the earth, it has not been unusual for a species to go extinct. The famous ones are the passenger pigeon — over-harvested to extinction for food, and the Dodo.

The modern list of endangered species is not a great record of success, but full of species that turned out to be not endangered after all, species that recovered promptly when a predator was removed. Is extinction a natural act —survival of the fittest — or something that must be prohibited at all cost? We don’t know.

Remember that the polar bear was just listed as “threatened” in spite of the fact that there are more bears at present than ever before. There’s a lot of politics attached to the list, for modern environmentalism is largely political.

Environmentalists don’t like the modern world, they don’t like rivers to be dammed, they don’t like suburbs, they don’t like development, and the more radical want a return to the Pleistocene. They prefer that people live in very dense cities, have few children and except for corridors between dense cities, return the rest of the land to wilderness.Those are the complications.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Water Reliability Act is now before Congress. Obama has announced that if it reaches his desk, he will veto it. Why am I not surprised.

Nunes’ Sacramento-San Joaquin Water Reliability Act goes to a vote in the House Wednesday and if it passes, it will guarantee that water the farmers paid for finally gets to the parched Central Valley. It will put an end to the sorry stream of shriveled vineyards, blackened almond groves and unemployed farm workers standing in alms lines for bagged carrots from China.

The White House announced that Obama would veto Nunes’ bill because it would “unravel decades of work” on California water regulations.

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1837, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act because the bill would unravel decades of work to forge consensus, solutions, and settlements that equitably address some of California’s most complex water challenges. …

The Administration strongly supports efforts to provide a more reliable water supply for California and to protect, restore, and enhance the overall quality of the Bay-Delta environment.  The Administration has taken great strides toward achieving these co-equal goals through a coordinated Federal Action Plan, which has strengthened collaboration between Federal agencies and the State of California while achieving solid results.  Unfortunately, H.R. 1837 would undermine these efforts and the progress that has been made.

Lots of weasel words.

7 Comments so far
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How you can write about this stuff without exploding amazes me 😉


Comment by hey_sherm

I swear a bit, try to remember that there are two sides to everything, and I’m explaining as best I can without preaching. I’m not always successful. ;>)


Comment by The Elephant's Child

I’m not saying that the Administration is necessarily right on this one, but one needs a bit of perspective. It is the same people who claim to advocate small government who are rushing to the defense of an agricultural industry that oes its existence to massively subsidized state and federal water projects. These farmers pay a fraction of the cost for their irrigation water that others pay for it, and nothing for the nutrients and pesticides they load the return water with (unlike other users, who have to pay for pollution control).

I would like to see a solution that does not needlessly put farmers out of work. But people should bear in mind how deeply agriculture in the State of California depends on government largess.

If you haven’t read Cadillac Desert, please do. In my view, it should be on the high school curriculum of in every state in the west.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Read it years ago I think. Polemic. Los Angeles and environs were built in a desert suitable only for the ranch and mission that were there originally. Ditto Phoenix and Las Vegas. Can’t remember who wrote suggesting towing icebergs to San Pedro to supply LA with water. You should read Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia, excellent book detailing the problems of the Central Valley where his family has farmed for 4 generations.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Thanks for the reference to Mexifornia; I’ll try to get a copy. But I’m surprised you characterize Cadillac Desert as a “polemic”. If that qualifies as one, then I guess any extended piece of investigative journalism can be dismissed as “a polemic”.

As for Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas being built in deserts, what’s your point? They have made huge draws on the available water resources of the southwest, certainly. But a big difference between the city dwellers and the farmers is that the city dwellers pay market rates for their water. In the San Joaquin Valley, for example, the market price for water is $5,850 per acre-foot, yet farmers pay a mere $500 per acre-foot.

The real problem is the classic one of the “transitional gains trap”: the main beneficiaries of cheap water were the original owners of the land when the irrigation flows first became available. The economic rent created by that subsidized water then got capitalized into the price of the land. Subsequent buyers therefore paid a premium for the land. Raising the price ten-fold would put many if not most of them out of business.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Seems to me that water for swimming pools and artificial lakes for resorts should be a lot more expensive than water for farmers who are feeding the country and the world.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Wow. I didn’t expect that response. If in every other area (e.g., the purchase or lease of corporate jets; the purchase of gas guzzling private vehicles), the view is that the market should prevail and the government should not interfere with private purchasing decisions, why does this argument get suspended when when the issue is water or farmers?

Subsidizing irrigation water encourages wasteful practices, and the growing of thirsty crops in the desert (leading in the long term to salinization of the soil — what doomed Babylon). That’s Economics 101. The standard economic answer to problems with the affordability of food is to help the poor directly, not indirectly through inefficient pricing of food inputs.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

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