Thursday, December 16, 2004


The Environmental Working Group has already made a name for itself by compiling farm subsidies to individual farmers and posting them on the internet. Now the organization has through arduous research compiled a list of individual farmers in California who are receiving enormous subsidies for the irrigation water they use. Irrigation is no small matter since 90 percent of the state's water goes to agriculture. And, the issue is important to taxpayers since the water projects supplying the farmers were all built with public money and continue to run on taxpayer subsidies.

Information about who gets what amount of water is shielded from public disclosure by law. But the EWG figured out ways around the problem. The group's researchers acknowledge that they may have made some mistakes because of the indirect methods they used. Their solution: Farmers who want mistakes corrected should publicly disclose their water use and payments. I wonder how many will.

Contracts for the water are currently being renewed, and rates and usage could be locked in potentially for another 50 years. The EWG thinks that in light of vast changes in California since the last contracts were negotiated in the 1960s, special scrutiny should be given to the subsidies of megafarms which the water districts were never supposed to serve. Urban growth and the environmental damage resulting from irrigation also need to be considered, the group says.

One California farm alone receives a subsidy that may approach $4.2 million a year. Are taxpayers getting their money's worth?

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