Colorado River should distribute water evenly

SallyYoo3_25 Colby Patterson
Sally Yoo

Sally Yoo

California delivers half of the fresh produce sold around the United States. Over the past year, this agriculture-strong state has suffered historic drought conditions that are scorching once-lush orchards, crops and pastures in the central region. While some farmers are selling off cattle to make ends meet, others in the Imperial Valley, near the border with Mexico, are using water from the Colorado River to grow hay and alfalfa to sell to China and the Middle East.

The Imperial Valley enjoys a special agreement for unlimited Colorado River irrigation water, so water is pouring across alfalfa crops for export while the rest of the state dries up. Robert Glennon, a professor at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law, said, “A hundred billion gallons of water per year is being exported in the form of alfalfa from California.” The worst drought on record is spanning the rest of the state while it seems that water is being squandered for private enterprise.

Droughts are dangerous, and California’s economy is suffering because of the water shortage. California fire marshals already fear a horrendous fire season, exacerbated by the tinderbox conditions. Firefighters’ lives could be threatened.

The alfalfa farming will likely have a negative effect on the U.S. as a whole and California in particular. The LA Times reported that, “Imperial County, with a population of 175,000, gets 3.1 million acre-feet of water a year. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million people, gets about 1.1 million acre-feet.” Water should be spread across the state, not just used in alfalfa fields for China.

The drought drastically affects the California job market. According to the Imperial County Farm Bureau, “One in six jobs in California is dependent upon the agriculture industry, whether it’s trucking, distributing, accounting services, equipment sales/service, etc.” So when the majority of irrigation water is hoarded in Imperial Valley for profiteering, everyone else loses.

The water from the Colorado River should be used to fill the critically depleted reservoirs across the parched state. President Barack Obama has pledged at least $180 million “to help both ranchers who have lost livestock and communities suffering extreme hardship because of the lack of rain to grow crops” according to the BBC.

With those funds, the alfalfa grown in Imperial Valley should be distributed to cattle across the seared state who are unhealthy and starving, rather than being exported to China. Growing alfalfa for international-generated revenue is selling out much-needed water.

“We recognize we live in an area that is blessed to have strong, senior rights on the Colorado River. We are aware that other areas are desperate for the water we have,” said Linsey Dale, executive director of Imperial County Farm. Nothing is being done about this travesty, and she makes no mention of sharing.

I can only hope the federal agency that controls the resources from the Colorado River imposes emergency conditions to regulate water to help remedy the extreme drought. Then, if farmers continue to profit from exporting water that belongs to everyone, a boycott could be in order.