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Wild Rice

In Terry Anderson’s “Water Options for a Blue Planet,” he writes of the insanity of federal water subsidies in the American West. Over 90% of the water from Army Corp of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation projects go to agricultural uses. And all of this water is delivered to favored interests at enormous discounts to the true supply costs.

For example, farmers in the Columbia Basin east irrigation district receive water for a price of $4.19 per acre foot. What does it cost to deliver and produce such water? $41.16. That is not a typo. Farmers in the Westlands irrigation district receive water for a price of $15.80 per acre foot. What does it cost to deliver and produce such water? $67.56. What is the result? Rice is grown in California … not exactly prime location for it. Eliminating the important information contained in prices is insane policy. That’s exactly what current and future health policy in America is doing, and what our farm policy is doing. The “success” of rent-control should have been enough to convince policy-makers that there are more efficient ways to rain favors down on your constituents, but alas there is no constituency for efficient corporatist-socialism either.

But encouraging rice growth where it “ought not” be grown (i.e. if prices reflected true scarcity values, rice would not likely be the crop of choice, nor might any farming be chosen) is perhaps not the worst of horrendous governmental water policies. Take the case of the Kesterton Wildlife Refuge. As Anderson puts it:

In 1983, the US Fish and Wildlife Service noticed grotesque deformities in the birds and fish living in Kesterton. The toxic culprit was selenium that had leached from the soil and carried out to the refuge in the irrigation drainage from Westlands Water District. In small doses, selenium is necessary for life, but it can be a deadly pollutant when concentrated, as it was at Kesterton.

Stopping the flow of wastewater into Kesterton by shutting off water to the irrigation district (ed: notice the subsidy figure above) might have been a solution, but Westlands’ farmers and the banks who held the debt on their farms would have none of that. Instead, taxpayer-funded pollution control costing millions of dollars was implemented to solve an environmental travesty caused by water subsidies.

So the federal government is PAYING subsidies to kill and maim precious wildlife resources. Remember that the Love Canal “disaster” resulted from a local government forcing the Hooker Chemical company into selling land it knew might not be safe. In each case, what we get is not less government … but more, much more. In the former, we get taxpayer funded pollution control for something that should not have existed in the first place. In the second, we get Superfund. We’ll explore more about the “success” of Superfund in a future post or two. As a sneak preview, research has shown that contributions from construction political action committees (pac) is more highly correlated with Superfund spending than is the toxicity of the site.

It would once again be a useful thought exercise to imagine what would happen if a private corporation was guilty of something similar (in fact, it would be fun to write up a hypothetical analogy of what a private company could even be possibly be doing that resembles the behavior of the government in the above scenarios).

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