While the levels of water in streams and reservoirs around the state decline, anxiety grows in California farmers about whether or not they will be able to continue operations. According to the Wall Street Journal, hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland lie fallow at a cost of millions of dollars in lost product.
A proposed solution has come up in the House of Representatives which would, if passed, temporarily suspend protections to the endangered Delta Smelt, a tiny fish which places big demands on the California water supply. Currently the Endangered Species Act protects the habitat of the delta smelt by preventing pumping water out of reservoirs at a level which would prevent the fish from spawning. One farmer, according to National Public Radio, estimates that “twenty to thirty percent” of the water in California is reserved for the fish.
What the press and, seemingly, Congress is not discussing, however, is why the semi-arid Central and Southern California are being used for agriculture in the first place. An agricultural industry has been built on the back of government-subsidized water and irrigation projects masking the comparative disadvantage of agriculture in the region. Many have discussed how we need to prioritize water for impoverished California farmers; however, they fail to notice that the very same practice has a tendency to artificially lower prices, contributing to the poverty of Central and South American farmers.