Time to end Central Valley’s “permanent poverty” says economist
January 13, 2014
• Continuing current water policies cannot solve shortages, he says
• “California needs a water resources policy that recognizes the predictable weather limitations and creates sustainable water projects”
California’s current water policy are encouraging a “permanent poverty” by subsidizing water for agriculture and need to be changed so that in times of drought machines are idled, not people, says University of the Pacific economist Jeffrey Michael.
Mr. Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton says there are two long-term approaches that could reduce the human impact of drought without sacrificing fisheries or the environment.
“California needs a water resources policy that recognizes the predictable weather limitations and creates sustainable water projects,” he says. “We need to support investment and innovation that lessens dependence on agricultural labor, so we can idle machines, not people, when the inevitable dry years come.”
He says an example of this is a new machine that uses remote sensing and robotic technology to thin lettuce fields. The “Lettuce Bot” is being developed by Blue River Technologies of Mountain View. It was tested before the media last spring in a Salinas lettuce field.
"It is important to differentiate between the permanent poverty created by the Central Valley Project, and to understand that even in wet years, some Central Valley communities are among the poorest and highest-unemployment counties in the nation,” Mr. Michael says. “The employers who have profited from the Central Valley Project bear a large responsibility for reducing the predictable human impacts of their business operations. Dry year fallowing is a predictable and planned component of the Central Valley Project.”
Mr. Michael says California needs to invest in local alternatives to the twin water tunnels being pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown to drain water from the Sacramento River before it could flow naturally into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, as it has for thousands of years. Instead, the governor’s tunnels, to be built at a cost of some $64 billion, including interest, would ship the water to the Central Valley Project and State Water Project.
“Groundwater cleanup, recycling, storage and other projects are far superior to the tunnels. Even investments in these programs in urban areas can free up water for farms and fisheries," says Mr. Michael.
Comments on this story
Karen G 1/13/14 4:13 PM
So Mr. Michael's solution is to never give people a job in the first place? How does replacing people with machinery end poverty? As the daughter of a farmer, I remember my father purposely holding off on buying equipment that would make his operations more efficient and ultimately reduce costs because he didn't want to lay anybody off. After our crop season ended and the workers moved on to other crops that were just beginning theirs, the packing house he was part of would make some upgrades, often eliminating the need for a few jobs. I always got the impression that upgrades were bittersweet for my father and the other packing house owners.
Mr. Michael's analysis seems to be ignoring a major piece of this puzzle: how do you create living wage jobs in the Central Valley and retrain farm workers to qualify for those jobs? Most farmers I know happily embrace technology, but no one wants to bear the responsbility of increasing the already too high permanent poverty in the Central Valley.