unwholesome agricultural subsidies

From: Barbara Lamar (altamiratexas@earthlink.net)
Date: Sun Aug 12 2001 - 11:35:57 MDT

On the politics of agriculture: IMO, government subsidy of agriculture is
THE main reason for the continued use of inefficient and wasteful
agricultural methods. In the near future, this gov't policy could lead to a
lower standard of living for most Americans and possibly even to serious
water and food shortages.

I found the following NYT article interesting mainly because it implies that
people are going to make the wrong choices in the near future with respect
to water use and conservation. Because so few people are directly involved
in agriculture, ignorance seems to be the rule rather than the exception,
even among people who are generally knowledgeable and intelligent.

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/12/national/12WATE.html?todaysheadlines (text
of first page below)

Note especially the following paragraphs:

<<Farms use a majority of American water. At a time when most farms are
subsidized by the government failing to make money in a global market
many water experts say it is inevitable that water to meet future needs will
have to come from agriculture. The same amount of water it takes to support
just 10 farm jobs can support 100,000 high-tech jobs, said Peter Gleick, a
water expert with the nonprofit Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif. >>

Note three things: First, present methods of farming are not efficient and
not profitable. Current food prices don't represent the true cost of
producing food by conventional farming methods, because the ag industry is
subsidized by federal and state governments. Second, the author of this
article implies that we can simply do away with farming. I wonder if he's
only temporarily overlooked the source of food, or if he's one of those
people who think food comes in boxes and plastic wrap and has never looked
beyond that (or perhaps he's in favor of importing most of our food). Third
(by implication), conventional farming methods use LOTS of water.

<<Mr. Pickens plans to pump water from the Ogallala and pipe it to cities in
Texas. In Southern California, a private company, Cadiz, is negotiating with
the agency that provides water for 17 million people to store water from the
Colorado River in a Mojave Desert aquifer and then sell it back in dry
years. >>

The Ogallala Aquifer is "fossil" water, not a rechargeable aquifer. Some
parts of this huge underground water source have already dried up,
compelling many west Texas ranchers to shut down their operations. It's
presently being rapidly depleted through agricultural irrigation. This is an
instance of the extent to which people grasp at temporary solutions to
long-term problems rather than making a logical assessment of the assets
available and the best use to which they can be put.

<<Global warming, which has been blamed for increased evaporation rates of
surface water and low mountain snowpack that feeds major rivers like the
Colorado and the Columbia, is cited by many scientists as the biggest single
culprit in some of the emerging water shortages>>

Global warming may well be responsible for some of the developing water
shortage, but I hate to see it pointed to as the biggest single culprit.
This makes it too easy for people to decide there's nothing anyone can do
about the situation.

Food production methods will necessarily change in the coming years, but the
rate of change is being held back by government subsidies. In many cases,
farmers are required to use conventional farming methods in order to get the

 Since food and water are prerequisites of all human activity, encouraging
the development and use of more efficient agricultural methods should be one
of the highest priorities for those who value human life. Ending ag
subsidies is a step in the right direction.


Here's the text of the first page of the article:


August 12, 2001

Near Vast Bodies of Water, Land Lies Parched


OUTH ELGIN, Ill. People who live at the emerald edge of this Chicago
suburb have noticed that something seems out of whack this year. The water
that once sustained a little pocket of life beavers, muskrats, frogs and
cattails has disappeared, and the land around it looks puckered, despite a
wet spring.

A dried-up wetland was odd enough in a township that gets as much rain as
Seattle every year, in a region where floods are a fact of life, and the
summer humidity can make it seem like being inside the mouth of a dog. But
it could foretell something bigger, even more out of character, according to
a study that has stunned people in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Parts of six counties in a region that borders one of the world's largest
freshwater sources, Lake Michigan, could be in for serious water shortages
within 20 years, the report by a regional planning commission said. And
while the June report surprised people who live near a lake system that
contains one-fifth of the world's surface fresh water, it did not surprise a
handful of corporations that have been saying that water will be for this
century what oil was for the last.

This year, with shortages appearing in places that have never doubted the
future of their supply, many parts of the country have discovered water may
indeed be a commodity more precious than oil.

Cities are cutting deals to siphon water from far away, destinies are being
reshaped and species put in peril by new plans to dip straws into
underground rivers or withered rivers.

A general warming trend, sprawl that covers the sponge of land that normally
replenishes the nation's vast underground reservoirs, and the growing
demands of agriculture and expanding cities are the reasons most often cited
for accelerated water shortages.

The problem, which used to be limited to the arid West, has dominated
community concerns in some of the most unlikely places.

Florida's reservoirs below and above ground are badly depleted and becoming
briny with saltwater seepage. The water shortage is so bad in parts of the
state, despite a recent tropical storm, that people have been hauled into
court and fined for violating strict water rationing standards.

In Kentucky, more than half of the state's 120 counties ran short of water
or were on the verge of shortages this year before heavy rains brought

In the Pacific Northwest, where water is the master architect of a lush
land, too little water has been promised to too many people, leaving farms
and wildlife to wither in places like the Methow Valley in Washington or
Klamath Falls, Ore. precursors of coming water clashes, according to many
experts. And a report released Thursday found that even in the suburbs
around Seattle, on the wet side of the Cascade Mountains, demand for water
is outstripping supply, raising the prospect of shortages within 20 years.

Some major American cities in the Southwest, including El Paso, San Antonio
and Albuquerque, could go dry in 10 to 20 years. But a number of towns in
New England and the well- watered half of the Midwest are also facing the
prospect of running out of water in a generation's time.

Here in the Great Lakes region, a fourth year in a row of declining water
levels has caused millions of dollars in losses for shipping companies,
marinas and other businesses and prompted further restrictions on future
water withdrawals for expanding suburbs.

"A lot of people just can't believe that we may be running out of water,
living this close to the Great Lakes," said Sarah Nerenberg, a water
engineer with the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, which conducted
the study on shortages.

The federal government, which controls water to 31 million people in the
West but has far less control elsewhere, has offered little guidance for
struggling regions. In the absence of single power broker, a veritable
free-for-all has emerged, with private companies and individual states and
cities cutting their own deals.

In northeast Kansas, for example, the water shortage is so severe that state
officials are discussing plans to build a pipeline, costing as much as $200
million, to the Missouri River to keep the area from going dry. But most of
the water in the Missouri is already spoken for, other users say, setting up
the kind of conflict that is endemic to the West.

Some of the other big rivers that have long sustained American communities,
from the Ipswich in Massachusetts to the Rio Grande in the Southwest, are
running thin. The Rio Grande, drawn down by farmers and fast-growing cities
in New Mexico and Texas, is down to a bare trickle where it snakes through
Big Bend National Park in Texas. It is so braided with chemicals and salt
that fish, birds and animals that use it are dying, park rangers say.

The problem in Chicago's suburbs is typical of the predicament facing other
traditionally wet areas. Water looks abundant here in Kane County, for
example, which lies between the nation's biggest river, the Mississippi, and
one of its biggest lakes, Michigan. But appearances are deceptive.

Most of the nation's fresh water about 60 percent is out of sight. It
comes from below ground, in rivers and pools known as aquifers. These
aquifers are being depleted at the same time that surface water in lakes and
rivers is stressed by growing demands and heat.

Many of the nation's biggest aquifers, such as the 175,000-square-mile
Ogallala in the southern Plains, have long been depleted by farming. To the
east, the underground river that brings water to the nation's most bountiful
rice crop, in Arkansas, will be dry in less than 15 years, hydrologists say.

Global warming, which has been blamed for increased evaporation rates of
surface water and low mountain snowpack that feeds major rivers like the
Colorado and the Columbia, is cited by many scientists as the biggest single
culprit in some of the emerging water shortages.

Last December, federal researchers said a gradually warming climate could
reduce levels in the Great Lakes by five feet at the end of the century, but
they also noted that the lake levels fluctuate, regardless of climate
changes. And a strict agreement signed by the governors of all the states
surrounding the Great Lakes and two Canadian provinces has made it unlikely
any new communities can tap into the big basin of fresh water.

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