“California farmers have been through several years of scarcity, because of both a drought and court-ordered diversions to protect endangered fish. Fields went fallow and jobs were lost. (And for California fishermen, the better parts of two recent salmon seasons were a total loss because the salmon runs that depend on the major river in the central valley were decimated.)
Last week Mr. Gregson was a featured speaker at the Intelligent Use of Water Conference in Clovis, a small town near Fresno, Calif. The conference generally focused on farmers’ concerns. While Australia’s new water regime is beloved by policy wonks, most California farmers are not enamored of it. (Some of the remarks, including Mr. Gregson’s, can be reviewed here.)
Australian farmers once felt the same way. What happened? An epic 12-year drought, which just ended, according to Juliet Christian-Smith, a senior researcher at thePacific Institute, a water-centric think tank in Oakland, Calif. “Given the extreme circumstances, the water reduction effort made some far-reaching changes to water rights,” she said. “The context is quite different than California at the moment.”
In Australia, each right to use water within a specific basin is awarded as a percentage of all available water in a given year. Priority is given to permanent crops like nut trees or grapes, although even these can run short of water when severe drought hits. Water-intensive annual crops like rice and cotton are the first to be abandoned in dry years.
But in California, rights to use specific amounts of water are assigned on a priority basis in a system analogous to mining claims. Whoever puts that water to use first gets to keep all of the allocation until it runs out.”
Read more: New York Times