Slashing water welfare

The Bureau of Reclamation released new rules this month to stop corporate farms from using subsidized water meant for family farmers. In a 1993 court settlement with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Bureau promised to look comprehensively at the Reclamation Reform Act of 1982 and propose regulations to close loopholes. Subsidies are now going to large farms even though the 1982 law set a cap of 960 acres. "This is essentially cutting welfare to agribusiness," says Ronnie Weiner of NRDC. Although the new rules also require landowners leasing federal water to take steps toward water conservation, Weiner worries that BuRec enforcement remains weak. Weiner hopes that by eliminating subsidies and encouraging conservation, farmers will voluntarily leave more water in streams for environmental needs. BuRec will sponsor a series of informational forums May 1-5 on its proposed rules and eight regional public hearings May 8-11 on the rules and the accompanying draft environmental impact statement. Written comments must be received by May 31 for the rules and by June 2 for the EIS. Call the Bureau of Reclamation for details or for a copy of the draft EIS, 303/236-1061 ext. 237. To comment by telephone, call 1-800/861-5443.