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A water racket

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Missing from Matt Jenkins' article about Metropolitan Water District's "kinder, gentler" approach to acquiring agricultural water is the fact that irrigation districts are profiting by reselling water they got for next to nothing from federal taxpayers (HCN, 11/12/07). An Environmental Working Group investigation found that in 2002 - the same year Jenkins reports that the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District struck a deal to sell MWD water for $100 an acre-foot -- the district paid less than $20 an acre-foot for water from the Central Valley Project, the largest of the 160-odd taxpayer-subsidized irrigation systems in the West.

Under the state Constitution, the water belongs to the people of California. But the federal government sells it for a small fraction of its market value to irrigation districts, which distribute the great majority of it to large corporate farms, many of which are growing rice and cotton that are also subsidized. The government recently renewed the contracts of most CVP districts for the next 25 years, promising them even more water that they can turn around and sell to MWD or other urban suppliers. It's a taxpayer ripoff that does nothing to encourage conservation and contributes to the massive environmental damage that accompanies irrigated agriculture. For more, see our Water Subsidies Database at Watersubsidies/.

Bill Walker
Vice President/West Coast
Environmental Working Group
Oakland, California

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