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Wanting more of a good thing: water subsidies, cotton subsidies, and the corporate agribusiness elite 1%

Restore the Delta has been thinking a great deal lately about who receives water exported from the Delta and how these recipients use this exported water. The more we learn about how exported water is being used by the corporate agribusiness growers on the west side and southern San Joaquin Valley, the more convinced we become that exported water supports a business model that is bad for tax payers, and completely antithetical to the hope of a sustainable economy and environment for the Delta and for California.

This week’s case in point: the growers of Semitropic Water Storage District. According to its website:

Semitropic Water Storage District is one of eight water storage districts in California and is the largest in Kern County. The District delivers  water to nearly 300 customers for the irrigation of approximately 140,000 acres for agricultural uses. Semitropic also supplies  energy to a variety of users and provides  groundwater banking and storage services.

Established in 1958, Semitropic Water Storage District covers an area of more than 220,000 acres. It began as an irrigation district for the purpose of securing  State Water Project supplies to reduce groundwater overdraft….

The development of the Semitropic Water Storage Bank was based on three primary objectives:

  • Increase water supply reliability.
  • Decrease the cost of water for irrigation.
  • Correct overdraft in the groundwater basin.

In other words, Semitropic from the beginning, as a recipient of State Water Project water, was created to improve water supply reliability for a fairly arid region, to make water cheaper for big growers, and to fix the groundwater basin which had been overdrafted.

We, therefore, decided to look at the business models for some of Semitropic’s growers. This week we focus our attention on Todd Tracy. Mr. Tracy’s family is part of the historic Tracy family, a pioneer farming family that operated Buttonwillow Land and Cattle. So far, so good. Large tracts of semi-arid land, with just enough rain to support grazing — end result cattle production. It makes sense to us.

However, between 1995 and 2010, Buttonwillow Land and Cattle received $11,666,428 in cotton subsidy payments according to the Environmental Working Group. To see the data click here.

Water exports from the Delta (which is subsidized water as the State Water Project has never paid for itself) were used to produce these cotton crops that had to be subsidized by our Federal tax dollars. Meanwhile between 1995 and 2010, coastal fishing industries declined significantly, water quality worsened for beneficial use in the Delta, Delta fisheries collapsed, and Delta farmers spent millions of dollars in litigation to protect their water rights and access to good water quality.

These cotton crops do nothing to increase national food security, which an argument can be made for, for other subsidized crops. And while Restore the Delta does complain frequently about San Joaquin Valley almond exports to China, the argument can be made that those almonds are at least feeding people in other nations.

But what troubles us the most is that we are still subsidizing cotton with Delta water and Federal payments, when it can be grown cheaper in other parts of this country. This public policy model is unsustainable – for both our economy and the environment. But it continues because it enriches a small group of corporate agribusiness, who rake in private profits with socialized losses, who then have money to influence the political process.

Oh and by the way, the Semitropic Water Storage District supports the peripheral canal.

We guess that their growers simply want more of a good thing.

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • April 26, 2012, 3:56 pm

    You may be interested in my essay:
    Big Oil Fracking California
    Big Energy Corporations, Politicians, and Water Do Mix!
    Thirsty Oil Companies Need More Water!

    Representatives of the energy services company Halliburton told EWG in the fall of 2011 that 50-to-60 percent of new wells being drilled in Kern County were hydraulically fractured. And according to data in the 2009 annual report of the Division of Oil and Gas, the five most productive oil fields in Kern County had 1,527 new wells drilled that year. From these figures, EWG estimates that, at a minimum, more than 750 California wells were fracked in 2009 alone. This is clearly an underestimate, however, both because it counts only a subset of the wells in California – and about half as many wells were drilled in 2009 as in each of the previous two years.
    — California Regulators: See No Fracking, Speak No Fracking

    • Ben
      August 20, 2015, 3:39 am

      Roland please email me and I’ll give you my cell
      You are more right than you know but bigger because I the project leader.

  • Ben
    August 20, 2015, 3:39 am

    Roland please email me and I’ll give you my cell
    You are more right than you know but bigger because I the project leader.