All you have to do is add water. That is a basic tenet of agriculture across the West. Just about anything will grow — if you have water. With the addition of that fundamental ingredient, the desert really does bloom across California, Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington and other parched regions.
That’s why the ongoing drought in California and other regions is so troubling. Without water, many of the crops American consumers have grown to depend on could be in short supply this year.
The stakes are huge. Some $51 billion in crops are grown across the West. That provides milk, vegetables, grains, berries, fruits — more than 300 different crops in all — to Americans and much of the world.
With such huge stakes, one would think the leadership in Sacramento, Boise, Olympia and Salem would be joined by leaders in Washington, D.C. to come up with a comprehensive plan to increase water storage with dams, reservoirs and aquifer recharge.
If such a plan exists, it has not been carried out. In California, an $11 billion water bond has been bouncing around the Capitol for years. Oregon is just now getting its feet wet, with some leaders starting to think about all of the water that streams through the state on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Washington and Idaho seem most serious about addressing water problems but still seem to lack overall strategies — or the money to carry them out.
Other than operating current projects — and taking out other dams — the federal government is pretty much missing in action when it comes to planning for the future.
Water is not solely a farm and ranch issue. Water also has a value to farm workers, processors, shippers and the many others who depend on western agriculture. If there are no crops to pick, farmworkers will find themselves on the welfare rolls. If there are no crops to process or ship, those workers will suffer as well. And if there is no food to eat, consumers will be forced to rely on foreign grown food available at higher prices.
Water is also important to other industries and citizens, who rely on an amply supply to thrive.
Water isn’t just an issue of importance in the West. It is the issue of importance. The current drought is not the first to hit California or other regions. And it won’t be the last. But it should serve as a wake-up call to all parties roaming the state and federal capitols that our current system of managing water can best be compared to a series of Band-Aids, one applied on top of the last.
They can do better. Indeed, they must do better.