Capital Press

Irrigated agriculture is a $128 billion-a-year industry in the West, and some Northwest ag representatives want to make sure the Environmental Protection Agency knows it.

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance in Klamath Falls, Ore., and resource economist Darryll Olsen, of the Pacific Northwest Project and the Columbia and Snake River Irrigators Association, recently presented an economic study to the EPA in Washington, D.C.

The presentation was in response to the regulatory agency's request for more information about the value of water to the U.S. economy.

Olsen focused on household income and the direct impact of the irrigated agriculture industry -- agricultural production and services and food processing -- coming up with the $128 billion total.

"With most people, irrigated ag is just sort of this silent industry out there, nobody ever really thinks much about it," he said. "People in general undervalue what the magnitude of the industry is."

Keppen said his organization initially had concerns about an emphasis on the economic value of water for municipal, industrial, recreational and other uses, with irrigated agriculture not getting much attention.

There were also concerns the EPA might use the information to justify further regulations, but EPA said that's not their intent, he said.

With the drought in the Midwest and the general economy faltering, Keppen said irrigated agriculture remains one of the few strong points.

"Folks are talking about moving water away from agriculture to other, perceived better purposes," he said. "They need to consider the importance irrigated agriculture has to our overall economy."

Olsen recommended the EPA consider the food security implications of the economic impact of irrigated agriculture. Reduced food costs have been the main factor contributing to the consumer-spending economy, he said, noting one-third of household income in Russia still goes to food.

The agency doesn't want to do something to cause an increase in household income expenditures on food, Olsen said.

"We are in a very fragile economic situation right now," Olsen said. "You must be very careful what you do right now with irrigated agriculture and water policy."

Keppen expects the EPA will host a symposium in Washington D.C. in December, but isn't certain how presentations will fit into its report, expected to be finalized in early spring 2013. The process will be impacted by the election in November, he said.

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