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Critics distort agricultural water use
Water flows in a South San Joaquin Irrigation District canal east of Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Critics that slam agriculture for being “water hogs” won’t go unchallenged by Jeff Shields.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District general manager notes most critics distort how the pie of developed water sources  is sliced. They leave off wildlife and similar applications such as court-ordered releases for fish runs and pump up the farm use percentage. By doing so, they complain that agriculture is using 80 percent of the state’s developed water supplies.

That’s because critics conveniently equate wildlife applications as an extension of natural river flows. It isn’t the case since the additional storage for wildlife applications and fish flows would not exist if the state’s reservoir system hadn’t been built.

How California’s water consumption of developed storage and imports has been divvied up historically is as follows:

10.50 percent for urban uses.

39.87 percent for agriculture.

31.22 percent for wild and scenic applied water.

8.61 percent to maintain in stream flow requirements.

7.97 percent for regulatory Delta outflows.

1.83 percent for managed wetlands.

Those figures represent the major diversions of water from the State Water Project, the Central Valley Water Project, groundwater and the Colorado River. In an average year California uses 83.33 million acre feet of water from snow, rain, imports, and groundwater. Of that 60 percent comes from surface sources and 40 percent from groundwater

“During the last two years of the drought farmers haven’t gotten any water (from the two projects),” Shields told Manteca Rotarians gathered at Ernie’s restaurant.

He noted many farmers such as those in the SSJID and Oakdale Irrigation District secured and developed water rights on their own dime and don’t rely on state or federal water projects.

Shields noted critics also argue as if farm use has no essential purpose.

“How do you think farmers would raise beef that you eat or your salads or cotton for clothing without water?” Shields asked rhetorically.

Shields noted SSJID farmers through aggressive water management plans put in place with the help of the district as well as investing in pressurized delivery systems south of Manteca and west of Ripon have managed to reduce water use this year by 32 percent without fallowing any land due to the drought. In doing so, they have actually increased crop production specifically with the Division 9 pressurized system

The water savings in many cases exceed those of urban areas in Southern California.