Guest Commentary: Potential for ag conservation is far less than Pacific Institute/NRDC report claims, says Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition

Mike Wade at the California Farm Water Coalition offers this rebuttal to last Friday’s flashback post, Dr. Peter Gleick on The Untapped Potential of California’s Water Supply:

He writes:

California’s leading irrigation experts have repeatedly shown that the state’s potential for agricultural conservation is a mere 5% of the amount claimed by environmental activists at the Pacific Institute and Natural Resources Defense Council in the report cited in Friday’s Flashback. The questionable claim was based on a report by the Pacific Institute in 2009, “Sustaining California Agriculture in an Uncertain Future” and repeated again this year. It advances the notion that 5.5 – 6.5 million acre-feet of water could be made available simply through changes in agricultural water management practices.

The Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT) at California State University, Fresno is a specialized institution dedicated to improving agronomic and agricultural water management practices. In its 2011 report, “Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update,” CIT calculates agricultural conservation potential at approximately 300,000 acre-feet. Far less than the 5.5 – 6.5 million acre-feet claimed by the Pacific Institute and NRDC.

The CIT report cites numerous practices, such as conjunctive use of deep percolation, ongoing tailwater reuse, and the difference in efficiencies at the farm, district and regional levels, which are poorly considered in the report Peter Gleick presented to the California Water Commission that was the subject of the Friday Flashback.

Ag Water Use Report Cover
Click here to read the report.

Great effort is taken by the experts at CSU Fresno to describe the relationships between consumptive and non-consumptive, as well as beneficial and non-beneficial fractions of water.  The CIT report lays out the effects of numerous scenarios advanced in the paper by Peter Gleick and provides insight into the social, ecological, and agronomic impacts of a variety of efforts to reduce applied water.

As substandard water supply continues to limit the number of acres on which food and fiber can be grown. The efforts being made to identify and capture this 300,000 acre-foot potential are being undertaken by the ingenious and diligent researchers at our public universities.

The full CIT report is available at

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