Hot Potato: Food for Thought
Where Did All the Money Go?
Federal Water Projects
1997 July 04
Friday, Independence Day

Federal water projects made the desert bloom in the American southwest. Water projects began as part of the Depression-era efforts to put people to work and to support small family farms.

These water projects represent a huge subsidy for agri-business. While the terms of federal water projects prohibit large commercial enterprises from using the water, this condition is not enforced. The water is sold for a small fraction of what it costs the government to provide it. Much of it is wasted because using it properly costs more than just buying more. This excessive use also hastens the rate at which the soil becomes saline and ceases to be productive. (This is a major threat to American agriculture in the coming century.)

The final insult is that those farms which do economize on water use are permitted to sell their extra water "rights" to Los Angeles and Phoenix. Farmers in regions with enough rainfall that irrigation is not needed must compete against farms receiving subsidized water. The family farm remains an endangered species. Water prices based on actual costs should be phased in over 10 years.

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