Working landscapes

PHOENIX – Drive south on Interstate 10 out of the Phoenix metro area, past Ikea, and the city ends abruptly, a sharp line between development and desert. Given its reputation for sprawl, Phoenix (when I say “Phoenix” here I’m talking about the whole metro area, not just the city itself) is remarkably compact. The realities …

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Throwback Thursday: the 1885 Riverside Citrus Fair

Starting to think about what my next book might be, I’ve been reading about the history of citrus agriculture in the Southern California of my birth. My interest, in terms of the book, is the way the evolution of irrigation technology and governance maps onto the working landscape that was, for a time, the richest …

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UC Davis irrigation experiment shows big increase in alfalfa yield per acre foot of water

Cleverly managed deficit irrigation (when you significantly reduce water applied during the hot part of the year) substantially increased yield per unit water applied in a new study by researchers at UC Davis. In controlled side-by-side field experiments, Dan Putnam and his colleagues demonstrated that if you do it right, a big reduction in water …

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Melons, lettuce, and other things about 2016

On a personal level, 2016 has been pretty great. I published a book, Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West, which has been well received. When I was struggling three years ago to move from the general – “I want to write a book” – to the specific – “I …

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Is Colorado River water responsible for 15 percent of U.S. crops?

I’ve seen this more than once: Fifteen percent of all U.S. crops are grown with irrigation water that originates in the Colorado River Basin. That’s from an Alternet piece, and it’s a number I’ve seen repeated many times (see here, here, here for just a few of the many examples). I am skeptical. I’ve been unable …

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A return to flood irrigation in search of environmental benefits

I’ve praised the successful shift from flood irrigation toward more efficient technology – meaning things like center-pivot and drip over flood irrigation – that has enabled a downward trend in the amount of water applied to a typical irrigated acre of farmland in the United States. According to the USGS, US farmers decreased their average …

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How “Cheap Talk” Helped Environmentalists and Water Managers Find Common Ground

An excerpt from my book, published by Earth Island Journal: a case study in how “cheap talk” – the relative informality of a “working group” without obligations – helped calm conflict between environmentalists and water managers on the Lower Colorado: In the short run, the relative informality meant that there was no concrete, institutionalized way …

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