Mulroy: We’ve built one giant watershed

Pat Mulroy in the Las Vegas Sun on the interconnected west-wide artificial watershed we’ve built for ourselves, and why efforts to solve the Sacramento Delta’s problems matter to the rest of us:

From the vantage point of Sacramento, the Colorado River may seem distant and disconnected to the challenges in the delta. Yet, the two watersheds — their communities and their futures — are inextricably tied. This drought would be devastating the California economy were it not for the Colorado River. Water held in reserve behind the Hoover Dam by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has been sparing the Western economy from unimaginable hardship.



  1. Pat excels at the comprehensive picture because she looked at it long before it was a comprehensive problem.

  2. Not seeing any “unimaginable hardship” to the economy if ag amounts to only 2% of the California economy — it would just be a blip comparable to a mild recession. In Nevada/Utah/Arizona, ag is hardly on the economic radar screen. States like Oregon were completely self-sufficient in terms of salad, vegetables and fruit before ag subsidies to California undercut the truck farms and canneries (as happened in Eugene, OR) and still are today if you can accept seasonality.

    On March 1st, Metropolitan announced it would be withdrawing 150,000 to 200,000 acre-feet this year of previous deposits to the ICS water banking system. This amounts to lowering Lake Mead by 2′ and receding the shoreline up to 60′.

    This amounts to a 15-20% addition to their usual allotment of ~ 1 maf, important since MWD was completely cut off from state water shipments from the north. However that is just a triffle compared to what the Imperial Valley (pop. 175,000) is sucking down.

    And what exactly are they doing with their millions of acre-ft? The state extension agent explains that below — they’re sending it to China and Japan. Maybe they’re the ones that should be taking sponge baths and ripping out their lawns.

    Over the long haul, water flows uphill towards money, so southern California is many decades away from a real water problem. However this may not help the Central Valley situation in a continuing drought as the pumping structure is one-directional.

    Livestock in the Imperial Valley
    The Importance of Livestock and Forage Production to Imperial Valley Agriculture
    Juan Guerrero
    University of California–Imperial County Cooperative Agricultural Extension

    “Of all the individual agricultural commodities in Imperial County, the livestock industry generally ranks first among all the individual commodities, usually from 20 to 30% of total agricultural sales. In Imperial County the livestock industry consists of winter lamb grazing, two dairies, and the major compotent, cattle feedlots. California ranks sixth in the US in number of fed cattle, with Imperial County having the greatest number of feedlot cattle among California counties. On a yearly basis, about 450,000 head of cattle are fed in Imperial County feedlots.

    During the 1920’s and 30’s, Imperial County was the number one dairy county in California. Today only two dairies remain. As late as the 1960’s, there were more than 20 abattoirs in Los Angeles, today only one abattoir remains in Los Angeles for Imperial County fed cattle to be processed. Additionally, one abattoir is located in Tolleson, Arizona, where the majority of Imperial County fed cattle are processed. The lack of slaughter facilities in Southern California and diminished Southern California dairy cattle numbers are a grave concern for Imperial Valley agriculture and are considered to be one of the major constraints of agricultural expansion in Imperial County. The County of Imperial, together with a committee of concerned citizens is currently attempting to assist the agricultural community to resolve these problems.

    Of the almost 1?2 million acres under cultivation in the Imperial Valley, about 40 to 45% of the total acreage is in alfalfa. About 80% of the alfalfa hay goes to the China dairies, about 10% of the hay goes to local feedlots, about 5% is exported, and about 5% goes to the horse market. Every year for the last decade, about 40,000 to 80,000 acres of sudan grass are grown for hay. Most of the sudan grass hay is exported to Japanese dairies. Additionally, about 25,000 to 40,000 acres of Bermuda grass are cultivated in the Imperial Valley. Depending upon the Bermuda grass variety and on hay prices, the Bermuda grass is either grown for seed or for hay. As is readily evident forage crop production occupies almost 75% of all the cultivated acreage in Imperial County. Forage crop production uses the vast majority of imported Colorado River water, the majority of pesticides, and contributes the majority of surface water runoff in polluted agricultural drains. The importance of forage crop production to Imperial Valley agriculture cannot be understated.”

Comments are closed.