Friday, June 07, 2013

Farmers are using subsidies meant to conserve water to use even more water

The U.S. government has given billions of dollars in subsidies to help farmers buy better irrigation systems to conserve water. But new studies show many farmers are misusing the money, and are using even more water, reports Ron Nixon of The New York Times. (NYT photo by Matthew Staver: A center-pivot sprinkler in Kansas)

Since 1997, the government has given about $4.2 billion in conservation subsidy payments to landowners, with $1 billion used to help agricultural producers increase the efficiency of irrigation, reports Nixon. Studies by the University of California, Davis and New Mexico State University found that farmers in Kansas, New Mexico, and Colorado "who received payments under the conservation subsidy were using some of their water savings to expand irrigation or grow thirstier crops, not to reduce consumption," Nixon notes.

Craig Cox, a senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, told Nixon, “Given that we just had the worst drought in the last 50 years, lawmakers need to really look at this program and how it’s having the opposite effect of what was intended." (Read more)

Diminishing groundwater has been a problem in many states, with 40 aquifers seriously depleted of water. The problem has been especially bad in west-central Kansas, where up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry, and in Northwest Kansas, where a 100-mile zone has been labeled as high priority.

No comments: