Feb 23 2014
Norm Miller, an economist at the University of San Diego says in the
2/23/2014 San Diego UT, to the question, “Will the state water shortage have
major consequences for the local economy in the immediate future”:http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/feb/21/econometer-water-shortage-consequences/
“No, there is excess demand for water because it is too cheap.” And he goes
on to say, “It is astounding that we grow so much rice in California with
fields flooded to 5 inches of water. While among the most efficient and
productive rice farmers in the world, they could not compete globally
without cheap water.”
How much rice is produced in California?
Production Figures http://calrice.org/Economics/Production+Figures.htm
“Nowhere in the world is rice production more advanced than in California.
The California rice industry annually produces more than 2 million tons of
rice making it the second largest rice growing state in the nation behind
Arkansas. Our ideal climate, ample water supply [emphasis added] and innovative farming
techniques result in some of the highest rice yields in the world, while at
the same time providing rice of the highest quality.
Most rice grown in California is consumed domestically as table rice, in
restaurants or as any number of food products. An average of 60 percent of
the annual rice crop goes on America’s dinner table, into sushi restaurants,
made into beer, rice mixes and even pet food.
Exports markets are also a key destination for California rice. Countries
such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Turkey account for 40 percent of annual
How much water does it take to produce 2 million tons of rice annually?
To produce one ton of rice requires 60,000 gallons of water.
With an acre-foot equal to 325,900 gallons, it takes 0.184 acre-feet per ton, or for 2 million tons of rice the water required is 368,000 acre-feet. This amount of water is about 2/3 of all the water required annually for San Diego County.
And on top of that, according to the calrice.org, we are exporting forty
percent of virtual water or 147,200 acre-feet. Virtual water is water that
would be used otherwise if it was not being used to grow rice.
Do we have a water shortage problem in California? The answer to that
question is no. What we do have is a very small number of businesses
consuming prodigious quantities of water, and selling a lot of it overseas.
Markets work. If the price of water was raised, rice farmers in California
would be priced out of the world market, a tough choice. But so is running
out of water for millions of Californians. Those countries that buy
California’s rice don’t have to commit their water resources to growing what
they can import.
So is government regulation of rice production necessary? Absolutely not.
But raising the price of water will cause the market to work. Rice prices
will necessarily rise, or we may see more rice coming from the other five states that produce rice in the US. It’s a question of
priorities. Bureaucrats and pols react to public pressure. The rice lobby
will be screaming about the unfairness of it all…after all “look at the
income to the State.” Millions of dollars will likely be wasted on studies, but
when all is said and done, the simple raising of water rates will solve
California’s water issues, particularly if the money is spent well on
recycling, storage and conservation. Who will the win the lobbying battle,
millions of Californians, or rice agri-business? Norm Miller is right. “Water
is too cheap”.
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE
Author of “Water Shock, The Day Southern California Went Dry”
About Alumni at the University of Montana