The semantics game continued over the weekend, as analysts, politicians and think tanks all over the country considered Gov. Jerry Brown's orders last week to reduce water usage in the state by 25 percent in urban areas.
"No fair," much of the chorus goes because the restrictions don't address the massive amounts of water used by agriculture.
We just hope those bound to take part in the discussions of what to do next to address the ongoing drought (and future droughts and future conservation needs) pay attention to what the statistics bandied about are telling us.
If you're interested in making it look crazy — the amount of water agriculture uses versus that used by urban areas — you're going to go with the 80/20 ratio. Without thinking about it, it just seems out of whack because we're brought up to think in terms of even splits.
But this isn't a candy bar. It's a natural resource. Do you want the same amount of water to be used for urban lawns and swimming pools and endless housing developments as you want used for production of the food all of us eat? When you think about it, the 80 percent/20 percent split is more logical.
But that's not even the whole point. When you hear policy analysts using the 80/20 split, you need to remember that's just the ratio of water used by humans, which is only about half of the pie chart. It's not the split on all water in the state of California. If you look at that pie chart, you find 50 percent is used for environmental purposes, 40 percent is used for agriculture and 10 percent goes for urban usage.
It's not that agriculture is hogging 80 percent of all of the water in the state.
Gov. Brown on Sunday defended his decision to target urban areas before agriculture, it was reported. He noted farmers had already fallowed acres and in some cases pulled vines and trees. He also noted the ranks of the unemployed swelling as lack of water curbs farming.
And we've already cautioned that when you talk about the need for restrictions to conserve water in the ag sector, you need to consider agriculture already has a long-standing system for addressing water availability based on a system of water rights and allocations. If there's not enough water to go around, farmers with junior water rights probably get no water, and those with senior rights get cutbacks. Billions of dollars and thousands of jobs are going to be absent from the state economy this year due to fallowed fields and lost trees.
Restrictions for agriculture? Sure. Start lining up the talking points. There surely are reasonable additional conservation practices that could be implemented. It's time for better data collection, perhaps more aggressive groundwater control, maybe more local involvement in planning how acres can be used between fields that can be fallowed in times of drought versus orchards that can't be shut down so easily.
But, again, we'd caution critics to slow down and think it through. You can argue conservation should be waged on all fronts, but that 80/20 ratio business ... it's only useful to show how important agriculture is. We get the feeling some arguing for stricter regulations on agriculture are really lobbying for a shift in the ratio. That would be a mistake.