- - Thursday, December 17, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The circumstances in California are dire. After four years of lower than average precipitation, the state’s reservoirs have fallen to 27 percent of their historical average and more than 2,000 wells have dried up. The water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which has traditionally sustained the state through arid summers, measures just 3 percent of normal.

While California is the hardest hit, it’s not the only state in the nation suffering. Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming are also experiencing drought conditions, and Texas, Oklahoma Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi remain perched on the edge of drought. In all, 110 million Americans are directly impacted.

Without adequate supplies of fresh water, our nation’s food supply is at great risk.

More than 500 years ago, when America was first discovered, it was immediately recognized as a land of abundance. My home state of Florida even earned its name, “La Florida,” for the plentiful food and resources it offered the Spanish settlers in the early 1500s.

Over the centuries, early observations that this land was one of abundance have proven to be true. The nation’s soil characteristics naturally produce higher yields than soils found in other parts of the world. Today, the United States is the largest exporter of food in the world. Florida and California combine to provide the nation’s year-round supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. And the heartland in the Midwest is the world’s breadbasket and soybean, corn and rice bowls.

Lacking the water resources necessary, however, this land of abundance may lose its longstanding reputation. The drought in the West is already affecting our nation’s ability to produce food. More than 560,000 acres of productive farmland in California alone are fallow. Farms faced with multiple years of loss are on the verge of failure. Those that have the will to persevere will be forced to invest significantly to access more water by drilling deeper. This, in turn, causes the land to subside, bringing ruin to highways, canals, dams, aqueducts and other infrastructure.

Without the water resources necessary to sustain our production of food and sound public policies in place to govern how water is used, we will not be capable of producing enough food to meet the demands of our nation, let alone the world’s growing population. The world’s population is expected to approach 10 billion people by 2050, and our agriculture industry in the United States and around the world will be stressed in ways that we haven’t seen before.

California’s current circumstances are inarguably a result of Mother Nature, but they have been exacerbated by punishing public policies, along with insufficient infrastructure and inaction when it was time to conduct water supply planning.

Legislation, court rulings, federal regulations and biological opinions have forced California to invest time and resources in environmental programs that were not based on sound science and produced minimal results. Mandates from the federal government, such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act and expansions of the Clean Water Act have also imposed unnecessary burdens on California, along with the rest of the nation. These one-size-fits-all policies may have good intentions to protect our nation’s natural resources, but they too often fail to take into account America’s diverse topography, wide range of weather conditions and variety of water and soil resources. And, therefore, they force us to invest financial resources to meet national standards that produce few, if any, positive, measurable results.

As a member of Ag America, a nationwide coalition of agricultural officials, policy leaders and individuals who seek to assure rural America’s voice is represented at all levels of government so as to maintain its ability to feed, clothe and fuel our population, the crippling of California agriculture by governmental fiat serves as an urgent warning.

As demand for food production in America increases and our precious resources are stressed, we cannot afford to let public policies, insufficient infrastructure and inaction paralyze our ability to meet the world’s needs. We must work now to manage the water resources that are available in ways that support a growing economy while at the same time protecting the natural systems so vital to our quality of life.

We’ll have to invent new technologies and discover new methods that rely less on water and less on resource-intensive inputs. We’ll have to invest in our infrastructure to develop alternative sources of water and recycle more wastewater. And, importantly, we’ll have to increase our ability to store, transport and distribute the still-abundant supplies of water nature gives us during years of plenty.

Our food supply — our food security — is at stake. We must act now to ensure the long-term sustainability of American agriculture by avoiding the nonsensical policies adopted by California and, instead, implementing thoughtful, science-driven solutions that meet our nation’s needs and support economic growth, while protecting our natural environment.

Adam Putnam is Florida’s commissioner of agriculture. He previously represented Florida’s 12th Congressional District for five terms.

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