Wanting more of a good thing: water subsidies, cotton subsidies, and the corporate agribusiness elite 1%

This post is from the Restore the Delta Newsletter

Restore the Delta is a grassroots campaign committed to making the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California. Restore the Delta – a coalition of Delta residents, business leaders, civic organizations, community groups, faith-based communities, union locals, farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists – seeks to strengthen the health of the estuary and the well-being of Delta communities. Restore the Delta works to improve water quality so that fisheries and farming can thrive together again in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Restore the Delta has been thinking a great deal lately about who receives water exported from the Delta and how these recipients use this exported water. The more we learn about how exported water is being used by the corporate agribusiness growers on the west side and southern San Joaquin Valley, the more convinced we become that exported water supports a business model that is bad for tax payers, and completely antithetical to the hope of a sustainable economy and environment for the Delta and for California

This week’s case in point: the growers of Semitropic Water Storage District. According to its website:

Semitropic Water Storage District is one of eight water storage districts in California and is the largest in Kern County. The District delivers water to nearly 300 customers for the irrigation of approximately 140,000 acres for agricultural uses. Semitropic also supplies energy to a variety of users and provides groundwater banking and storage services.

Established in 1958, Semitropic Water Storage District covers an area of more than 220,000 acres. It began as an irrigation district for the purpose of securing State Water Project supplies to reduce groundwater overdraft….

The development of the Semitropic Water Storage Bank was based on three primary objectives:

•Increase water supply reliability.
•Decrease the cost of water for irrigation.
•Correct overdraft in the groundwater basin.

In other words, Semitropic from the beginning, as a recipient of State Water Project water, was created to improve water supply reliability for a fairly arid region, to make water cheaper for big growers, and to fix the groundwater basin which had been overdrafted.

We, therefore, decided to look at the business models for some of Semitropic’s growers. This week we focus our attention on Todd Tracy. Mr. Tracy’s family is part of the historic Tracy family, a pioneer farming family that operated Buttonwillow Land and Cattle. So far, so good. Large tracts of semi-arid land, with just enough rain to support grazing — end result cattle production. It makes sense to us.

However, between 1995 and 2010, Buttonwillow Land and Cattle received $11,666,428 in cotton subsidy payments according to the Environmental Working Group. To see the data click here.

Water exports from the Delta (which is subsidized water as the State Water Project has never paid for itself) were used to produce these cotton crops that had to be subsidized by our Federal tax dollars. Meanwhile between 1995 and 2010, coastal fishing industries declined significantly, water quality worsened for beneficial use in the Delta, Delta fisheries collapsed, and Delta farmers spent millions of dollars in litigation to protect their water rights and access to good water quality.

These cotton crops do nothing to increase national food security, which an argument can be made for, for other subsidized crops. And while Restore the Delta does complain frequently about San Joaquin Valley almond exports to China, the argument can be made that those almonds are at least feeding people in other nations.

But what troubles us the most is that we are still subsidizing cotton with Delta water and Federal payments, when it can be grown cheaper in other parts of this country. This public policy model is unsustainable – for both our economy and the environment. But it continues because it enriches a small group of corporate agribusiness, who rake in private profits with socialized losses, who then have money to influence the political process.

Oh and by the way, the Semitropic Water Storage District supports the peripheral canal.

We guess that their growers simply want more of a good thing.


About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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