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Re: NYTimes.com Article: Arkansas Rice Farmers Run Dry, andU.S. Remedy Sets Off Debate

  • Subject: Re: [cg] NYTimes.com Article: Arkansas Rice Farmers Run Dry, andU.S. Remedy Sets Off Debate
  • From: David Smead smead@amplepower.com
  • Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2002 22:34:44 -0800 (PST)


So, taxpayers buy rice at an inflated cost so that the rice farmers can
use a limited resource without limits, and now they want the taxpayer to
provide them access to another limited resource so they can continue
growing overpriced rice.  I suppose that makes sense to a politician
on the receiving end of a lobbyist, but I'd call that "double dipping
corporate welfare".

Capitalism works in mysterious ways.


David Smead

On Mon, 11 Nov 2002 adam.honigman@bowne.com wrote:

> This article from NYTimes.com
> has been sent to you by adam.honigman@bowne.com.
> This is an extremely rare NY Times article on US agribusiness and water use (the old gra y lady is  usually oblivious to these issues.) As food security and water usage often come up as topics, I though this article might be of interest to the agriculture extension agents on this list.
> Cheers,
> Adam Honigman
> adam.honigman@bowne.com
> Arkansas Rice Farmers Run Dry, and U.S. Remedy Sets Off Debate
> November 11, 2002
> ULM, Ark., Nov. 5 - Rice farmers like John Kerksieck are on
> the brink of draining one of Arkansas' biggest aquifers
> dry.
> That alone is troublesome, in a state that gets almost 50
> inches of rain a year. But even more confounding - since
> these Southern farmers will not be the last to find
> themselves in such a pickle - is the question of what to do
> about it.
> Most of the farmers want the government to send them
> replacement water from the White River. The Army Corps of
> Engineers and the state support a plan to spend more than
> $200 million in federal money on the project, or about
> $300,000 a farmer. It is time, they say, for the government
> to do in other states what has long been done in the West -
> provide irrigation water to farmers who have no other
> resort.
> But others are concerned about the precedent such a project
> would set. If the government rewards farmers who use up
> their water here, they say, what is to stop others from
> doing the same?
> The debate touches on issues of water rights and
> responsibilities, and spills over into farm policy, because
> one issue is whether taxpayers should have to spend more to
> help grow rice, which is already heavily subsidized. It
> also involves wrangling about whether the corps, which has
> been limited to navigation and flood control, has any
> business wading into irrigation.
> One interest group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, contends
> the plan is a boondoggle of the first order.
> Farmers here in Arkansas' Grand Prairie, one of the
> country's richest rice-growing areas, see it differently.
> "We really don't have a water problem," said Mr. Kerksieck,
> 42, in hunting garb in anticipation of the duck season,
> which rivals rice farming as the Grand Prairie's main
> preoccupation. Like many here, he traces his lineage to the
> farmers who arrived in the early 1900's, starting a century
> of pumping from the aquifer at rates that could not be
> sustained.
> "There's plenty of water in the river," Mr. Kerksieck said.
> "They've just got to let us divert it."
> Another farmer, Lynn Sickel, 51, said: "I'm a conservative
> person. But if this is what it's going to take for highly
> productive farmland to continue to provide food nationally
> and internationally, well, that's the taxpayer's burden."
> David Carruth, a local lawyer who had led opposition to the
> plan, posed the question a different way. "Why shouldn't we
> say to these farmers in the Grand Prairie: `You've known
> since 1940 that you had a problem with your aquifer, and
> you went ahead and overpumped it anyway,' " he said. " `Why
> should we go ahead and grant you another resource?"
> Neither Congress nor the Bush administration has made a
> final decision about the plan, with total cost estimated at
> $319 million, with the federal government paying 65
> percent. But nearly all sides agree that time for a
> decision is running short. Water levels in the shallow
> aquifer, known as the Alluvial, are declining at rates so
> fast that by 2015 there will not be enough left underground
> to sustain the area's 1,000 farms, which cover about
> 250,000 acres and represent about 5 percent of country's
> rice production.
> The economic impact of such a collapse could surpass $46
> million a year, the corps has estimated.
> The Grand Prairie is not the only area in trouble because
> of declining groundwater. Underground water accounts for 22
> percent of American water use, and in many areas, including
> much of the Great Plains, coastal Florida and North
> Carolina and parts of the Mississippi Delta, it is being
> depleted. Even in eastern Arkansas, whose aquifers are fed
> by the Mississippi River, overuse has prompted state
> officials to designate a second area as critical because of
> scarce groundwater.
> But the Grand Prairie area is the first whose aquifer
> problems have prompted the Corps of Engineers to propose
> stepping in, a move that many see as an important test case
> as water shortages, even in the East, have become common.
> "One could take the position that, hey, the farmers are the
> ones who created this mess, so why don't we just let their
> wells go dry and let everybody go broke, and then the
> problem will fix itself," G. Alan Perkins, a Little Rock
> lawyer and an authority on water law, said. "But the
> critical problem is that right now, we're facing an
> imminent aquifer failure."
> Like many states, Arkansas has essentially never limited
> the amount of water that farmers can pump from their land.
> In the last 50 years in the Grand Prairie, farmers have
> relied increasingly on irrigation, over and above ample
> rains, to increase the yields of their crops. The farmers
> have increased by nearly tenfold the amount of water pumped
> from the Alluvial Aquifer, even as its level was declining
> by more than a foot a year, the state Soil and Water
> Commission said.
> "By allowing limitless access to such a resource, we
> encourage overexploitation," said Robert Glennon, a law
> professor at the University of Arizona and the author of
> "Water Follies," a new book on groundwater depletion.
> Even now, under the critical area designation, state law
> permits limits on pumping only if an alternative source of
> water is made available to the current users at equal or
> lower cost. Arkansas hopes that alternative can be the
> White River, but it says it cannot carry out the project
> without significant federal help.
> "We see groundwater depletion in Arkansas being a major
> problem, and one that involves the national interest, and
> really the only federal agency with the expertise and
> ability to deal with it is the corps," Earl T. Smith, chief
> of the Arkansas commission's water resources management
> division, said.
> Under the corps' current plan, about 2 percent of water
> from the White River would be diverted for farm use, a
> project that would include pumping stations, canals and
> reservoirs. The plan, which the corps said would save the
> aquifer by reducing pumping to sustainable levels, has
> passed an environmental review, but faces opposition from
> outdoor and environmental groups like the Arkansas Wildlife
> Federation. The groups contend that lower river flows could
> alter the habitats of certain fish and migratory birds,
> including ducks, and thus hurt fishing and hunting.
> Congress has allocated $45 million for the project, and
> farmers and the State of Arkansas have spent an additional
> $11 million. The Bush administration has not included the
> plan in its budgets. Although withholding a final decision,
> the Office of Management and Budget has limited how the
> corps can spend money already allocated for the plan,
> restricting it to conservation purposes.
> Mr. Carruth, the critic of the plan, said a better approach
> would be to retire some farmland and to spend federal money
> on technology to enable farmers to use water more
> efficiently. That approach, he says, eases overpumping of
> the aquifer without the costly river diversion.
> "Why should we subsidize a pump that will sell subsidized
> water to grow a subsidized crop?" he asked, noting that
> federal price guarantees mean that rice farmers receive
> $3.10 a bushel for their crop, more than twice the current
> $1.40 market price.
> An analysis by the corps said that without White River
> water, there was no way to save enough underground water to
> continue irrigation at anything but a tiny fraction of
> current levels.
> The farmers say the goal of maintaining a domestic food and
> fiber industry, and avoiding further reliance on foreign
> suppliers, is well worth the federal cost, even if it means
> guaranteeing water and crop payments for their rice.
> "There is a long and established history of the federal
> government being involved in water resources development
> and protection" John C. Edwards, the executive director of
> the White River Irrigation District, which represents the
> 1,000 Grand Prairie farmers, said. "There has been a
> federal interest in irrigation in 17 Western states. Now
> that water problems are coming to the East, we can learn
> from the past to make this a better project for the
> future."
> http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/11/national/11RICE.html?ex=1038043069&ei=1&en=f647b5dedd9a0491
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