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Alter current irrigation subsidies

Subsidies for irrigation in the past 100 years may be the most substantial contribution to present groundwater scarcity issues. Certainly, federal irrigation subsidies are at least the historical proximate, if not ultimate, cause of some important water problems in the western United States (Hartmann and Goldstein, 1994). Interior Department economists have estimated that 38% of irrigation subsidies ($800 million) go toward the irrigation of ``surplus'' crops--crops that the U.S. Department of Agriculture pays other farmers not to grow. Payments for surplus crops average $1.5 billion annually (Edwards and DeHaven, 2001). Thus the government unnecessarily spends at least $2.3 billion per year on irrigation-related subsidies. That total does not take into account the federal money required to assist with alternate municipal water supplies or money to relieve municipal damage, such as land subsidence, caused by aquifer over-pumping. Reducing or eliminating irrigation subsidies will result in a shift to the production of water-thrifty, more highly-valued crops, with decreasing production of water-inefficient cereal crops. Eliminating subsidies would also drive many farmers out of business, potentially leading to the failure of local economies. (Gollehon, 1999).


next up previous contents
Next: Promote trade agreements which Up: Quantity-Focused Policies Previous: Enforce existing groundwater pumping   Contents
Andy Wingo 2001-12-10