[gardeners] yesterday

Margaret Lauterbach (gardeners@globalgarden.com)
Fri, 16 Mar 2001 08:48:52 -0700

  Washington has declared a state of emergency due to drought, and 
yesterday Idaho's public utilities commission approved a plan for Idaho 
Power (supplies most of the state with electrical power) to pay farmers not 
to irrigate this year.  That is, they use electrical pumps to pump water 
out of the Snake river, and to spray it on their fields, in automatic great 
sprinklers that move in circular patterns.  They're taking 130,000 acres 
out of production this year, and that good farmland will lie fallow so that 
Idaho Power can supply other customers' power needs with a minimum raise in 
rates.  That minimum is expected to be very large, because power generators 
in states that have deregulated that generation are charging very, very 
high rates.

If enough of that acreage is potato-growing land, it might drive up the 
prices enough that farmers can at least break even, if not make a 
profit.  I suspect a lot of the land that will be withdrawn from 
productivity will be barley (for beer), dry beans, corn and perhaps sugar 
beets.  This one year probably won't have much effect on your grocery 
bills.  But farmers who use natural irrigation may be cut off from water 
early this year.  In Idaho reservoirs are half full, and snowpacks are less 
than 50 % of normal.  That plus the fact that Washington State is in a 
drought situation may have an effect on your grocery prices.

Those of us native to the West know enough to do our best to conserve 
water, a precious non-renewable resource that's vital to all life. I 
haven't read recently about the Niobrara (?) aquifer, lying under Nebraska, 
Colorado and Kansas, but the last I knew that was diminishing.  Population 
of earth is surpassing the planet's ability to nourish that population, and 
regardless of what we'd like to grow or can monetarily afford to grow, 
society will be better off if we conserve our resources.  Margaret L