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Allocating Water During Drought

February 10, 1991

I sure hope the Metropolitan Water District board and its millions of urban customers read Robert Jones' eye-opening column on the distribution of water in California ("The Have-Nots of Water Begin to Stir," Jan. 29).

Few taxpayers, consumers and urban residents know that an unparalleled opportunity exists to reconsider water allocations as a result of expiring water contracts with the Central Valley Project.

Farmers (who use 85% of the state's water) and their allies in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation argue that the water volumes granted them in contracts four decades ago must remain fixed in new contracts. Moreover, the bureau echoes the irrigators' insistence that renewals be for fixed, 40-year periods.

Unless you have one of these highly subsidized irrigation contracts (and only a handful do), these criteria make no sense. The current drought and deficit should signal that committing water resources, at high subsidies, to a fraction of the state's population and economic base places at risk the economy of the entire state. It makes no sense to devote water to growing surplus crops while urban residents, who are willing to pay 50 times the irrigators' price, are facing catastrophic cutbacks.

If we insist on allocating water as though it were the 1940s, when California had 20 million fewer people, our state cannot solve its genuine water problems, and we will all suffer. If, on the other hand, we reasonably reallocate some water to serve broader public and fiscal purposes, California will have sufficient water, and we will reduce the deficit as well. We cannot miss the opportunity the expiration of archaic contracts offers.

REP. GEORGE MILLER, D-Martinez

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