The Environmental Quality Incentives Program was first authorized in the 1996 Farm Bill to help farmers purchase more efficient irrigation equipment (sprinklers and pipelines) to save water. Lofty goal.
Since 1997, the government has provided $4.2 billion in conservation subsidy payments to landowners, $1 billion of which has been used to improve the efficiency of irrigation.Yet several studies show that instead of reducing water consumption, farmers receiving subsidies used part of the water savings to expand irrigation or even grow thirstier crops! Western states, where water resources have been diminishing from 15 to 75% since the 1950s are among the largest users of water through irrigation. Arizona, California, Colorado, Texas and Utah alone account for nearly half of the program’s spending on irrigation equipment.
Depletion of groundwater supplies is a critical issue because that water is crucial to both agriculture and as a source of drinking water: the population has nearly doubled over the last 50 years but our water consumption has tripled, with farm irrigation accounting for 80% of it.
Having just had the worst drought in the last 50 years, we can’t afford a program that has the opposite effect of what was intended any longer. Environmental organizations like the Environmental Working Group are requesting changes (not cuts) so farmers receiving payments cannot increase their water use.
This program is part of the massive $955 billion five-year Farm Bill that the House of Representatives just voted down via both Democrats and some conservatives. To be continued.
- Do you consider water conservation as an individual and collective responsibility?
- Do you watch your water consumption and make sure to use only what you need?