Five years ago our district suggested U.S. Farm Bill changes that would actually reduce consumptive water use in specified areas at no additional cost to the federal government. We looked at our proposal as a win-win-win situation - if implemented where, and how, we proposed it. Following is an excerpt of that testimony:
"In discussions with irrigated producers in NW Kansas the current structure of the farm bill comes up almost every time as a significant factor in their choice of irrigated crops - very predominately corn - a high consumptive water use crop.
Since passage of the current farm bill (2002) Kansas has developed new objectives for the High Plains Aquifer which require reductions in consumptive water use. Additionally, the US Supreme Court has approved a negotiated settlement for the Republican River Compact also involving significant reductions in consumptive water use within the basin. Both are new environmental goals set relative to historical water use which are real and need to be achieved.
We would encourage the new farm program (2008) to offer producers in specially recognized or identified areas (required to achieve lower water use goals) an economically viable alternativeto produce lower consumptive water use crops on the same acres, or, to reduce their irrigated acres.
To be eligible as a recognized or identified area, the region must have as a minimum: 1) a publicly established policy, or, a court order to reduce consumptive water use; 2) regulations in place which prevent significant new water development (non-domestic); and 3) a credible process of water use reportmg.
Possible approaches, in concept, might be:
1) Restructure the farm payments in the specially recognized areas to better encourage lower consumptive water use crops.
2) In specially recognized areas provide, at the discretion of the producer, a "Conservation Option" instead of the standard program, which would encourage lower consumptive water use crops or the transition of irrigated acres.
3) Increase the loan rate per bushel for the appropriate crops if there is a reduction in irrigated acres.
We also believe any changes made must be accomplished in a way that is as "revenue neutral" to the current program as possible.
In closing, there are clearly many ways a new farm bill can be crafted to encourage lower consumptive water use in areas that must achieve new environmental goals involving less consumptive water use. We pledge to work with USDA and others in the further development of these concepts."
Of course nothing changed, but fundamentally I still don't see why this model won't work. Ag production is a highly economic endeavor, and unless we focus on the economics that are largely directing our water use patterns, nothing is likely to change those patterns except in very special cases - like areas being placed under a court decree or government directive. When approached this way, these areas are seriously disadvantaged (economically) without some assistance. The Farm Bill, without any additional cost, could provide that assistance if it wanted to. Who knows, if there were some economic supports, perhaps others would consider a local decision to reduce consumptive water use more willingly - and perhaps before the courts got involved in water management. If there are other viewpoints out there, I'd be intrerested in hearing them.