SLO Water Politics vs. The Geopolitics of Food and Water`
August 26, 2013
OPINION by ALEX ALEXIEV
On Aug. 27, SLO county supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill will try to push through an “emergency” ordinance to deal with the purported ground water depletion in the Paso Robles water basin. `According to existing statutes, to be able to pass such an urgency ordinance, its proponents have to prove the existence of a “current and immediate threat to the public health, safety or welfare.” Neither Gibson, nor Hill nor anybody else can prove such a threat at this point because we simply do not know how many wells have run dry. The county goes around this inconvenience by lying in claiming that the emergency is caused by the “sudden, unexpected failure of a large number of residential wells.” Yet of the many thousands of residential wells in the basin, the board has heard testimony of only 8 going dry and another 8 whose pumps had to be lowered. Hardly “a large number.” Nor are the documented well failures “sudden, unexpected.” We’re in the midst of a serious drought and though most of our aquifers are replenishable, it takes rain and/or snowpack to replenish them and we’ve had very little of either one for two years.
One would think that if the Gibson and Hill were really concerned about the water problem they would have ordered an empirical study of the problem an economic impact study of the ordinance and propose both short and long-term solutions. They have done none of that. The reason for that is because the water problems in North County are of no interest to them. What they want to do is use this ‘crisis’ to push their far left, anti-business and anti-property rights agenda, which they have been unable to achieve through normal legislative means. And make no mistake about it, the proposed ordinance is a direct, frontal assault on the most productive sectors of our North County economy; agriculture, the wine industry, the closely related tourist industry and the barely recovering real estate business. If implemented, the ordinance as it now stands will stop any further development in its tracks without doing much if anything to alleviate water shortages because the entire urban population is excluded. This is a cynical political ploy that must be exposed and defeated.
It is ironic that this assault on our most productive industries happens at the exact time when a tremendous geopolitical shift is taking place around the world and food is emerging as the strategic commodity of the future replacing oil and gas. And food production is an area in which the United States and California have a potential second to none. What is making food and therefore water, a premium commodity has nothing to do with the prattling of environmental extremists about global warming or expanding populations and everything to do with the success of the free enterprise system wherever it is allowed to function.
To put it simply, the tremendous economic performance over the past two decades have created a 200 million strong middle class in China and 50 million in India. And more is to come, the World Bank expects China to add another 300 million to the middle class by 2020 and India another 150 million in the same time frame. And the first thing middle class people do is they start to eat meat. China consumed 10 million tons of meat in 1980 vs 71 million tons today, twice the current U.S. consumption, soon to become three times larger. Unfortunately, for these booming countries, God has played a cruel joke on them and undersupplied them with water. China has 20% of the world’s population but only 6% of its water resources. India has 16% of the population but 4% of the water and the Arabs make 5% but have just 1% of the water. The result is critical water shortage, drying aquifers, desertification and conditions similar to our Dust Bowl in the 1930s. China alone is said to have lost 24,000 villages to the advancing Gobi Desert, while the World Bank is on record predicting that most major Indian cities will run dry by 2020.
Another highly predictable result is booming imports from countries that do not have water problems like America, Canada, Brazil and perhaps, sub-Saharan Africa before long. China is already the biggest importer of food in the world and the trend could only accelerate. The opportunities that this irreversible trend portends for our agriculture and food production are limitless, unless, of course, we allow Ludites like Messrs. Gibson and Hill to implement their destructive agenda. In just one example, the wine industry is one that the proposed ordinance will seriously damage or worse. Chinese traditionally do not drink wine, but their middle class does. In the four years between 2008 and 2012 China’s wine imports grew by 85%, yet their wine consumption is still only 2 bottles per person. What will happen when there are 300 million more wine-guzzling Chinese by 2020 is not difficult to predict. Our county stands a good chance to grab a major chunk of it.
None of this is to say that we should not think of both short and long-range solutions to our water problems. It maybe that there’s nothing three years of above average rain cannot solve. But we couldn’t count on that and prudent leaders should be thinking of long-term palliatives. I have heard neither Gibson nor Hill talk about the exciting new desalination technologies being discussed currently. Lockheed Martin has come up with a fabulous new material called graphene that provides superior filtration at 1% of the energy cost of the traditional reverse osmosis. The company has said that they’ll have a working prototype by the end of this year and start commercializing it in a year or two. Then there is Canada, which with 0.5% of the world population has 7% of the water resources. Isn’t it time we look seriously at something that has been discussed for decades.
I believe that there is nothing American ingenuity and the free market system cannot solve if allowed. It was only half a dozen years ago that the prophets of doom and gloom were telling us that we’ll all die or become paupers because of the dominant nonsense of the time about peak oil and gas. Today, we’re the largest producer of natural gas in the world and soon will be #1 in oil as well.