California’s Water Problems

A recent letter you published (Dec. 11), written by Lawrence F. Hancock, Regional Director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Sacramento, correctly stated that the cost of water in California is a very complex issue.

Several U.S. government policies, however, which do heavily subsidize water deliveries, especially to growers fortunate enough to own land within the bureau’s service area, are not denied even by Hancock.

The bureau sells water, and the power needed to convey that water to its places of use, for far less than the water’s cost of delivery (or its value) to its grower constituents and for significantly less than its value to urban areas as well. This is also true, although not to quite so egregious an extent, of the California State Water Project.

A simple but probably politically infeasible solution to California’s periodic water shortages would be for government to eliminate the subsidies it provides and to raise the price at which it sells water to its value in the marketplace.


An alternative and probably more politically palatable means to allocate scarce water supplies would be to encourage the freer marketing of water by both agricultural and urban water interests.

The government subsidies being provided would then at least be partially captured by those who need the water as well as by those who happen to have been assigned historic rights to its use.


Senior Attorney


Environmental Defense Fund