Arizona Watch makes a great observation about water use here in the desert. All-too-often, the anti-growth folks use the water issue to try to make us feel like Phoenix is heading toward some parched apocalypse. Arizona Watch makes the following point:
Scott Patterson's "Swimming in the desert," is dangerously miss-informed. To
advance his anti-growth agenda, he predicts future water shortages in Arizona
due to urban population growth. Urban growth is not to blame.
Nearly 70% of Arizona's water is used for agricultural purposes. What's more,
the cost of water for agricultural use is significantly lower than for
industrial or household use. The problem is not that people live in this desert,
it's that people inefficiently grow crops in this desert, and the inefficiency
is encouraged by price controls on water. If water costs for agriculture were
not subsidized, then market pricing would ensure a plentiful supply of water for
generations to come.
Read the whole thing for the cites to the actual statistics. I cannot understand why water can't be sold at a market rate. If you subsidize water prices, and more people then come to the desert than the water supplies can support, is it the fault of the individuals who show up, or is it the fault of the government that can't seem to allow markets to operate when it comes to water? This is yet another example of the government creating a problem with regulation, blaming the adverse results on the free market, and using the ensuing mess to justify more regulation.
Farmers in particular are getting paid by you and me, in the form of subsidized water, to try to grow wet-country crops out here in the desert. This water subsidy is on top of the huge farm subsidies Arizona farmers get, including over $100 million a year in cotton subsidies alone. The government is paying farmers to dump tons of water on cotton plants in the desert that grow perfectly well without irrigation in many other states.
Postscript: Farmers really have done an amazing job lobbying for themselves in this country. They are particularly succesful here in Arizona, where the largest farms are owned by Indian tribes, that have the added lobbying strength of protected-group status. The other night I was serving out my painful 7 hours or so in drivers ed. class when it was mentioned that us urban dwellers will get a huge fine for not having our 4 year old strapped down in a car seat, but rural pickup truck drivers in Arizona can legally have a 6-month-old rolling around in the back of a bouncing pickup truck without any restraint and be perfectly legal. Why the difference? Because the farmers wanted it that way.