Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A tale of two fields, farming, a US Senate race and a town that was drowned

My mother was born in a town that no longer exists.  This picture is of a house being relocated to avoid the rising waters of Lake Roosevelt, the lake created when Grand Coulee dam was completed.  Grand Coulee and the other dams along the Columbia river allowed the extensive irrigation of what was an arid region, and it's this water that makes Eastern Washington State very productive farmland, and this construction came at a cost, even then.

Irrigation is an interesting topic because the people who are using the irrigation systems today seem to have forgotten the vast sums of money spent to create the water system that they benefit from.  One of those folks is Clint Didier, who's currently running for US Senate in Washington State as a conservative republican candidate.

Clint is an ex-NFL player, a farmer, who works hard on his farm.  He's a proponent of less government, and less subsidies, and "Rugged individualism, self-reliance and personal responsibility", according to this story in the Seattle times.   Sounds good. 

My point isn't that he's a recipient of farm subsidies, or that the water that he uses on his farm is also hugely subsidized; that's been pretty well covered, in that news story linked above and in other places. 

What I'm going to talk about is a comparison of his farm field and mine. 

I don't think that there's any doubt that by constructing these dams we completely decimated the salmon runs on the Columbia; and there will probably be fights about water rights until we no longer have a legal system.  Who gets water, how much water they get, an equitable split between salmon, farming and industry; these are the topic and subject of millions of man-hours of attention.  We have spent, and will spend, billions of dollars on these water questions, and every resident of Washington State (and several other states) benefits from the electricity that those dams generate.  Our electricity rates are half that of the rest of the country -- for a reason.  But there's no talk of destroying those fields to save the salmon, or serious motion towards removing the dams.  Yes, there's lawsuits, but I don't think it'll ever happen. 

But in western Washington we've got perfectly good acreage that could be equally productive that we seem to be solely interested in destroying, in what seems to be a weird sort of atonement ritual.   We're hell-bent on taking productive land that doesn't have to be irrigated at huge cost, river bottom land, and destroying it.  In the past this destruction was done by development.  Boeing is built on thousands of acres of good farm soil.  So is southcenter mall.  So is most of the port of Seattle, what wasn't built on fill, anyway.

  Now it's the department of Ecology and the Fish and Game department, and the various county agencies (Planning and development services and the Surface Water Management are two that spring to mind in Snohomish county) and each of those agencies have interlocking regulations that basically mean that over time, more and more acreage is converted from farmland to wetlands.  and once that conversion happens, its permanent.  Yes, there's lip service to helping agriculture, but the bottom line is that productive land that is better suited for farming than most of Eastern Washington is being removed from food production. 

To facilitate this sort of taking, the agencies that count how much farmland there is have decided that farmland converted to wetlands is still farmland.  You'll never grow another ounce of food there, but it's farmlands as far as counting goes.  And because of that the loss doesn't show up when we look at acres of farms, but it's very real, and its ongoing.

A tale of two fields, a US Senate race and a town that was drowned. 

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