NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 17, 2005

Worldwide, governments should eliminate water subsidies to farmers in order to encourage conservation and more efficient use of water, according to a study in Bioscience magazine.

From 1994 to 1998, worldwide water subsidies totaled about $60 billion; American farmers receive about $2 to $4 billion annually. Subsidies discourage efficient water usage and conservation. But as population centers grow, more water must be diverted away from agriculture and towards consumption needs.

  • In California, agriculture is only 3 percent of the state's economy but uses 85 percent of its fresh water.
  • The Ogallala aquifer, which supplies water to about 20 percent of all irrigated land in the United States, has dropped 33 percent since 1950.
  • Asia contains 60 percent of the world's population but only 30 percent of its fresh water.

However, Gary Margheim of the Natural Resources Conservation Service says that conservation measures and incentives have already begun:

  • The 2002 farm bill provided $17 billion for water conservation programs over 10 years.
  • Last year $60 million was spent to help farmers conserve water through methods such as drip irrigation and low-pressure sprinkler systems.
  • Water-sucking invasive plant species are being eradicated in the southwest.

Source: Mark Johnson, "Study Urges Water Conservation on Farms," Las Vegas Sun, January 12, 2005, and David Pimentel, "Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues," Vol. 54, No. 10, Bioscience, October 2004.

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