Double Standards

Why do wineries escape water cutbacks?

‘California Puts Mandatory Curbs on Water Use” reports the April 2 front page of the New York Times. “Steps to Confront Record-Setting Drought,” a headline reads. The article describes
Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order—California’s first time restricting water use. A 25 percent reduction over the next year is required of residents and many businesses.

But wait. “Owners of large farms . . . will not fall under the 25 percent guideline,” reads another story. Big Ag can continue to dig deep wells into our common water table and extract as much of our limited water supply as they want, for free. This includes vineyards. It takes around 30 gallons of water to make one glass of wine. This sounds like a double standard.

“California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?” a Los Angeles Times article from last month asks. Many residents ration. We’re still waiting for responses from large wineries.

“Experts say ag exception may defeat program. Agriculture consumes 80 percent of the water that Californians use,” an AP article reveals. The drought plan calls for “personal responsibility.” What about corporate responsibility?

“There is something fundamentally unjust when one segment of the population is given unrestrained access to a vital natural and shared resource while another segment is constrained. Without proper protections, a temptation is created to take more than one’s share of a common shared resource,” says Geoff Ellsworth, member of Napa County’s Vision 2050, a coalition challenging winery over-development in rural areas.

“The proposed Dairyman Winery/Event Center [near Sebastopol] would use over 1 billion gallons of water annually to produce 500,000 cases of wine and 250,000 gallons of brandy,” adds Preserve Rural Sonoma County’s Padi Selwyn in an interview. “It’s not justifiable to expect residents to let their lawns go brown and curtail water usage while allowing wineries to expand.”

“We’ve gone from an agriculture that benefited all, to a monoculture that benefits a few,” says Sebastopol grape-grower Bill Shortridge. “We have 70,000 Sonoma County acres planted with wine grapes, and only 12,000 acres of food crops.”

So much for the diversity that nature relies upon.

Shepherd Bliss ([email protected]) teaches college at Dominican University, farms and has contributed to 24 books.

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