I am a retired dairy farmer. I read recently that despite the drought, the game refuges in Los Banos and other parts of the state have been receiving their full allotments of water. In 1992, the Bureau of Reclamation decreed that California game refuges do not have to pay for water. What most people don’t know is that the duck clubs are in that category. There are well over 100,000 acres devoted to duck hunting in California and the owners are pretty much guaranteed three acre-feet of water.
In Los Banos alone, there are at least four areas where, for a fee, hunters can go to shoot ducks. Duck hunters claim they are preserving the duck population, but it is only so that they can kill them. The game refuges and duck clubs pay the canal company less than $15 per acre-foot for the delivery of their water. Because of the droughts, both San Luis Water District in Los Banos and Westlands Water District, which furnishes water for farmers in this area, got only 20 percent of their allotment of two acre-feet. They pay $65 plus a $65 service charge per acre-foot. This means farmers pay from $130 to $500 per acre foot for water (when they can get it). Compare this to what the refuges and duck clubs pay and it makes no sense.
It appears that killing ducks is more important than raising food. If no one hunted ducks for two years, there would simply be more ducks. But if farmers quit farming for two years, it would be a national disaster. I believe food production is more important than killing ducks; farmers should receive the same water rights as these other groups. This is the best way to ensure a plentiful and reasonably priced food supply for everyone.
DAVID J. SILVA