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No air of anticipation, only resignation, imbued some 200 farmers attending Madera Irrigation District’s 2015 “Grower Meeting” last week as general manager Tommy Greci announced zero water will flow to our thirsty crops for a second consecutive year. Newly elected MID director and long-time Madera farmer Dave Loquaci delivered the day’s knockout punch: “The water use we are historically accustomed to in Madera Co. will never return, nothing will again be the same as it was before”. Australia National Water Commission member Jane Doolan, presenting recently to a Public Policy Institute of California audience, suggested a similar realization keyed revolutionary public policy response to her nation’s dozen-year Millennium Drought that commenced in 1997. Doolan explained that once Down Under citizens embraced ‘This is the future’ as opposed to ‘We need to get through this’, profound change became possible. Hunkered- down Californians praying for a ‘wet one’ should take heed. Australian agriculture slashed total water use by one-half, virtually eliminating rice, cotton and one-third of all vineyards, while farm gate receipts declined only 21%. This was not accomplished by government edict as some suggest here. It was achieved by redefining water entitlements (rights) as a proportional share of what is determined can be sustainably extracted from a watershed each year, an amount that is balanced against annual precipitation, reservoir storage and underground aquifer conditions. Next, Australia legally decoupled water rights from land ownership, so that water and land could be sold, leased and traded independently of each other. Down Under’s Water Act of 2007 allows farmers to grow a crop with, sell or bank for future use each year’s water allotment. In short water years its value rises, as market mechanisms shift water use to higher revenue crops, enabling Australia’s agricultural economy to generate the maximum dollars per gallon. Farmers with too little water to grow a crop or whose crop is of low value receive compensating income from selling that water to others. Those throwing rocks at California’s almond farmers might be disappointed with this scheme. That nut’s extraordinary current market value allows some desperate farmers to pay extortionist $6,000 per acre water costs while yet turning a profit. Australia also constructed major seawater desalination plants for each of its major cities, while reducing per capita water consumption 43% to 39 gallons per day. Statewide, Californians are currently using 75 gallons per day. As Cesar Chavez was fond of saying, “Si, se puede”. – Tom Willey