Jim Power: US message for water protestors

Statistically, the US economy has made a strong recovery from the ‘great recession’ of 2007 onwards, and notwithstanding the negative impact of very harsh weather conditions in the first quarter of this year and last year, activity levels are generally quite strong and upbeat.

Jim Power: US message for water protestors

The advanced nature of the US economic cycle relative to that in Europe largely reflects the immediate, strong and aggressive policy response of US policy -makers in terms of fiscal and monetary policy once the 2007 sub-prime-induced recession started.

That response reflects the nature of the US beast, and this nature makes it a great country to visit if one wants to get away from the constant negativity, cynicism and blame game that seems to dominate many aspects of public discourse in Ireland.

Earlier this week I had occasion to drive from San Francisco to Phoenix, Arizona.

This is an 1,300km journey that takes around 13 hours. The journey takes one through some very diverse geographic, social and economic landscapes that include the strongest IT area in the world, a very productive agricultural region and much barren desert.

Driving through Silicon Valley one is constantly struck by the obvious wealth, affluence and buoyancy that permeates the place.

Then one moves down through Central Valley, which is really the ‘fruit and vegetable basket’ of the US. All sorts of fruit and vegetables are mass produced in what is a very productive agricultural landscape. Very intensive cattle production is also to be seen.

Then one moves through the deserts of southern California and Arizona, where little seems to be happening. Imbalanced regional growth is a big issue in the US as it is in Ireland.

Given my interest in the agri-food sector, the drive through the agricultural region was fascinating.

Farm labourers, most of whom consist of legal and illegal Mexican immigrants, are in the fields from sunrise tending to mass production of fruit, nuts and vegetables that are transported away by massive trucks as soon as they are harvested.

As an aside, the smell of garlic in the air is invigorating, in contrast to some truly enormous cattle units that are so intensive, they can be smelt from eight kilometres away.

Notwithstanding the productivity of the agricultural sector in this region, there are deep issues facing the area at the moment, which the Irish government could relate to, though for different reasons. It is called water.

California has effectively been suffering from a serious drought for the past six or seven years but over the past couple it has become very acute and has now reached crisis levels.

The governor recently issued a legal decree limiting water usage. It amounts to the rationing of what is now a very scarce resource. Not surprisingly, the impact of such rationing is being felt and will continue to be most acutely felt by the agricultural sector in the Central Valley.

The fields beside the freeway are punctuated with signs about the recent legal imposition of water rationing that send out some very stark messages. The signs include ‘Water = Jobs, Keep Water Flowing in Farms and Cities’; ‘No Water = No Jobs’; ‘Help Solve the Water Crisis’; and ‘No Water = Higher Water/Food Bills’.

These farm owners really do appreciate the value of water.

The other theme that runs through the signs is the blame that is being apportioned to Congress.

The region is under serious threat from the lack of water, and unless climate change brings more rain, or action is taken to pipe in water from the northern states, the economic and social impact on this very vulnerable region could be devastating.

As I observed these signs I couldn’t help reflecting on the major political issue that the imposition of water bills, that will amount to no more than €160 per year, has become in Ireland.

The protesters should try living without water for a while and then they might realise the value of actually paying for it and investing in the infrastructure necessary to ensure a sufficient supply of safe water.

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