On Thin Rice
Arkansas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are supporting a $200 million plan that would rescue rice growers in the state and divert water from the White River to 250,000 acres, representing about 5 percent of U.S. rice production. The proposed project would cost about $300,000 per farmer. Advocates for the plan say the time for it is ripe because rice growers are about to run out of water after draining one of the state’s largest aquifers. One farmer, Lynn Sickel, said, “I’m a conservative person. But if this is what it’s going to take for highly productive farmland to continue to provide food nationally and internationally, well, that’s the taxpayer’s burden.” Environmentalists — and, at least for now, the Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget — disagree. David Carruth, a local lawyer, said, “Why should we subsidize a pump that will sell subsidized water to grow a subsidized crop?” Further, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation contends that the river diversion will disrupt fish and bird habitats. Carruth thinks it would be better for the environment and cheaper if the government paid to retire some farmland and to supply new technology allowing the remaining farmers to use water more efficiently.