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Rice an important crop despite water woes

To the editor:

I want to commend Las Vegas officials for working hard to put practical measures in place to conserve and recycle water. In a region that receives just 4 inches of rain a year and has seen its population double in the past 15 years, measures such as lawn removal and the reuse of water through return-flow credits are just the beginning of the steps all of us in the West will need to take in the future.

I would, however, like to correct some comments made in your Jan. 29 editorial “It just makes dollars and sense.” You make a sweeping statement that California farms use subsidized water. In reality, the vast majority of water to grow our rice comes from sources developed by farmers.

You also claim that the Sacramento Valley produces rice, even though it is already plentiful in the world. This is not the case. Rice, specifically the medium- and short-grain japonica (sushi) varieties grown in California, are only thinly traded around the world and are in short supply.

There is a great additional value to our crop, as our 500,000 acres of ricelands provide significant habitat for several hundred species of shorebirds and waterfowl of the Pacific Flyway. Replacing our fields with an equivalent amount of wetlands would cost $800 million, with an additional $25 million required annually to operate and maintain this habitat. This benefit is essentially free to the West and goes a long way to replace the 95 percent of the once vast wetlands that have been drained in California.

An examination of water transfers shows that with flexibility and fair compensation, water can be made available to urban users and for other farmers in time of drought. It is not, however, a long-term solution primarily because of the loss of other benefits, such as wildlife habitat.

I challenge your editorial board to follow the lead of your city by leading the West to find solutions that include conservation, developing new sources and, yes, even water transfers. Throwing up tired old images of a “monsoon crop grown in a desert,” as renowned environmentalist Marc Reisner once characterized our industry, does little but perpetuate regional schisms and mistrust.

Mr. Reisner himself rethought his characterization of California rice and later became one of its strongest supporters. He believed rice was one of the most productive uses of the region’s water resources. We trust similar fact-based evaluation will lead you to the same conclusion.

TIM JOHNSON

SACRAMENTO, CALIF.

THE WRITER IS PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE CALIFORNIA RICE COMMISSION.

ACLU follies

To the editor:

In response to Geoff Schumacher’s Sunday column about his admiration for the ACLU as the sole defender of the Bill of Rights:

I see the ACLU in a far different light. I see it more as an organization that prefers to stretch the Bill of Rights out of shape rather than protect it.

Let it be known that the Supreme Court of Earl Warren in the ’60’s did not rule that prayer per se in the public schools was unconstitutional — only that forcing students to recite the Regency Prayer, written by the School Board of New York, was unconstitutional. Driving all prayers out of all the schools in the country was the ACLU’s pet project. And it succeeded. In fact, the group has succeeded in driving anything “Christian” completely out of public view. Almost.

They’re smart enough to know their limits.

They know they can’t force the American Red Cross to change its name, or to have the Red Cross removed from ambulances, so they say it’s not really a religious symbol, even though Israel and all Muslim countries think it is. That’s why they use the Red Star of David in Israel, and the Red Crescent in Islam.

They’ve achieved this largely by working through the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose senior judge is married to a woman who was once the chairwoman of the California chapter of the ACLU.

Incidentally, 70 percent of all the rulings by the 9th Circuit have been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court over the past 20 years.

Bill Cramer

LAS VEGAS

Strike three

To the editor:

I have had about enough of the news about the writers strike. On Monday, there was news that both parties in the strike reached an agreement. Who cares? My life was not hurt when there were no new episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” or any other show. I think it just as well that it stay that way.

So many of us get so wrapped up in the plots of our favorite television shows and neglect other things in our lives. This was the big plus of the writers strike. I stopped watching the shows I liked and spent time cooking better meals, doing yard work, more time on school, etc.

I think the best solution to solving the strike is for the writers to move on and find other jobs.

Kevin McGrath

HENDERSON

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