Farming and the Feds
This chapter examines how agriculture diminished the value of America's rivers as a whole and instead allocated them to narrow, extractive uses. Agriculture consumes 34 percent of America's water, and more than 80 percent in the case of the arid western states. In addition, agriculture is now one of the largest sources of water pollution in the nation, as well as one of the largest users of barge channels, which have had devastating impacts on riparian habitat, wetlands, and riverine species. The extractive use of the American rivers for a single industry competes directly with other river uses, such as fishing, hydropower, urban amenity use and potable water, recreation and tourism, and endangered-species protection. As a result, agriculture plays a role in most river restoration efforts. The impact of agriculture on waterways is so great that a true rebirth of America's rivers will require fundamental changes in federal agricultural policy. This chapter provides a historical overview of America's agro-industrial complex and considers the role of capitalism in bringing rationality to U.S. farm policy.
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