Governor Newsom Signs Executive Order in Response to Western Drought

By Kahn, Soares & Conway, LLP

As California endures the driest first three months of a year in the state’s recorded history, and simultaneously enters a third year of drought, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an Executive Order (Order) to strengthen conservation efforts. According to the Administration’s press release, the Order calls “on local water suppliers to move to Level 2 of their Water Shortage Contingency Plans, which require locally-appropriate actions that will conserve water across all sectors and directing the State Water Resources Control Board to consider a ban on the watering of decorative grass at businesses and institutions.”

The Governor is “encouraging suppliers, where appropriate, to consider going above and beyond the Level 2 of their water shortage contingency plans, activating more ambitious measures [and]… has ordered state agencies to submit funding proposals to support the state’s short- and long-term drought response, including emergency assistance to communities and households facing drought-related water shortages, facilitating groundwater recharge and wastewater recycling, improvements in water use efficiency, protecting fish and wildlife, and minimizing drought-related economic disruption.”

Today’s Order also includes the following provisions:

  • Ensuring Vulnerable Communities Have Drinking Water
  • Cuts red tape so communities that need access to emergency hauled or bottled water can get it immediately.
  • Safeguarding Groundwater Supplies
  • Requires local permitting authorities to coordinate with Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to ensure new proposed wells do not compromise existing wells or infrastructure, as 85 percent of public water systems rely heavily on groundwater during drought.
  • Streamlines permitting for groundwater recharge projects that help to refill aquifers when rains come.
  • Protecting Vulnerable Fish And Wildlife
  • Expedites state agency approvals for necessary actions to protect fish and wildlife where drought conditions threaten their health and survival.
  • Preventing Illegal Water Diversions
  • Directs the Water Board to expand site inspections in order to determine whether illegal diversions are occurring.

For more information on the state’s response to the drought, click here. For any questions, please reach out to Louie Brown at lbrown@kscsacramento.com.

2022-03-29T13:28:27-07:00March 29th, 2022|

New Report Finds Over 35,000 Local Jobs Rely on Westlands Water District Agricultural Production

Water Restrictions Have Wide Reaching, Negative Impacts on Farms, Local Communities, and the Nation

By Westlands Water District

A new analysis highlights the significant, positive economic impact that agricultural production within the Westlands Water District has on the State of California and the country as a whole. The Economic Impact of Westlands Water District (Study), conducted by Michael A. Shires, Ph.D., outlines the far-reaching consequences of inadequate and unreliable water supplies on economies and communities.

The Study analyzes the economic impacts of the agricultural activities occurring within Westlands Water District. The Study also investigates how challenges such as water supply restrictions, climate change, inflation, supply chain disruption, and the COVID-19 pandemic can seriously threaten the quantity and quality of food available to the people of this nation. Taken together, these challenges underscore the important role that California’s agricultural production plays in national security and why protecting America’s domestic food production is essential.

According to the Study, on an annual basis, agricultural production within Westlands Water District is responsible for generating over $4.7 billion in economic activity and supporting over 35,000 jobs across the regional economy. These jobs produce the wages, tax revenue, and consumer spending that drive economic activity throughout the state.

“The farms within Westlands Water District are significant suppliers of fresh produce and other agricultural products both to the nation and the world. Activities in Westlands directly and indirectly employ and support tens of thousands of households and creates billions of dollars of economic value,” said Dr. Shires. “While there are a range of complex, modern policy and economic crises that may influence the level of that production, there is no real domestic alternative for production of these critical agricultural products.”

The farms in Westlands and the associated share of the country’s food supply, are at risk. While farms in Westlands continue to produce billions in economic activity, support communities in the San Joaquin Valley, and employ thousands of farmworkers and growers, we recognize that this production – and the livelihoods of those behind it – is highly dependent on water availability,” said Tom Birmingham, General Manager of the Westlands Water District.

When farmers do not have adequate water supplies, they are forced to make difficult decisions. They fallow otherwise highly productive land, and, in some instances, abandon planted acres because they lack water to continue irrigating their fields. Those decisions have widespread impacts. The Study found a “striking” correlation between “poverty levels in [Fresno and Kings] counties…with the shortfalls in water deliveries from the [Central Valley Project] to the Westlands Water District.” Poverty rates in these two counties are directly related to the water supply available to farmers in the District – when the District receives little to no water, more people in those counties suffer from poverty, and when the District receives a higher water allocation, the counties’ economic stability improves.

Further, with no domestic alternative for the agricultural contributions of the region, the economic impacts and negative implications of an inadequate water supply extend well beyond the local community. “At a time where instability around the globe has had significant impacts on the entire continent’s access to core crops like wheat, corn, and sunflower oil – on top of rising inflation and fuel costs – protecting the Nation’s domestic agricultural production capacity is fundamental to the security of the United States,” said Tom Birmingham.

“The bottom line is that much of the food in your pantry, refrigerator, and on your dinner table continues to be available because farms in California continue to provide some 80 percent of the nation’s supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. If this domestic production is curtailed, it will make the nation dependent on foreign sources which are, in turn, much more subject to supply chain, transportation, and quality problems,” Dr. Shires said. “If water supplies continue to be uncertain and volatile, there will be irreparable harm to already disadvantaged communities in the region and the acreage available to continue growing this produce will be significantly constrained.”

To read the entire report, visit: wwd.ca.gov/news-and-reports/economic-impact/

2022-03-16T10:50:59-07:00March 16th, 2022|

Dry January Conditions Return Snowpack to Near Average Levels

By Department of Water Resources

The Department of Water Resources conducted the second snow survey of the season at Phillips Station. Following a dry January, the manual survey recorded 48.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 19 inches, which is 109 percent of average for this location for this date. The snow water equivalent measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast. Statewide, the snowpack is 92 percent of average for this date.

“We are definitely still in a drought. A completely dry January shows how quickly surpluses can disappear,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “The variability of California weather proves that nothing is guaranteed and further emphasizes the need to conserve and continue preparing for a possible third dry year.”

Snowmelt during January has been minimal. However, with little to no accumulation of snow during January, snowpack levels are closer to average February 1 conditions, meaning that a return of winter storms in the Sierra Nevada is needed during February and March to remain at or above normal levels.

Regionally, the Southern Sierra snowpack is not faring as well as the Northern Sierra. Water supply forecasts for the south San Joaquin Valley are below average due to the lack of rain and snow in this region.

“These dry January conditions demonstrate the importance of continuing to improve our forecasting abilities and why these snow surveys are essential,” said Sean de Guzman, Manager of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit. “While we always hope for a generous snowpack, DWR’s ongoing investments in forecasting techniques will help the state better prepare for both drought and flood conditions.”

In light of last year’s poor runoff, DWR has increased its efforts to improve climate and runoff forecasting by strengthening its collaboration with partner agencies and academia and by investing in proven technologies to improve data collection and hydrologic modeling. One example is DWR’s investment in remote snowpack measurements through the Aerial Remote Sensing of Snow program by partnering with Airborne Snow Observatories, Inc. (ASO). Data from ASO has proven to be the most accurate assessment of snowpack conditions that, when coupled with newer, sophisticated runoff models, will improve runoff forecast accuracy.

Although early season storms helped alleviate some drought impacts, a lack of storms in January has underscored the need for Californians to continue focusing on conservation. Most of California’s reservoirs are still below average, and groundwater supplies are still recovering. California still has two months left of its typical wet season and will require more storms in those months to end the year at average.

DWR conducts four media-oriented snow surveys at Phillips Station each winter near the first of each month, January through April and, if necessary, one additional in May.

2022-02-02T13:07:34-08:00February 2nd, 2022|

The Importance of California’s Agricultural Water Supplies

We cannot accommodate serious discussion on the demand side of water questions without working on the supply side

By Chris Scheuring, Special to CalMatters

Wendell Berry famously said that eating is an agricultural act. That makes all of us into farmers, and nowhere is that more true than in water terms.

For farming is irreducibly the process of mixing dirt, water and sunshine to bring forth from the ground what we need to eat. And no matter who you are, it’s true:  somebody, somewhere, must devote a lot of water to the process of feeding you.

Some have been sidestepping this fact in the ongoing policy evolutions over the way we must capture, store and move water in California. Yet even the most ardent urban environmentalist finds herself at the local grocery store or the farmers’ market – filling her basket with California-grown nuts, fruits and vegetables.

Some of these crops can only be grown here, or in one of the few similar agricultural climates around the world, in an irrigation-based agricultural economy.

Take almonds, now and then the whipping-post of California water use: They cannot be grown in a place where it rains in the summer. Iowa, for example, is awfully cold in February – which is precisely when almonds need mild Mediterranean winter weather for their blossoms to be pollinated. Mediterranean crops need a Mediterranean climate, which usually means mild winters and hot, dry summers.

Beyond that, the case for California agriculture is made by our farming practices and their regulatory backdrop, whatever natural reticence California farmers may have about being regulated. We do it more efficiently here, and with more oversight, than in most alternative agricultural venues around the world. I would compare a California avocado favorably to an avocado anywhere else in the world, on those terms.

That’s why I have always thought that a subtle strain of NIMBYism runs through the retrograde ideas that some have about “reforming” agricultural water rights here and constraining the water projects that ultimately deliver food to the world.  With nearly 8 billion people on the planet, pinching off California’s agricultural water supplies is a game of whack-a-mole which will cause the same water issues to arise elsewhere.

Without question, we must continue on our trajectory of making California farming more water-efficient. If you have been watching California agriculture for a generation, you already know that much of the landscape has transitioned from old-fashioned flood and sprinkler irrigation to more efficient drip and micro-sprinkler techniques – even in the case of row crops. We must continue this path; new technologies related to irrigation continue to be developed, including better monitoring of applied water and crop water use.

We must also recognize inherent conflicts between agricultural water use and the flora and fauna that are dependent upon our rivers and streams.

Gone are the days in California when a grizzly bear might paw a salmon out of the Suisun Marsh, but we can work together to find non-zero-sum water and habitat solutions that would take advantage of opportunities to protect and rehabilitate species of concern, where it can be done without disproportionate human impact. Again and again through public enactment, California has demonstrated its will to keep the environment in mind as we move forward.

Further, we must also carry forward processes to develop new water supplies for California’s farms and growing cities, whether those are storage facilities above ground or below ground, or stormwater capture and aquifer recharge, or desalination or recycling. In the face of a changing hydrology and the expected loss of snowpack, we simply cannot accommodate serious discussion on the demand side of water questions without working on the supply side. Otherwise, we are chasing a receding goalpost – and we will not get there.

Finally, remember that farming is not a question of “if,” but “where.” We’re going to eat – all of us around the world – and we’re going to farm in order to do so. So we should protect California’s agricultural water supplies, because the case for California water being used on California’s farms is strong.

Chris Scheuring is senior counsel for water policy at the California Farm Bureau. He is also a family farmer in Yolo County, growing walnuts, almonds and pistachios.

2022-01-11T10:05:19-08:00January 11th, 2022|

Water Supply At Risk From Wildfires

How Can California Protect its Water Supply From Wildfire? 

By Pam Kan-Rice UCANR Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach

Stakeholders from across disciplines and institutions offer recommendations to ensure safe, reliable water supply amid a growing wildfire threat 

It’s intuitive that wildfires can affect ecosystems, harm wildlife and contaminate streams and rivers. But wildfires can also have complex, severe and direct effects on our water supply and infrastructure—effects that have only become clear in recent years. Scientists and policymakers must integrate insights and experience from many disciplines and sectors to understand and address the consequences.

In September, 23 scholars and practitioners with a diversity of water and fire expertise came together to answer a critical question: How can California proactively protect its water supply from fires? Their findings, combined with the insights of the author team, form the basis of a new scoping report, released by the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ California Institute for Water Resources and the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

“Different people have different pieces of the puzzle, but it’s really hard to put them together. That is why we assembled this cross-sector group,” said Faith Kearns, academic coordinator at the California Institute for Water Resources.

Illustrated by the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Wine Country, it has been recognized that community water systems face effects that last long after the fire is quenched. For example, Boulder Creek residents in Santa Cruz County still did not have reliable water access more than a year after firefighters extinguished the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire.

“This is truly an emergent issue,” said co-author Peter Roquemore, project manager at the Luskin Center for Innovation. “We have only seen wildfires directly affect community water systems in the past few years.”

To help California policymakers, researchers, affected communities, and water system operators understand the complex relationship between wildfire damage and water supply, the report authors and participants in this workshop present a set of recommendations:

  • Make communications more accessible, consistent and trustworthy. Residents must receive timely, unified messaging, translated into appropriate languages and in accessible venues, telling them if their water is unsafe and how to access clean water.
  • Invest in local capacity and expertise. The challenges faced vary widely for different communities, and it is important to provide each community with the resources it needs to address the risk it faces. As part of this, efforts should support Indigenous leadership, knowledge and practices to help manage healthy ecosystems.
  • Provide guidance to update regulations. Guidance such as building codes and infrastructure regulations will help individuals and communities make informed decisions and address risk appropriately.
  • Conduct research and build a broader base of knowledge. There is still much to learn, and it is important to illustrate the exact challenges water systems face and how best to address them.
  • Make funding accessible and targeted. Increased earmarked funding for emergency water supplies, housing assistance, and support for water systems, local organizations, and others will help advance solutions. 
  • Further coordinate efforts to address water and fire issues. Focusing on these interconnected issues together, rather than tackling them separately, can lead to substantial benefits.

To read the specific recommendations identified, read Wildfire and Water Supply in California. Funding for this research was provided by the U.S. Geological Survey through the California Institute for Water Resources.

2021-12-09T17:54:59-08:00December 8th, 2021|
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