Ryan Jacobsen on 5 Percent Water Allocation

Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO on Water Allocation

 By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

California Ag Today staff interviewed Ryan Jacobsen, CEO and executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau moments after the Bureau of Reclamation announced only 5 percent of contracted water would be allocated to Federal surface water users south of the Sacramento Delta during this El Niño year.

California Ag Today: Forget how you feel about the Bureau of Reclamation’s initial 5 percent allocation for Federal water users. How many times can we say, “Frustrated?” 

Jacobsen: Absolutely just despicablethe announcement we heard earlier today. The frustration is that we’ve continually been told over the last couple of years with zero percent water allocations that it’s been Mother Nature.

Even though it’s not necessarily the big bang year we were hoping for in northern California, Mother Nature provided. We’ve seen the reservoirs overflowing. We’ve seen the reservoirs flood-releasing, and here we are with a five percent allocation. We saw outflows in the delta this winter that exceeded the 300,000 acre/feet a day, and yet we weren’t doing anything to capture it. So, it’s just frustration, frustration, frustration that here we aremore of the sameand what does this mean long-term for California agriculture? We can’t be viable without a surface water supply, and when Mother Nature provides, unfortunately the federal government’s not trying to collect it.

California Ag Today: What is going on? Why are they doing this? Do you have any theories?

Jacobsen: Obviously, it has so much to do with the environmental side and the belief that the federal government is doing all they can to protect these species up there. We have seen that it’s doing no good; the fish species are seeing no recovery; it’s actually going in the opposite direction. It is plain mismanagement. The unfortunate part is sound science isn’t even going into this right now; it is purely the emotional side of whoever decides to pull the trigger on the federal side. And here we are on the resulting end, losing millions and millions of dollars in our economy, idling more farmlandthe most productive farmland in the countryin the worldand losing the jobs that are associated with it.

San Luis Reservoir -Empty, California Farm Water Coalition
San Luis Reservoir Suffering the 2015 Drought is now barely half filled even after the El Nino rain, runoff and massive flood releases from Shasta an Oroville

California Ag Today: You speak brilliantly on this whole situation. Way more water has flowed out to the ocean than needed for the protection of any of the species or the environment, so who are they listening to?

Jacobsen: Right now, this is simply the administration’s decision. Reclamation falls under the federal side of things, so obviously, ultimately, it lays on the President’s desk. If we talk about resolution: by 9 a.m. tomorrow morning, we could see a resolution to this whole issue. If Congress would get their act together and pass some kind of bill, get it on the President’s desk and get it signed, we could see some resolution.

Unfortunately, here we are, April 1:  a good portion of the precipitation season is now behind us, the high flows through the delta are pretty much over. We still have healthy reservoirs up North, but unfortunately it doesn’t mean anything for us down here because we can’t convey it through the Delta to get here. That lack of  and the lack of ability on the federal side to make the decisions that would allow us to pump that water makes this just another year of doom and gloom. Again, how much more of this can we take? I think the long-term outlook for those farmers with permanent crops who have tried to scrape by, has to be, “Is this even viable for us to continue to do this anymore?” ‘Because Mother Nature provided, and yet we don’t see the water.

California Ag Today: Very bleak. Ninety-five percent of normal snowfall, too.

Jacobsen: The percentages in northern California, while good, weren’t the El Niño banner year we were expecting. The season looked bright, like it was going to be good. Yet, the fact of the matter is that during the months of January, February and March, when these just incredible numbers of high water flows were going through the Delta, pumps were pumping in single digits. And that’s not even close, or anywhere near where they should have been.

I think the misconception is when we talk about the water that is taken from the Delta, it’s such a small percentage, particularly during those high-flow times; it would have meant no difference to water species. It’s just a frustration that we continue to be bombarded by these environmental restrictions that are having no good effect on the long-term viability of these species they are trying to protect.

California Ag Today:  What is the economic impact of these water cutbacks on the Central Valley?

Jacobsen: Well, when you look at the five percent allocation, we are ground zero. Fresno County, right in the heartland of the Central Valley, is ground zero. We are going to see probably in excess of 200,000-250,000 acres of land continue to be fallowed and the loss of the tens of thousands of jobs associated with that, and millions, tens of millions of dollars. It’s obviously a very dire situation when it comes to long-term viability here in the Valley.

California Ag Today: Because they are going to hear a lot of outrage from us, do you think the Bureau of Reclamation would go to a 20 percent water allocation? Farmers must be thinking, “We got to get the seeds ordered today for the crops.” Is there any hope for an increase in water, or do you think farmers just can’t bank on it?

Jacobsen: It’s already too late. For this season, it’s already too late. It is April 1 already, and, unfortunately, this is not a joke. This decision is about one month-and-a-half late. I think the Bureau of Reclamation was hoping the numbers would improve magically. They didn’t.

The five percent allocation, while said not to be our final allocation, is likely to be close. It won’t go up to 20; it won’t go up to 15. Maybe if we pray enough, it may go up to ten, but that would be on the high side. Right now, it looks very realistic that five percent is where we end up, where we are going to stand for the year.

California Ag Today: Okay, I know growers who have planted tomatoes in Fresno County, thinking, “Hey, we gotta get water.” They’re not getting it.

Jacobsen: They’re not getting it, no.  And lack of surface water supply continues to make a huge dent in our groundwater supply, so this just can’t continue the way it is going. Plus, upcoming implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), combined with the lack of federal surface supplies, will absolutely hammer farms here in the Valley.

Many Legislative Bills Introduced

Legislative Update From Calif. Farm Bureau

Many Legislative Bills Introduced in California Last Week!

 

The State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) held a Workshop this week to take public comment on the Temporary Urgency Change Petition (TUCP) for the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.

Consistent with the Governor’s Executive Order B-21-13 issued last May the TUCP for these two projects would temporarily modify (reduce) Delta outflow and export requirements to preserve water in storage and maintain in-Delta water quality.

Additionally, the TUCP would temporarily modify (open) the Delta Cross Channel gates to improve in-Delta salinity conditions. State Board staff also presented information on water diversion curtailment notices for junior water right holders. Due to rain events a couple of weeks ago the notices have not yet been issued.

A measure that would repeal provisions of the $11.14 billion Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act, currently scheduled to go before California voters November 4th this year, was heard in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee this week. If approved by the voters, the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality, and Water Supply Act of 2014 (SB 848), authored by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), would authorize the issuance of bonds in the amount of $6.825 billion in five separate categories. Those five categories include:

  • $900 million for Safe Drinking Water,
  • $2 billion for Integrated Regional Water Management Planning and stormwater capture and reuse projects,
  • $1.2 billion for projects that protect the Delta ecosystem and integrity of Delta levees,
  • $1.7 billion for Watershed and Ecosystem Improvements,
  • $1.025 billion for Water Storage Projects.

All five categories would require legislative authority to appropriate the funds. Farm Bureau remains actively engaged in this and every effort to impact the size and structure of the water bond, emphasize the need for increased water storage, area of origin water rights protections and continuous appropriation for water storage dollars. Farm Bureau has an Oppose Unless Amended position on SB 848.

A measure that would allow multiple use registrations for small livestock stockponds was introduced this week. AB 1905 (Luis Alejo, D-Salinas) would allow small (10 acre feet or less) livestock stockponds to also be registered with the State Water Resources Control Board for use as small irrigation ponds. Currently law allows small irrigation ponds to also be registered for small domestic use, but not for livestock. Farm Bureau is the sponsor of this measure and therefore is also in support.

 

AB 1634 (Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley) would require employers to immediately abate conditions that Cal/OSHA alleges are a violation of occupational safety and health regulations if the agency classifies the citation as a serious, repeat serious, or willful serious violation. Under current law, if an employer appeals the citation, the employer is not required to abate the violation unless and until the appeal is denied. AB 1634 allows Cal/OSHA to grant a stay of abatement at its own discretion. This is similar to legislation Assemblymember Skinner carried in 2013 (AB 1165) which Governor Brown vetoed in October. The Governor’s veto message cited an appeal process in AB 1165 for abatements parallel to that which already exists through the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board. AB 1634 does not include that duplicative appeal process. Farm Bureau will oppose AB 1634 because it undermines due process protections allowing employers to appeal Cal/OSHA citations.

 

SB 1034 (William Monning, D-Carmel) would eliminate waiting periods before employers offering health insurance would be required to institute coverage. Current state law allows for a 60-day waiting period; federal law allows a 90-day waiting period. Farm Bureau is analyzing SB 1034 before taking a position.

 

SB 1087, also by Senator Monning, would impose a laundry list of changes to the California Labor Code for Farm Labor Contractors (FLCs). Several of these changes include:

  • higher licensing fees;
  • increase the size of surety bonds FLCs must obtain and provide documentation of the size of the bond to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE);
  • requires that surety bonds be conditioned on compliance with state laws prohibiting sexual harassment;
  • requires FLCs to receive training on prohibitions on sexual harassment;
  • doubles the number of continuing education hours required of FLCs from 8 hours annually to 16 hours annually;
  • adds violations of laws prohibiting sexual harassment by an FLC or an FLC’s supervisory personnel to the list of violations of law which prohibit DLSE from issuing an license to an FLC and requiring DLSE to revoke an FLC’s license;
  • requires FLCs to provide, upon request to a current or former employee or grower, a written statement showing compensation paid to employees, and requires growers to retain payroll records furnished by FLCs for three years.

Numerous other changes in the Labor Code pertaining to FLCs are further outlined in the bill. Farm Bureau position pending.

 

AB 1723 (Adrin Nazarin, D-Sherman Oaks) would authorize the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) to recover for employees payment of applicable penalties for willful failure to timely pay wages. Existing law provides for criminal and civil penalties for violations of statutes and orders of the commission regarding payment of wages. This bill would expand that penalty, restitution, and liquidated damages provision for a citation to also subject the employer to payment of any applicable penalties for the willful failure to timely pay the wages of a resigned or discharged employee. Farm Bureau is opposed.

 

AB 1660 (Luis Alejo, D-Salinas) clarifies that an action taken by an employer to comply with federal immigration law is not a violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. AB 60, which became law in 2013, requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driving privilege cards to persons who cannot furnish the requisite documentation to obtain a regular driver’s license. AB 60 also prohibited discrimination under the Unruh Act against people using a driving privilege card. Farm Bureau supports AB 1660.

AB 2033 (Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield), just introduced yesterday, would create an Agricultural Career Technical Education (ACTE) unit in the Department of Education to provide schools with assistance in establishing and maintaining ACTE classes. This bill is in response to the 2014 state budget proposal to eliminate $4.1 million from the Agricultural Career Technical Education Incentive Grant Program from the state budget. Ag Incentive Grant funds are used to update and modernize equipment and technology, as well provide vital resource for developing leadership skills and personal growth opportunities for students through ACTE programs and coursework. Farm Bureau is in support.