BREAKING NEWS—Federal Water Users Once Again Will Get Zero Water This Year

Statement of Don Peracchi, President of Westlands Water District, on Zero Water

FRESNO, CA – For the second year in a row, California farmers will be receiving ZERO water from the Central Valley Project. The announcement today from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that more than one million acres of highly productive farmland will once again receive a zero allocation of water this year should make one thing abundantly clear.

The federal government’s Central Valley Project is broken. Its failure threatens the continued coordination of local, state and federal water agencies in operating the modern water system on which all of California depends. And as a result, some of the most vital elements of the state’s economy are being allowed to wither and die.

It is easy to blame this failure on the drought. But that is only a little bit true. There is no question that dry conditions in 2014 and 2015 have contributed to the crisis. But the Central Valley Project was designed and built precisely for the purpose of alleviating the effects of far more serious droughts than what we are experiencing today.

USBR WaterFrom 1987 through 1992, for example, in the midst of another prolonged drought that makes the current dry conditions pale in comparison, Reclamation was able to deliver 100%, 100%, 100%, 50%, 25%, and 25% of its normal allocations in each of those years.

Indeed, when Reclamation designed the Central Valley Project, it calculated how much water the system could reliably deliver even during a repeat of the most extreme drought that California suffered, from 1928 to 1934. And Reclamation based its decision on how much water it could make available to farmers based on that calculation.

Contrast that with the failure we are facing today. In 2013, a mere two years after the torrential rains we all experienced in 2011, the Central Valley Project was only able to deliver 20% of its normal supplies to farmers south of the Delta. And in 2014, Reclamation was not only unable to deliver any water to farmers, it could not even meet the “core demands” of its contractual obligation to senior water right holders on the San Joaquin River and its statutory obligation to managed wetlands.

Now, in 2015, we are told that the water supply conditions will be even worse than in 2014.

Why is the Central Valley Project no longer capable of fulfilling the basic purposes for which it was built? Don’t blame the drought. There is no question that new federal rules and regulations restricting the flow of water have contributed greatly to the human suffering that will occur in this third year of nearly zero or grossly inadequate allocations. And what is particularly tragic is that these new rules and regulations, which are intended to benefit threatened fish species, are based on conjecture and unproven theories that have done nothing to protect fish populations. Instead, fish populations continue to decline.

Central Valley Project, USBR
Central Valley Project, USBR

The governor has a plan for addressing California’s water crisis, and the public’s support for the water bonds last year is helping to implement it. But the breakdown in the Central Valley Project is not a problem that can be solved in Sacramento by the long-term solutions proposed in the governor’s plan. Fortunately California’s leaders from both political parties in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been working together for more than a year on legislation that would help to restore reliability to our water system in order to protect the economy and the environment.

In 1992, when Barbara Boxer first ran for the Senate, she challenged Californians to stand up for the issues they cared about. “Where are the voices?” she asked. “Where’s the spine? Where’s the anger? This isn’t about some theory. This is about [people’s] lives.”

Today is a very sad day for the people in California and all over the country who depend on food grown by farmers who receive water from the Central Valley Project. Today is a very sad day for the workers who will be without jobs because farmers have no water. And today is a very sad day for the environment, which will continue to decline because federal agencies trusted with protecting at-risk fish species are content to tie the hands of project operators whose mission is delivering water for human needs, while these same agencies do nothing to address the numerous factors that limit fish populations.

As she winds up her long career in public service, Senator Boxer’s questions are just as vital as ever. Where are the voices? Where’s the spine? Where’s the anger? This isn’t about some theory. This is about people’s lives.

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USDA Approves Apples Genetically Engineered to Resist Browning

Source: Food Safety News 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to approve new types of apples that have been genetically engineered not to brown as quickly after being cut.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., the company that developed the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden varieties is currently engaging in a voluntary food safety assessment consultation with the Food and Drug Administration regarding the varieties.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said it made the decision to deregulate the apples and allow them to be commercially planted after assessments showed that “the GE apples are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk to agriculture and other plants in the United States” and that “deregulation is not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment.”

Over time, Arctic apples will age, turn brown and rot like any other fruit, but they’ve been genetically engineered to produce less of the substance that causes browning. When the apples are sliced or bruised, the fruit’s flesh retains its original color longer instead of turning brown.

Consumer groups opposed to genetically modified foods have indicated their disapproval of USDA’s decision.

“The USDA has neglected to look at the full range of risks from these apples,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “In its environmental assessment, the USDA glossed over the possibility of unintentional effects associated with the technology used to engineer these apples, potential economic impacts on the U.S. and international apple market, effects of potential contamination for non-GMO and organic apple growers and the impact of the non-browning gene silencing which also can weaken plant defenses and plant health.”

“Pre-sliced apples are a frequently recalled food product,” noted the Center for Food Safety. “Once the whole fruit is sliced, it has an increased risk of exposure to pathogens. Since browning is a sign that apples are no longer fresh, ‘masking’ this natural signal could lead people to consume contaminated apples.”

APHIS said that of the many comments it received on its draft analyses of Arctic apples, some addressed safety concerns and how Arctic apple production might impact exports of U.S. apples abroad. The agency pointed out that under its regulations and the Plant Protection Act, it can’t base its final decision on these factors, but only on the analysis of plant pest risk to agriculture or other plants in the U.S.

If there is enough consumer demand for Arctic apples, it would be several years before producers could grow the fruit. If the apples turn up in grocery stores, they’ll be recognizable by their name, but there are concerns that if the fruit is cut up and used in other foods, consumers won’t necessarily know that the apples were genetically engineered.

The Environmental Working Groups said that the approval of Arctic apples “underscores the need for a transparent and consistent national labeling standard.”

USDA’s announcement came the day after Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) reintroduced legislation to label genetically engineered food.

Senate Drought Bill Passes, Westlands Expresses Appreciation

This evening, the United States Senate passed, by unanimous consent, the Emergency Drought Relief Act, a bill to provide federal and state water agencies with additional flexibility to deliver water where it is most needed during California’s historic drought. The legislation, sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), must now be reconciled with a separate bill passed by the House of Representatives.Dianne_Feinstein_official_Senate_photo_2

“Getting this bill passed was a true team effort.” Senator Feinstein credited the individuals above and added,  “Senator Murkowski, ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, displayed true bipartisanship in working across the aisle to address this disaster.”

Other cosponsors of the drought bill include Senators Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Senator Feinstein commented, “The drought in California is devastating and shows no signs of letting up. Snowpack is at 6 percent of its normal level and the state’s largest reservoirs are at or below half capacity. Congress must take immediate action to help alleviate the suffering of farmers, workers, businesses and communities throughout the state.”

Westlands Water District Round LogoWestlands Water District General Manager Thomas Birmingham issued the following statement on the drought bill passage:

“Passage of this legislation by the Senate marks an important milestone in the effort by members of California’s congressional delegation from both sides of the aisle to provide some relief from the disastrous human and economic impacts of drought and restrictions imposed on operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project under the Endangered Species Act and other federal regulations.

The fact that this bill passed by unanimous consent is a testament to the hard work of Senator Feinstein, with support from Senator Boxer and members of the House of Representatives, to explain to senators from other states the urgent need for and the importance of this legislation to the people of California.”

“Westlands Water District expresses its great appreciation for the hard work of Senator Feinstein and her colleagues in obtaining passage of this legislation. We look forward to working with Senator Feinstein and Members of the House in their efforts to reconcile this legislation with legislation that has already passed in the House.

It is Westlands’ hope that this process can begin quickly, and we are confident that Senator Feinstein and her colleagues in the House will be able to identify common sense solutions that will restore water supplies, while providing reasonable protections for fish.

The tens-of-thousands of people who otherwise will be unemployed and the welfare of people around the state depend on a meaningful compromise being reached quickly.”

 

Photo Credit: Westlands Water District Ranch on loopnet.com

 

Strengths of Sens. Boxer, Feinstein May Help Conquer Drought

Source: Elizabeth Held; Washington Bureau 

When it comes to water issues, stereotypes of California’s two Democratic senators ring true.

Barbara Boxer is the firecracker, guarding environmental protections, while Dianne Feinstein is the negotiator, working with Republicans and Democrats.

But those differences might make the pair particularly suited to get a California drought relief bill approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives and signed by President Barack Obama.

Environmentalists have sway in the Democratic-controlled Senate. GOP support is crucial in the Republican-controlled House.

Republicans advocate rolling back environmental regulations to provide more water to farmers in the Central Valley and points south. Democrats want agencies to make more water available while maintaining environmental protections.

Despite their philosophical differences, Feinstein and Boxer were able to agree on the drought-relief bill and jointly introduced the legislation in February, calling for, among other things, agencies to use as much flexibility as possible when enforcing water pumping regulations.

“Everybody in California has a direct stake in drought relief,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. The urgency of the situation plus the skills that Feinstein and Boxer demonstrate, Pitney said, might make this the year Congress will pass a bill.

“Their strengths are complementary,” Pitney said. “Boxer is good at mobilizing the liberal base. Feinstein is good at working with Republicans.”

Republicans in the House of Representatives, though, criticize Boxer and Feinstein for moving too slowly. In February, the House passed it’s own drought relief bill that relaxed environmental protections.

Matt Sparks, spokesman for the House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, said, “The onus is on the Senate Democrat majority to put forth California water legislation that can pass the full Senate.

“If 60 votes are required to move this process forward, then Senate legislation to provide relief to California farmers and families must be able to attract necessary bipartisan support.”

Boxer is viewed as the liberal from Marin County, said Steve Erie, a professorat UC San Diego, who has written extensively on California water. Feinstein, he said, “is a deal maker.”

DIFFERENT APPROACHES

Feinstein and Boxer have a history of being on different pages for managing California’s water.

In 2001, Feinstein introduced a bill with Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, that would have streamlined the review process for certain California water infrastructure projects. Boxer and Rep. George Miller, R-Martinez, with help from the environmental community, killed the effort.

California to Ease Water Restrictions

Excerpted from Sharon Bernstein; Reuters

Drought-plagued California will ease some protection for fish in the fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, officials said Tuesday, a move expected to make more water available for farming and ease political tensions in an election year.

“California’s agriculture is critical to the world’s food supply,” said assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, who represents part of the San Joaquin Valley, who had lobbied hard against the restrictions. “An inability to produce that food would clearly be devastating to health and human safety not only in California but around the globe.”

Citing recent rains, regulators said Tuesday, there was enough water in the state’s reservoirs now to partially ease restrictions.

“We were quite concerned at that time about the issue of public health and safety,” Tom Howard, executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board, said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “This really had the markings of a historic drought.”

Recent storms dropped nearly a foot of rain in some areas, boosting reservoir levels and the snowpack that the state relies on for drinking water in the spring, but still leaving supplies way below normal for this time of year.

Earlier this month, concern that the state was about to restrict water supplies to farmers even further swept through the agricultural community, spurring intensive pushback and a series of tense meetings with water regulators in the administration of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

“We are very concerned that if the current proposal as reported to us is enacted, it will have significant near- and long-term effects on the California economy and, more importantly, will not achieve the desired water supply security intended,” U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Congressmen Jim Costa and John Garamendi, all Democrats, wrote in a letter to the water board.

Under the new rules announced Tuesday, which Howard said may be modified again next month, the two massive public water projects responsible for pumping in the Delta will be able to deliver it to farmers and others, once the state determines that there is enough flowing to meet the health and sanitation needs of residents.

Scott Shapiro, an attorney specializing in water issues for the Sacramento firm Downey Brand, said expanding the allowable uses of tight water supplies was not just important for farmers.

“It’s not just for agriculture, because there are other needs that may be contracted for that go beyond health and safety,” Shapiro said. “It could include other municipal, industrial and agricultural needs.

In addition to allowing more of the water pumped from the Delta to be used for purposes other than meeting health and safety needs, the state planned to reduce by about a third the amount of water that the projects were required to leave in the Delta as a way of protecting fish, Howard said during the press briefing.

Mark Cowin, Director of California Department of Water Resources, commented that fish and wildlife experts consulted by his department said that endangered species in the Delta would not be harmed by the looser rules.

Water Board urged by California U.S. Lawmakers to Delay Severe Water Cuts

California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Congressmen John Garamendi and Jim Costa sent a joint letter on March 5, yesterday, to Tom Howard, Executive Director, California State Water Resources Control Board urging them to delay issuing a proposed order prioritizing water deliveries throughout the state, expected to be handed down as early as next week, until at least March 21.

In their statement, posted by the Bay Planning Coalition, the lawmakers urge the Water Board to delay its “extraordinarily far-reaching proposed order”. . . “to make sure it is correctly calibrated to minimize the potentially devastating effects on many Californians.”

No Water LogoThey acknowledge the coordinated efforts between difference levels of government, but urge the Board to “avoid catastrophic reductions of water deliveries to California agriculture”.

Continuing, allowing more time would provide the Water Board with the best available information for these “complex water delivery decisions that could affect large parts of California, especially those regions that are integral to our nation’s agricultural economy.”

“We acknowledge that the Board is eager to issue a decision so that senior water rights holders do not plant crops with the expectation of receiving a 40 percent CVP water allocation when public health and safety considerations may require a significant cutback.”

Finally, they ask that the water decision “be formulated with great care so that its burdens do not unduly fall on those who have already had to give up a great deal.”