Farmers Frustrated Over SGMA

CA Department of Water Resources Rolls Out SGMA Regulations at Meeting

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

The California Department of Water Resources held a recent workshop in Clovis, CA, to lay out the key components and regulations for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, known as SGMA. It’s thought that SGMA could forever change the face of agriculture in the central San Joaquin Valley, as it will limit the amount of groundwater that can be pumped.

turlock irrigation canal
If surface water was available for growers, the SGMA law would not have been created.

This entire approach of the Department of Water Resources is not sitting well with most farmers. Keith Freitas, who farms lemons on the east side of Fresno County, was at that recent workshop. “How can you call a program fair, but the stakeholders you bring to the table, before they enter the room to negotiate the deal, you cut their legs off?” Freitas asked.

“That’s basically what we have. We have a foot race here, but our legs have been cut off before the race even starts,” he said

And here’s the problem – there’s six deadly sins: lowering ground water levels, reducing ground water storage, increasing sea water intrusion, causing unreasonable water quality degradation, causing land subsidence and depleting surface water supplies that would have a significant and unreasonable adverse impact on beneficial uses of the surface water.

“The reason there’s six deadly sins is ’cause they’re all about the sins of the farmer. Not one of those sins is environmental,” Freitas said. “You think about it. We already have a subsidence and they know it, they don’t blame the environmentalists for subsidence, they blame farming.”

Farmers feel that if environmental water restrictions were not in place, there would be no overdraft of ground water or subsidence.

“How do you think we’re going to sustain overdraft pumping,” asked Freitas, “if they don’t have surface water to recharge the ground basin?”

“My perspective is that like Westlands Water District, who decided to turn down the twin tunnels – that decision was made I think in parallel to the overall consensus of farmers saying that if it’s going to be this way, if these are the rules that you’re going to set and these are the game rules, then we have no choice but to fight back,” Freitas said.

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Soil Health

Keeping Soils Healthy is a Top Priority

By Brian German, Associate Editor

Along with working on water issues, Jennifer Lester Moffitt, Deputy Secretary for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, addresses soil quality. Muffin said, “We need to do everything we can do increase water holding capacity so that when do irrigate, when it does rain, we are able to retain that water in the soil. And there are so many additional benefits, I need to look up the exact number, but roughly half the biodiversity of the earth is in the soil.”

While many research budgets have already been stretched thin to deal with the drought, soil research has been funded largely by the healthy soils initiative from the USDA.

Moffitt explained, “Potential state funding sources might be green house gas reduction revenue, but in order to use that money, we would have to show carbon offsets. If we were able to do that, we could show demonstration projects and develop incentives for farmers to sequester carbon, and the impact could be immense. I mean, we have 9 million acres of farmland in the state, and even if we get a small percentage of growers to adopt these practices, we could really make a huge impact.”

Moffitt stated, “You know, I think definitely there are benefits to managing the soil, studying the drought and looking at how we can be more resilient. Particularly for agriculture during drought, maintaining excellent soil health provides a huge benefit–I think a dual benefit–along with mitigating climate change. There’s a whole handful that healthy soils can do.”

Moffitt also mentioned other departments involved in the health soils initiative, “The Department of Conservation is working on this, especially with their Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP).” According to the The Department of Conservation’s Division of Land Resource Protection (DLRP) website, FMMP “produces maps and statistical data for analyzing impacts on California’s agricultural resources. Agricultural land is rated according to soil quality and irrigation status; the best quality land is called Prime Farmland. The maps are updated every two years with the use of a computer mapping system, aerial imagery, public review, and field reconnaissance.”

“CalRecycle,” continued Moffitt, “especially with regard to compost and their goal to reduce green waste in landfills by composting and applying it on agricultural land, is a win-win, all around. Also, the Water Board, Air Resources Board, Department of Water Resources and the land they manage, are really part of a holistic approach.”

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NASA satellite mission to help farmers and water managers

By Edward Ortiz; The Sacramento Bee

A NASA satellite being launched into space will measure moisture in the top layer of soil, including soil on California farm fields far below.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive project is expected to provide crucial information to Central Valley farmers and water resource managers dealing with the multiyear drought. The mission, which was due to launch Thursday but scrubbed by NASA because of a weather pattern, will begin a three-year mission after liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard a Delta II rocket.

The soil moisture information gleaned from the mission can be used by farmers to decide when to plant and harvest crops, said Narendra Das, project leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is running the SMAP mission.

“This information will be a great tool for agriculture,” said rice farmer Charley Mathews Jr. Mathews owns a 700-acre rice farm in Marysville. He is an avid believer that more data can help his farming operation.

“For rice growing, it may help is preparing our rice fields,” he said of SMAP. “There are time periods when we prepare the soil or when we have rainfall events, and that is when we want to get our timing right.”

The 128-pound SMAP satellite will map soil moisture globally every two to three days. The SMAP data will be gleaned from space, using radar, with the use of a 19-foot antenna – the largest rotating antenna of its kind ever deployed by NASA.

It will take measurements 1 inch deep. The soil moisture it estimates will be matched to other data to provide accurate information on how much water is in the soil.

Only a tiny percentage of Earth’s total water is lodged in the top layer of soil. However, the water within that tiny layer plays an important role in moving water, carbon and heat between land and atmosphere.

The mission is the latest Earth-looking satellite effort at NASA, an effort that began in 1972 with the launch of the Landsat I.

The mission is the final of a recent slate of five Earth satellite missions to be launched by NASA within the past 11 months that began with the launch of the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory satellite. Each mission is culling data at never-before-attempted resolutions.

NASA said it has partnered with a large California grower, Paramount Farms, on sampling studies and airborne experiments on the run-up to the launch.

Paramount Farms, based in Kern County, is one of the world’s largest growers and processors of almonds and pistachios. Paramount Farms declined to comment on its work with NASA.

Predicting floods and suggesting improved water usage may ultimately be another benefit of the SMAP mission, said Robert Hartman, acting director with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s California Nevada River Forecast Center.

That entity runs climate models for California, Nevada and Southern Oregon. “Once we understand what the data represents and what they mean, it may help us with runoff models,” Hartman said.

Hartman said it remains to be seen how accurate the data from SMAP will be – especially from heavily forested environments. In other areas it may help assess how much moisture exists in a given watershed, especially prior to the onset of winter storms.

“In the fall we’re sensitive to how ready the watershed is to respond to the season’s first rain,” Hartman said. “It can also help us in the period between winter storms when there has been a substantial dry period.”

NASA has also been working with the California Department of Water Resources and expects the department will use the SMAP data to run its water use models.

The DWP is allowing the use of 40 soil sensor stations throughout the state for the SMAP mission. The sensors will help NASA calibrate the SMAP satellite measurements, said Jeanine Jones, DWP interstate resources manager.

Jones said it remains to be seen how useful the data will be to the department’s water management aims.

“Currently in the water supply and flood control business, most agencies do not use soil moisture information,” Jones said. “There are no applications for that kind of data yet. We’ll see if this mission will be the impetus to develop applications for it.”

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Twin Tunnels Could Produce Friant Dry Year Water Woes

Source: Friant Waterline 

While “progress” on the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan’s ambitious and controversial twin tunnels planning continues to mostly be marked by delay, Friant Division contractors and the Friant Water Authority are looking long and hard at findings in troubling computer modeling.

Friant Water Authority directors were told at their August 28 meeting in Visalia that the twin tunnels proposal to bypass the fragile Delta not only lacks benefits for Friant users, it could actually make Friant’s future dry year water supply problems worse.

‘LOSING PROPOSITION’

“Computer modeling shows it is a losing proposition with less water supply reliability to Friant, particularly in dry years,” said Ronald D. Jacobsma, FWA General Manager.

The FWA and its member districts have been evaluating the state’s twin tunnels plan to determine if Friant users would benefit from the two tunnels’ development. That includes San Joaquin River Exchange Contractor water, Cross Valley Canal water and San Joaquin River Restoration Program recirculation in addition to assumptions as to allocation of costs amongst water contractors.

All of this is crucial in Friant’s BDCP consideration because the tunnels, expected to cost many billions of dollars, are to be financed on a “beneficiary-pays” basis. Jacobsma said project proponents have indicated Friant’s share could be about $3 billion.

“The current process has lots of uncertainty,” Jacobsma said. “The bottom line is they won’t be starting construction any time soon on those twin tunnels.”

MORE DELAY

Delay, in fact, popped up again in late August when the California Department of Water Resources indicated that the BDCP needs more work as a result of the massive volume of public comments received on a draft environmental impact report.

Nancy Vogel, DWR spokeswoman, told the Sacramento Bee, “We’re going through it and we’re going to revise and send it back out for public review. We continue to look for ways to reduce the impacts to Delta residents and landowners.”

With a revised BDCP now scheduled to be released early next year, the newest delay is certain to consume several months. The plan has been seven years in the making.

The entire program’s cost is estimated at $25 billion. The BDCP is not to be funded through the pending state water bonds, should Proposition 1 be approved by voters. The Legislature intentionally kept the bond “Delta neutral” because of controversy surrounding the BDCP and twin tunnels.

The tunnels would be an isolated water conveyance system under the Delta between Courtland and state and federal water export pumping plants near Byron, northwest of Tracy.

EPA CONCERN

Meanwhile, a new wrinkle in the twin-tunnels plan popped up August 28 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggested the project could violate the Clean Water Act and increase harm to endangered species. EPA said the project could increase Delta concentrations of salinity, mercury, bromide, chloride, selenium and pesticides.

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Save Our Water Does Double Duty at State Fair, Hosts Exhibits Featuring Indoor and Outdoor Water Saving Tips

The drought is on and so is the California State Fair. This year, the Save Our Water campaign is doubling down its messaging on conservation by hosting two exhibits at the fair – one on indoor water conservation and the other on outdoor conservation.

Save Our Water is the water conservation campaign co-managed by ACWA and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).  Staff from both organizations will be on hand this year to help attendees identify opportunities to conserve.

The outdoor garden area exhibit on outdoor water conservation tips is themed “It’s Easy as 1, 2, 3.” Its featured tips are:  1 – Get efficient– with your Irrigation system. 2 – Get smart with new technology. 3 – Get green with great plants, compost and mulch.

The indoor exhibit is set up to look like a home to inspire fairgoers to conserve water. It offers three islands that focus on saving water in the kitchen, laundry, and bathroom. Each island has an interactive component.

“Californians have a great resource in Save Our Water to help them combat this extraordinary drought,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. “We hope taking part in events like the State Fair will encourage even more of us to join the effort to save water.”

Mark Cowin,  director of DWR, added:  “The State Fair has always been a great opportunity to connect with Californians and spread the message of how important it is to save water. Now that the drought has brought the issue of conservation to the forefront, the Save Our Water displays are especially timely.”

Save Our Water has been connecting Californians to daily drought tips and news via its recently launched Don’t Waste Summer campaign. The campaign is devoted to providing daily tips and news on the new microsite –SaveOurWater.com– to help Californians find ways to conserve at home and at work every day. Save Our Water’s Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram are also great resources for Californians looking to join the effort to save water.

To learn more about the Save Our Water program, visit saveourh2o.org.

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Save Our Water Web Site Launches “Don’t Waste Summer” Campaign

As a drought-stricken California moves further into a hot summer, Save Our Water – a partnership between the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) – is launching Don’t Waste Summera campaign devoted to providing daily tips and news to help Californians find ways to conserve at home and at work every day.

Don’t Waste Summer kicks off this week with the official start of summer. Tips will range from simple ideas such as shutting water off as you brush your teeth, to checking for and fixing leaks, to helpful ways businesses big and small can do their part in saving water during the drought.

The campaign will also showcase the efforts of Save Our Water partners to conserve this summer.

The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) is the largest statewide coalition of public water agencies in the country. Its nearly 440 public agency members collectively are responsible for 90% of the water delivered to cities, farms and businesses in California.

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) is responsible for managing and protecting California’s water. DWR works with other agencies to benefit the state’s people, and to protect, restore and enhance the natural and human environments.

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Valley Citrus Growers Receive 0% Water Allocation; Citrus Growers Available for Interviews April 23, 2014!

Late last week, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that rain and snow storms in February and March have allowed an increase of water contract allocations for State Water Project deliveries from zero to five percent.

Although this appears to have been positive news for agricultural interests in the San Joaquin Valley, it is far from it.  The DWR announcement went on to state that the precipitation from these recent storms eliminates the need for rock barriers to be constructed in the Delta.  This means that the increase in water deliveries will be flushed into the ocean in order to protect fish species and prevent saltwater intrusion in the Delta. San Joaquin Valley agriculture remains at zero percent allocation.

Approximately 75% of the California citrus crop is produced in Tulare, Kern, and Fresno Counties.  A majority of this acreage relies on surface water from the Friant-Kern Canal.  DWR’s delivery increase does nothing to reduce the pressure on the Friant from exchange contractors who would otherwise receive their water via the State Water Project.

Earlier this month, the DWR and State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) released a 168-page document they refer to as the “plan.”  However, the plan does not refer once to the people or the economy that will be impacted by zero water allocation to agriculture.  The word “farmer”, or “agriculture”, appears once.  The word “fish” is stated 328 times.

California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen
California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen

“Friday’s announcement was made with much fanfare and yet the decision completely ignores the East side of the San Joaquin Valley, and even stipulates that we are not important,” says CCM President Joel Nelsen.

The photo above depicts “petal fall” and the first life stages of an orange, when the blooms have fallen.  It is at this critical point of the growing season, when we enter into the hottest months of the year, that sufficient water is available for the cultivation of the crop.

California is the Nation’s number one supplier of fresh citrus. “Our Valley is the number supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables and yet that does not enter into the equation for water needs,” continues Nelsen.  “What ever happened to the goal of providing a bountiful array of fresh produce at affordable prices?”

The Friant-Kern Canal needs at least 200,000 acre-feet to remain functioning.  The decision not to release sufficient water to the State Water Project guarantees that exchange contractors will call upon their first rights to water supplies in Millerton Lake and reduce the amount that would otherwise flow to the Friant-Kern Canal.  This decision is forcing growers to make their own decision – between pushing out trees and holding out for water that may come too late, or not at all. Over 50,000 acres of citrus in the San Joaquin Valley is at risk. But, it is not just trees that will be pushed if Friant does not receive water – jobs will be pushed, people will be pushed, and the economy will surely suffer.

“I continue to be mystified by the announcement last Friday and the inconsistencies it presents,” says Nelsen.  “The announcement on Friday and previous announcements all state that the public should strive to conserve at least 20% of their normal water use.  Yet the producers I represent, and for that matter all producers on the Eastside of the San Joaquin Valley, are being told to give up 100% of their water.  In fact, those in the Friant Service area are the only contractors being asked to give up 100% of their water.”

This situation is real and devastating for many family citrus farmers.  Here are a just a few growers who are facing zero water allocations. 

Andrew Brown
Andrew Brown

These growers, and others, will be available for interviews tomorrow, April 23rd at 2:00 p.m. at the Lamp Liter Inn in Visalia.  Please provide advanced notice to Alyssa Houtby, 559-737-8899 if you plan to attend. 

 

Andrew Brown, a fourth generation citrus grower in the Orange Cove, Orosi/Cutler area works alongside his father and brothers on his family’s farm.  Andrew has known since college he would follow in his father’s footsteps and return to faming because it is a rewarding business mentally, spiritually, financially. Now he has his own ranch where, one day, his two young children want to be second generation farmers.  

 

Gus Carranza
Gus Carranza

Gus Carranza grew up picking oranges in the San Joaquin Valley alongside his parents. He worked through school as a truck driver for a farming operation. His career in the citrus industry eventually led him to work for a major citrus grower-shipper operation.  He now manages their field department.

In 2000, he started farming his own acreage in Terra Bella with his brothers.  What began as a 10-acre operation has now expanded to 130 acres.  Carranza has received zero surface water this year. Unless something changes, he will watch his trees die, and watch his investment of $30,000 per acre die with them.

Maribel Nenna
Maribel Nenna

 

Maribel Nenna works for a packing house in Southern California as the operation’s field advisor in the Central Valley. Ten years ago, she and her brother took their passion for the citrus industry and purchased 10 acres of citrus. Today, they farm 40 acres – all have received zero water allocation. In two weeks those trees, approximately 135 trees per acre, will lose their crop if they do not receive water. 

Matt Leider
Matt Leider

 

Matt Leider is a 5th generation citrus producer.  He grew up working on his mother’s ranch in Southern California before going to college. His involvement in the citrus industry is now two-fold.  He works on his uncle’s citrus ranch in Porterville, and manages a successful mechanical pruning business that services citrus growers throughout the Valley.  He needs one acre-foot of water per acre just to keep his family’s citrus acreage alive, but he doesn’t have it.

Carlos Gutierrez
Carlos Gutierrez

 

 

 

Carlos Gutierrez came to Lindsay when he was four years old. In 1999 he started a portable restroom business servicing citrus harvest crews.  He then bought 12 acres of citrus on his own in 2001.  Now, he manages harvesting crews for a packing house and owns over 100 acres on his own.  He has a little water, but not enough to keep all of his acreage alive.

 

Jesus Ramos farms 86 acres in Terra Bella and another 50 acres in Strathmore.  He put down a deposit of $600 per acre-foot for water, and now hopes to find water at $1,200 an acre-foot.  But, he can’t find any because none is available.  He hopes to save his best acreage because he knows he can’t save everything.

 

The California citrus industry is dominated by family farmers.  “Everybody talks about protecting the family farmer, but by denying surface water to the Friant service area the state’s water agencies are aiding in their demise,” concludes Nelsen.

 

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Public Listening Session: Water Transfer Process Streamlining

The staff of the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) will hold a listening session to solicit ideas on recommendations to streamline the review process for temporary water transfers, in which water can be transferred for up to one year.

The purpose of the listening session is to obtain input to inform efforts by the State Water Board and DWR to streamline water transfers. Information provided will be considered in the context of near-term and long-term planning for improvements in transfer processing.

Background and Agenda:

On May 20, 2013, Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. issued Governor’s Executive Order B-21-13 (Executive Order), for the purpose of streamlining approval for water transfers to address dry conditions and water delivery limitations.

The Executive Order directs the State Water Board and DWR to expedite processing of water transfers and to assist water transfer proponents and suppliers, as necessary, provided that the transfers are consistent with the Water Code, will not harm other legal users of water and will not unreasonably affect fish, wildlife, or other instream beneficial uses.

The State Water Board and DWR were also directed to make all efforts to coordinate with relevant federal agencies, water districts, and water agencies to expedite the review and approval of water transfers in California.

On January 17, 2014, Governor Brown issued a Proclamation of a Drought State of Emergency (Proclamation). The Proclamation finds that dry conditions and lack of precipitation present urgent problems to drinking water supplies and cultivation of crops, which put farmers’ long-term investments at risk.

The conditions also threaten the survival of animals and plants that rely on California’s rivers, including many species in danger of extinction. The Proclamation directed the State Water Board and DWR to expedite the processing of water transfers as set forth in Executive Order B-21-13.

Proposed Agenda
• Overview of State Water Board Transfer role and current process

• Overview of DWR Water Transfer role and current process

• Public Comments on Streamlining Water Transfers

This Listening Session is designed as a forum for public input on the agencies’ streamlined water transfer processes, rather than discussion of specific transfer projects. Input received during the session will be taken into consideration in determining whether to modify the agencies’ water transfer processes in the short and long term.

DWR and the State Water Board seek suggestions for improving:

• availability of information on water transfers

• responses to comments on water transfer proposals.

• coordination between transfer approval agencies

• available information on impacts due to water transfers

• evaluation of surface water, groundwater, and environmental impacts related to water transfers.

Each commenter may be asked to limit their remarks to five minutes, depending on the number of parties present. Parties of like interests are encouraged to consolidate their comments and may pool their allotted time in a joint statement.

Parties also may submit written comments, either in lieu of or in support of their verbal comments. Comments will be collected for consideration in future transfer efforts, however the State Water Board and DWR will not be providing formal responses to comments.

Click here for more information.

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Storms Allow Temporary Easing of Delta Pumping Restrictions

Source: Pamela Martineau; Association of California Water Agencies 

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved a temporary easing of pumping restrictions in the Delta on April 1 which will increase water exports from the estuary by as much as 10,000 acre-feet a day over the next week or two.

Officials from NMFS announced the temporary adjustment of the regulation April 1 during a conference call with reporters. Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), who also was on the call, said the easing of the seasonal pumping restrictions  won’t jeopardize protected salmonoid and is “consistent with the federal Endangered Species Act.”

“The adjustment will remain in effect as long as the rivers carrying stormwater into the Delta continue to run relatively high,” said Cowin.  “We expect that to last for at least a week and we’ll see how long those inflows are sustained.”

The temporary change is allowable in part because more water is moving through the system due to recent storms. The adjustment increases pumping levels from about 1500 cfs to 6000 cfs a day over the next few days.

DWR has set its initial water allocation estimate from the State Water Project at zero percent this year. It is unclear whether that estimate will change. California remains mired in drought despite the recent spate of storms.

On April 1, manual snowpack readings in the Sierra revealed a statewide snowpack water content at just 32% of normal for that date.

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