California Ag Today met up with Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance, and learned about a new ballot initiative that the CWA has sponsored and is working on getting on the ballot for the 2016 election. The Water Priorities Constitutional Amendment and Bond Act seeks to increase water storage for all uses. To learn more visit: CAWater4All.com. Video filmed by Patrick Cavanaugh and edited by Charmayne Hefley.
Water Rally Calls for Action, More Voices
By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster
At the recent “Take Back our Water Rally” in Mendota, hundreds gathered to call on Governor Brown to recognize the impact of not just the drought, but the bureaucratic decisions that have had devastating consequences for California farmers. Leadership at the water rally called for action and more voices in the plea for change.
Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of California Water Alliance, shared some points she made a the rally, “My challenge to this audience was to understand there is a void of leadership. We have a governor who says he is handling this, and he is not. We have no recovery plan for how to get out of this drought. How do we get out of the crisis? There has been no pathway to recovery, neither from the federal government, nor the state government.” Finally, last month, a group of 47 legislators, both Republican and Democratic, called for a special legislative session.
Bettencourt pointed out the Ag industry is not alone in having been adversely affected by the water constraints. “We all need to communicate to our elected officials,” she said, “that we need a path to relief. My challenge to the audience was to help them realize that because the drought is now statewide and regulatory constraints have drastically cut the regular water supply, we are all—ag and urban communities—even the environmental conservation community—feeling the effects. While we’ve been in this situation for years, and years, and years, we need to expand our base and build our army.”
Many attendees are concerned about the use of the Endangered Species Act to cut water supplies that Central Valley farmers depend on in order to increase populations of a fish that can just as easily be grown by the thousands in hatcheries.
Calling to educate those outside of agriculture to advocate for change in water policies, Bettencourt remarked, “Help those who are unfamiliar with the importance of supply, or more importantly, the lack of supply, to understand why they are frustrated, what is really going on, and how California’s water supply really works. Let’s activate them to being an additional voice to ours; encouraging many voices from diverse locations saying the same thing is the only way the agricultural community, and all stakeholders in California, will ever be heard,” she said.
While forecasters are still optimistic El Niño will deliver heavy rainfall, Bettencourt says California’s water issues will continue unless there is a change in the legislature. She emphasized it would take a big push from more than just the agricultural sector to demand the change that is needed. “It is a numbers game,” she explained. “When you look at the population in California, the bulk of the voters are in the Bay Area, along the Coast and in Southern California. If you add up the registered voters of all the agricultural counties in California, the total is not enough to offset even one of those three heavily populated areas. So the sole hope we have to maximize the only two opportunities for input we can control—our voice and our vote—is to get new voices and new votes,” Bettencourt said.
Aubrey Bettencourt Says Ag Industry Missed Important Opinion Shift
By Charmayne Hefley, California Ag Today Associate Editor
It was thought that the agricultural industry in California could rely on the public sector to rally behind them during this devastating drought, once consumers were ordered to undergo severe water cutbacks themselves. “That didn’t happen,” says Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance and third generation farmer in Kings County, where she farms with her dad.
“Back in 2008/2009,” Bettencourt said, “surface water cuts due to the Endangered Species Act really came into prominence more than the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA). At the time, the ag community anticipated that as soon as urbanites experienced similar severe water cuts, they would rally to our side with the common understanding that we all have to make these very arbitrary reductions.”
“Earlier this year, Governor Brown issued a mandatory water cut of 25 percent, on average, to the urban sector, with a range from 8 to 39 percent depending on location,” explained Bettencourt. “Urbanites did not sympathize with the agricultural community on their shared loss of so much water. Instead, they pointed the finger at Ag, called for a rope and a pitchfork, and wanted ag to take even more of a cut–not understanding that Ag had already endured a 100 percent reduction,” she said. “The California ag community thought they shared a connection with the urban community regarding Ag’s importance.”
“I think this a really fine example of how agriculture has missed the societal shift away from the agrarian-based society to a consumer-focused nation in which most people are four to six generations away from the farm,” Bettancourt noted. “And the vast majority of people don’t understand what Ag does and why production agriculture is beneficial to society as a whole.”
“As such, the general population is able to make claims on the industry from perspectives that lack understanding,” she stated, “calling for requirements that are not beneficial to the industry, and ultimately not beneficial to the population as a whole. Urbanites do not support ag, but this disconnect has developed over time,” said Bettancourt.
WAPA Annual Meeting Nears! June 25-26
The 2015 Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) Annual Meeting is right around the corner! Beginning on Thursday, June 25, the meeting will kick-off with a four-man scramble golf tournament at Black Horse Golf Club with the Associate Member and Annual Meeting reception to follow including special guest speakers.
The event will be held at the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa, 400 Cannery Row, Monterey CA.
The following day will include pertinent industry, regulatory and legislative updates including a FSMA Implementation Update provided by Kathy Gombas, Senior Advisor of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a California Water Update provided by Aubrey Bettencourt of the California Water Alliance and Gary Bardini of the Department of Water Resources and Curt Covington of the Federal Agriculture Mortgage Corporation will provide an economic outlook for the tree nut industry.
Associate members and sponsors will exhibit their services and products on:
Thursday, June 25, from 5:30-7 p.m., and
Friday, June 26, from 7:30-9 a.m. and 10:10-10:45 a.m.
Registration and payment for the WAPA Annual Meeting are due ASAP to:
1785 N. Fine Avenue
Fresno, CA 93727
California Water Alliance Voices Concern Over Governor’s Decision to Create New Groundwater Law
The California Water Alliance (CalWA) issued the following statement today (Sept. 16, 2014) in response to Governor Brown‘s decision to sign a new package of groundwater legislation into law. Please attribute this statement to Aubrey Bettencourt, Executive Director for CalWA.
“While we recognize the need to incorporate groundwater management into a comprehensive effort to reform California water policy, we have grave concerns about the legislative package the governor has just signed into law.
“Unfortunately, these measures were hastily drafted and without a true understanding of the global nature of our water crisis. Consequently these new laws, if not modified, will do more harm that good primarily because they completely omit any consideration about how to recharge our groundwater supplies. The following represent our primary concerns with the new laws:
They do not recognize that groundwater management must be handled in concert with surface water management. Limiting pumping will not recharge groundwater supplies; only reliable, annual surface water deliveries will recharge basins throughout the state.
They do not validate the fact that groundwater recharge must be acknowledged as a reasonable use of surface water; which currently it is not. To reach our goal of restoring our aquifers, we cannot punish activities that provide for achieving that goal.
They trample on private property rights of landowners who own the water on their property.
They do not adequately take into account local management efforts that have taken place statewide over the past decades.
They disregard the fact that famers have been tapping groundwater as a matter of survival and in direct response to the state and federal government’s dysfunctional and onerous surface water restrictions.
“We remain concerned that irregular supplies of surface water, and limited groundwater use will continue to severely impact our agricultural economy and its related industries. Our supply of water will dictate crop plantings; reduced water will mean fewer crops, jobs, exports and ultimately our position as the world’s number one exporter of fruits and vegetables.
“Groundwater management is critical but only if conducted responsibly and holistically. This package of new laws do neither and have the potential to further undermine efforts to achieve effective and balanced reforms to California water policy.”
By Kate Campbell; Ag Alert
Central Valley farmers and businesses donated and shipped about 30 tons of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts last week to help address food shortages at California food banks. A newly organized grassroots coalition, “California Water Feeds Our Communities,” was joined by the California Community Food Bank, Westlands Water District, the California Water Alliance and El Agua Es Asunto De Todos to bring valley-grown produce to those in need across the state.
Fresno County farmer Bill Diedrich said the impact of fallowing hundreds of thousands of acres of irrigated cropland in the San Joaquin Valley this year translates into significant economic losses for the valley’s small farming communities.
“It’s the people—and the communities that depend on agricultural production—that are getting hurt,” Diedrich said at a news conference in Fresno to announce the donations. “For example, the schools are being hurt. If people are moving on, there’s no reimbursement for (school) attendance and the children of those families who’ve stayed are losing out. Besides the school districts, cities and counties also are being affected and their ability to help in this crisis is reduced.”
Diedrich said that when he drives through the valley’s small towns, he sees workers standing around idle, “because there’s so much fallowed ground there isn’t the normal demand for labor. We’re looking at a disaster and we’re hoping for regulatory relief,” noting that Congress will be considering drought-relief bills in coming weeks.
Kym Dildine with Fresno-based Community Food Bank said one in four people in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Kern and Tulare counties copes with food insecurity, a situation made worse by the ongoing drought.
Prior to the drought, she said the agency was serving about 220,000 people a month. With the drought, that number has increased by another 30,000 people a month in the five-county area.
“Every food bank we’ve spoken to is really grateful to be receiving an entire truckload of fresh produce grown right here in the valley,” she said. “Because less fruit is available, they’re having a harder time accessing it.”
To help address the problem, 15 trucks were loaded with boxes of fresh produce at Simonian Fruit Co. in Fowler before heading to food banks in Fresno, Merced, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Watsonville, Salinas, Santa Maria, Oxnard, Riverside and San Diego.
“The food we grow here extends far and wide,” said Gayle Holman of the Westlands Water District. “In fact, most people don’t even realize the food they may be eating in other parts of the state, or across the United States, actually originates here.”
The Fresno County Farm Bureau, along with many valley farms and businesses, supported the food donation effort, as did irrigation districts and service groups such as the Girl Scouts of Central California-South and the Fresno Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as California State University, Fresno.
Participants said the coalition hopes not only to bring attention to the impact of the drought and how far-reaching it is, but also to set the stage for future food donation drives as the crisis deepens during the winter. Diedrich said the effort also brings attention to the fact that an unreliable water supply jeopardizes everyone’s food security.
“The drought has impacted California’s food banks because they can no longer adapt to the spike in food prices resulting from a lack of water for farmers,” said Cannon Michael, president of Los Banos-based Bowles Farming Co. “This campaign has been launched to feed the needy and raise awareness about how the drought hurts the most vulnerable people in the state.”
Drought-related land fallowing brings “many unintended consequences,” Michael said.
“We hope raising awareness about the drought will bring all stakeholders together to find short- and long-term solutions,” he said.
Westside farmer Sarah Woolf said the coalition will continue to support food banks.
“This was just one small aspect of how we’re trying to help,” she said.
When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced a zero water allocation for farm customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Mendota Mayor Robert Silva said his community knew it was facing “a terrible situation.” But he said the city learned from the drought in 2009 and immediately began preparing.
“We got service agencies and utilities to come in and set up assistance programs right away,” Silva said. “We’ve added recreational opportunities for our youth to keep them busy and we’ve been finding ways to support our schools.”
In 2009, Silva said water shortages led to severe social problems such as domestic violence and higher school dropout rates that might have been eased with adequate social services. The unemployment rate in Mendota today is in the range of 35 percent, he said, compared to 50 percent at the same time in 2009.
“Unemployment is still high, but not as bad as we feared,” Silva said. “But we’re not out of danger yet. I understand it’s going to be a short growing season this year, harvest is nearly over, and that means more people will be unemployed for a longer time. We haven’t seen the worst yet.”
He said Mendota residents have been planning ahead and “trying to get the resources they’ll need to get by until they can go back to work next year,” and more agencies are prepared to help.
“But it’s going to be a long winter,” Silva said.
Source: Kate Campbell; Ag Alert
Finding agreement on the $7.5 billion water bond measure headed to the November ballot wasn’t easy—it involved years of hard work by many stakeholders, including the California Farm Bureau Federation—but participants in the discussion said it’s a key step in addressing the critical need to upgrade the state’s broken water system.
“The severe water shortages we’re currently experiencing result from 30 years of neglecting our water-storage system,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said. “That neglect is magnified by the drought, and it’s time to reverse that pattern of neglect. Placing this water bond on the November ballot gives Californians a chance to provide more water for our cities, for food production and for the environment.”
CFBF Administrator Rich Matteis said passage of the water bond bill last week marked the end of more than five years of sustained effort.
“Farm Bureau has been involved in this issue since the beginning, working for a bond that would maximize the investment in new water storage for California,” Matteis said. “But as much as the passage of the bond bill marked the end of that process, it also signaled the beginning of a campaign to show Californians the essential need to invest in our state’s water system.”
Matteis noted that the water bond will come before voters in less than 11 weeks, meaning that supporters of new water investment will need to move quickly to solidify support for the measure.
“Farm Bureau members are uniquely positioned to work at the grassroots level to educate and build public awareness for much-needed water improvements,” Matteis said. “Every Californian has a stake in the voter outcome in November, but none more than farmers and ranchers who depend on adequate, reliable water supplies.”
The revised bond measure includes $2.7 billion for water storage projects and that money will be continuously appropriated, Matteis noted, meaning that future Legislatures will not be able to redirect it to other uses.
“This bond represents the state’s largest investment in water storage in more than 30 years,” Wenger said, “and it couldn’t come at a more critical time.”
The current drought has shown that California has lived too long with an outdated water-storage system, he said.
“We need to update that system to match changing weather patterns, in which more precipitation will fall as rain rather than as snow,” Wenger said. “Additional surface storage can capture those strong storm surges when they come, reduce flooding and bank that water for later dry times.”
In addition to new surface and groundwater storage projects, proceeds from the sale of bonds—if approved by voters—would be used for regional water reliability, sustainable groundwater management and cleanup, water recycling, water conservation, watershed protection and safe drinking water, particularly for disadvantaged communities.
Association of California Water Agencies Executive Director Tim Quinn called the revised water bond the “right size at the right time for California.”
Noting the bond includes $100 million that can be used by local agencies for groundwater plans and projects, the Kern County Water Agency commended those who negotiated the final version of the measure. The water bond also includes new funding for a variety of local water programs through integrated regional water management plans, or IRWMPs. Specifically, the bond measure would allocate $34 million to IRWMPs in the Tulare/Kern watershed.
The California Water Alliance, whose members include Central Valley farmers and agricultural businesses, applauded the bond’s placement on the November ballot.
“Most importantly, it recognizes that Californians statewide, from all walks of life, cannot afford to carry the burden of a dysfunctional water system that has been exacerbated by the worst drought in California history,” said Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the alliance.
The drought, she said, has resulted in dramatic levels of unemployment, higher food prices, increased utility costs, water rationing and severe losses for California farms, many of which have had to fallow thousands of acres.
“This bond provides the means to begin upgrading California’s water system for the 21st century, including new storage facilities and clean water projects for underprivileged communities,” Bettencourt said.