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.

Westlands Water Allocation “Despicable”

Westlands Water Allocation “Despicable”

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Earlier TODAY, the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) stunned the farming industry by announcing a  5% water allocation for most of the farmland to the Westlands Water District on the Westside in the Central San Joaquin Valley. This single digit water allocation to the comes during an El Niño year of wet weather, following four years of drought and restricted water deliveries to Westlands of 40% in 2012, 20% (2013), 0% (2014) and 0% again (2015).

Westlands Water District LogoLes Wright, agriculture commissioner for the Fresno County Department of Agriculture—ground zero for agricultural water cutbacks, said, “I can’t think of a word to describe how I am feeling about our federal water managers. It’s despicable what they’re doing to this Valley.”

“You have two major reservoirs in flood stage,” said Wright, “but they are refusing to turn the pumps on. It’s like they want to starve out the Valley, its farmers and communities. Agriculture is the major economic driver for the Valley communities, and they’re doing everything they can to drive the people out of this Valley.”

Established in 1902, the USBR, according to its website, is best known for the building of more than 600 dams and reservoirs, plus power plants and canals, constructed in 17 western states. These water projects led to homesteading and promoted the economic development of the West. 
Sign of drought Westlands Water District Turnout

The USBR website reads, “Today, we are the largest wholesaler of water in the country. We bring water to more than 31 million people, and provide one out of five Western farmers (140,000) with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland that produce 60% of the nation’s vegetables and 25% of its fruits and nuts.”

Yet, some Western farmers have received a 0% water allocation for each of the past two years, and now may receive only 5% this year. Already, Westlands Water District reports over 200,000 acres of prime farmland in the district have already been fallowed.

Ryan Jacobsen, Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO
Ryan Jacobsen, Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO

“Reservoirs throughout the state have been filling,” said Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO, Ryan Jacobsen, in a statement TODAY. “However, the government’s restrictive interpretation has resulted in the permanent loss of 789,000 acre-feet of water,” said Jacobsen. “Since December 2015, more than 200 billion gallons of water have been forever lost to the ocean, with almost no water being allocated to agriculture.”

Commissioner Wright reflected, “President Obama and both California senators have been here in the Valley, on the ground. They have seen what we are doing. They recognize the crisis; yet they refuse to use their authorities to correct the situationin a year when we’re dumping millions of gallons of water to the ocean.”

Wright explained the federal government is sending fresh water to the ocean in excess of what is needed for the environment and the protected species. “They are just wasting the water,” he said, “and yet, we have the Governor telling us to cut back 25% to 35%. And all of that water we saved last summer and in the last year, they have more than doubled the waste.”

“Where is the governor on this issue?” Wright asked. “It is despicable what the government is doing to its people.”