Big Question Marks for New Legislation and California Agriculture
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
Californians are still trying to get a feel for new legislation, while agriculturalists wonder what they’ll be up against this year. According to Roger Isom, President and CEO of the Western Agricultural Processors Association and California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, issues pertaining to water and PG&E are among the top concerns for Valley growers.
Last year, there was potential for a water fee and fertilizer tax combination that ended up not passing, but left growers to question what they will be faced with in the future.
“With the water situation the way it is, from a supply standpoint to the nitrate issue and drinking water, we know there’s going to be legislation on that,” Isom said.
Other than the continued concern of water, Isom added that perhaps one of the biggest question marks in California agriculture is how they will handle a potential PG&E bankruptcy. He explained that the state’s rates are already the highest in the country due to gas laws and renewable energy mandates, and he fears that an increase will only make a difficult situation almost impossible.
“We’re already looking at ratepayers being faced with huge liability from the fires last year. When you throw the Camp Fire on top of it, what does that mean for us?” he concluded
Recently, over one thousand farmers and other stakeholders attended a rally in Sacramento outside the capital building, protesting the California State Water Resources Control Board’s proposed Water Grab, which consists of over 40 percent of the water from Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers to increase flows for salmon. California Ag Today spoke with Ronda Lucas, General Counsel with the Modesto Irrigation District.
Unfortunately, the state does not need to pick this fight, but they are choosing to.
“In ignoring our science in the process, one of the major deficiencies of the plan is the state board’s refusal,” Lucas said.
Lucas would like the water board to be intellectually honest about the linkage and the impact this will have on groundwater.
“They simply say that we’ll just get more water. There is no more water,” she said.
California is not in a critical overdraft area.
“Our sub base in the Modesto subbasin is in better shape than many, but that’s because we’ve been such good stewards,” Lucas said.
This plan will destroy the health of the groundwater basin.
Lucas says that many communities in the area could be impacted heavily. Some communities’ sole water source is groundwater, and this plan will dry up their drinking water.
“There will be school children that don’t have the basic needs to live, and we know it. And we’ve told the state board that, and they don’t seem to care,” Lucas said.
The bigger problem that is not well known is that the state is trying to come in and run the dam operation long-term.
“If the state is in charge of Don Pedro and the running of our facilities, which we believe to be illegal, we do not know what they are going to do because they have not had a good track record thus far,” Lucas explained.
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Water Board Must Understand the Impact of Taking Water from Farms and Communities
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
At the recent Water Rally in Sacramento, more than 1000 farmers and other stakeholders were protesting the California Water Resources Control Board, which is proposing a water grab of 40 percent of the water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced Rivers to increase flows for salmon. According to Adam Gray —21st District State Assemblyman, representing Stanislaus and Merced—counties said that large losses would occur in jobs and profits if the water grab is implemented.
“This is thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic loss to agriculture, to California, and we can’t afford that,” Gray said. “Not to mention the impact on drinking water in communities. Most of the communities in my district are on well water, and what people don’t think about is when you take water away from farmers and that water doesn’t go back into the ground. That further depletes our groundwater and our aquifers, and it creates more subsidence and environmental issues.”
Gray said that this is not about the environment versus business, or fish versus people. This is about the whole community, the schools, the ag economy and a lot of job losses for the people he represents.
“It’s dishonest; the Water Board is not admitting that there’s going to be an impact in the affected areas. They say farmers are going to offset the water losses by pumping more. Well, you and I both know with the implementation of SGMA and all of the other challenges, that’s not a reality,” he said.
“So how about we sit down and come up with a water plan that takes everybody’s needs into consideration and again, I’m not an us versus them advocate,” he said. “Southern California needs water, the coast needs water, northern California needs water and the San Joaquin Valley needs water. How about we sit down and make a water infrastructure plan for the next hundred years that serves all Californians.”
Gray said the farming community will stand up for the investments made to secure water.
“We are not going to lie down. We’re not going to apologize for being a farming community,” he said. “We’re going to stand up; we’re going to defend the investments we’ve made and the long-term planning we did, and we’re going to ask the state to step up and do some of their own.”
Again, it came down to fish, specifically Chinook salmon, that forced the proposed Temperance Flat Dam out of the race for Proposition 1 funding for building new water storage projects.
For more than 20 years, the Temperance Flat Dam proposal was passionately advocated with unwavering support by Central Valley cities and the San Joaquin Valley Infrastructure Authority (SJVIA) who were behind the application. Temperance Flat came crumbling down Wednesday at the California Water Commission (CWC) meeting in Sacramento on the second day of discussion.
On Tuesday, CWC staff members assigned to crunch the Public Benefit Ratios for the project were solidly encased in concrete, refusing to grant the project any consideration for its ecosystem restoration benefits. The Dam would provide critical cold water to flow down the San Joaquin River, thus helping the salmon spawn.
And while the official public benefit calculation came up short today, proponents already saw that the project was already on life support Tuesday, with a dire prognosis.
“Stunned is an understatement,” said Mario Santoyo, executive director of the SJVIA, who has worked for more than 18 years on the project. “Temperance Flat is the most critical water project ever proposed for the Central Valley, which is ground zero for significant water shortages that will not go away.”
It all boiled down to the Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment (EDT) model that was approved by Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources. Despite both approvals, that model did not jive with the Commission staff’s model, which undervalued the project’s public benefit ratio, killing the opportunity for Temperance Flat Dam to receive funding of more $1 billion for construction.
“We are working in an area of great uncertainty in professional judgment,” Bill Swanson, vice president, Water Resources Planning & Management for Stantec, a global planning and engineering firm, who presented data for the SJVIA. “We do not have fish in the river. We do not have empirical data. The only issue available to us is a comparison of how the system would respond to changes in flow, temperature and habitat,” Swanson said.
“That’s the reason we used the EDT model, the same model that the Bureau of Reclamation has used in their models of flow,” Swanson explained. “The SJVIA’s challenge was how to take the results of that model and analyze them to a level of detail that distinguishes the precision that we might want to have around the results,” said Swanson.
“I’m very disappointed with the way they scored a great project that needed to be built,” noted Santoyo. “And I am not happy about one commissioner from Orange Cove who stabbed us in the back and scolded us on why we did not meet the Public Benefit Ratio. We did meet and exceed that ratio, but the CWC disagreed with our ecosystem restoration model that had been used by both the state and the feds.”
Several Water Commissioners publicly wrangled with their staff on how they could make the project work. They sought areas to increase the project’s cost-benefit evaluation to get it funded.
Commissioner Joe Del Bosque read the ballot text of Prop 1, approved by California voters by 67 percent in 2014. He reminded those present that voters expected a water storage project to be built, adding, “We need to find more certainty in order to get Temperance Flat built.”
Commissioner Daniel Curtain distinguished two parts to the discussion—physical and monetary. “Take a look and see if there is a physical benefit for ecosystem restoration. Finding a potential benefit and attaching a potential monetary benefit could be helpful,” he said.
The project was also short on points for recreation opportunities on what would be a new lake behind the 600-foot high dam east of Fresno, behind Friant Dam. Commissioner Joseph Byrne said he hoped for more thought given to the recreation cost benefit. “Intuitively, zero benefit does not make sense. We need a higher level of confidence in the estimated recreation cost-benefit,” he said.
CWC staff stipulated that while the newly created lake behind Temperance Flat Dam would accommodate boating activity, the lack of camping, hiking, and other activities within the existing San Joaquin River Gorge neutralized any recreation benefits.
If built, the Temperance Flat Reservoir would contain 1.26 million acre-feet of new water storage above Millerton Lake, northeast of Fresno. Temperance would have helped provide a more reliable supply of fresh drinking water for disadvantaged Valley communities. It would have enabled below-surface groundwater recharge, addressed extreme land subsidence and provided critical help to farmers facing severe groundwater restrictions due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
Santoyo said the SJVWIA spent more than $2 million on the California Water Commission application, utilizing what he said were the most qualified engineers to develop the technical data required by Commission staff. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which administers California’s Central Valley Project for the U.S. Department of the Interior, has invested more than $38 million in studying the project. Santoyo said those studies supported the finding that the selected Temperance Flat site is the most preferred location for such a crucial project.