California Farm Bureau Sues Water Board on Proposed Water Grab

Farm Bureau Sues to Block Flows Plan for Lower San Joaquin River

By David Kranz, Manager, Communications, California Farm Bureau Federation

A plan for lower San Joaquin River flows misrepresents and underestimates the harm it would cause to agricultural resources in the Central Valley, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation, which filed suit recently to block the plan.

Adopted last December by the State Water Resources Control Board, the plan would redirect 30 to 50 percent of “unimpaired flows” in three San Joaquin River tributaries—the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers—in the name of increasing fish populations in the rivers. The flows plan would sharply reduce the amount of water available to irrigate crops in regions served by the rivers.

In its lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, the Farm Bureau said the flows plan would have “far-reaching environmental impacts to the agricultural landscape in the Central Valley,” and that those impacts had been “insufficiently analyzed, insufficiently avoided, and insufficiently mitigated” in the board’s final plan.Tuolumne River-Modesto Irrigation District

“The water board brushed off warnings about the significant damage its plan would cause to agricultural resources in the Central Valley, labeling it ‘unavoidable,’” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said. “But that damage can be avoided, by following a different approach that would be better for fish and people alike.”

The Farm Bureau lawsuit says the water board failed to consider reasonable alternatives to its flows-dominated approach, including non-flow measures such as predator control, food supply and habitat projects for protected fish, and said it ignored “overwhelming evidence” that ocean conditions, predation and lack of habitat—rather than river flows—have been chief contributors to reducing fish populations.

The water board’s analysis of impacts on agricultural resources “is inadequate in several respects,” the Farm Bureau said. The lawsuit says the board plan fails to appropriately analyze its impact on surface water supplies and, in turn, how cutting surface water would affect attempts to improve groundwater under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act—all of which would cause direct, indirect, and cumulative effects on agricultural resources.

“California farmland is a significant environmental resource, providing food, farm products and jobs for people throughout the state, nation and world,” Johansson said. “Before cutting water to thousands of acres of farmland for dubious benefit, the state must do more to analyze alternatives that would avoid this environmental harm.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 36,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 5.6 million Farm Bureau members.

Ag Uses Sound Science to Help Fish

Ag Collaborates to Help Endangered Fish

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Don Bransford, president of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District (GCID) as well as a member of the State Board of Food and Agriculture, expressed major concerns with the proposed State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) diversion of 40% of the water from many irrigation districts on rivers that drain into the San Joaquin River to increase flows in the Delta to protect endangered fish.

 

“It’s a very difficult challenge because it appears that the SWRCB wants to increase the flows in the Sacramento River. That water has to come from somewhere, and it looks like it’s going to come from the irrigation districts. Unless we can do environmental projects on the River to improve habitat for fish and re-manage our water, we have water at risk,” said Bransford.

Don Bransford, president, Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District
Don Bransford, president, Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District

 

Bransford, who is also a rice farmer, said “Everyone has their own science regarding protecting those species. We’re talking about salmon, steelhead trout, and of course the smelt.”

“The difficulty is, we believe they’re using a lot of old science. There is newer science that suggests there are better ways to manage this. And, if something does not work, then you change. You just don’t throw more water at it,” he noted.

“We think habitat improvements are important in providing refuge for the fish,” Bransford explained. “We’re looking at flushing rice water into the rivers to provide food. Currently, the rivers are pretty sterile because they are just channels now. If we could apply flows from rice into the rivers like we did for the Delta Smelt this summer, you’re providing food for smelt.”

Bransford noted the Northern California irrigation districts work with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to increase flows in certain areas of the Sacramento River at certain times. “Our irrigation district managers work with the Bureau to provide flushing flows on the upper Sacramento.” These flows clean out diseased gravel beds in the absence of natural high water flows.”

“So they used some extra water late March of this year,” Bransford elaborated, “to just turn the gravel over to freshen it up. It did help the fish, particularly the salmon,” said Bransford.


Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District (GCID), according to its website, is dedicated to providing reliable, affordable water supplies to its landowners and water users, while ensuring the environmental and economic viability of the region. As the largest irrigation district in the Sacramento Valley, GCID has a long history of serving farmers and the agricultural community and maintaining critical wildlife habitat. The District fulfills its mission of efficiently and effectively managing and delivering water through an ever-improving delivery system and responsible policies, while maintaining a deep commitment to sustainable practices. Looking ahead, GCID will remain focused on continuing to deliver a reliable and sustainable water supply by positioning itself to respond proactively, strategically and responsibly to California’s ever-changing water landscape.

First the Feds, Now The State Plans More Water Diversions From Farms

More Planned Water Diversions From Farms to Fish-Not Just by Federal, but Also State Officials

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), regulators and environmental organizations want more water diversions to flow into the San Francisco Bay Delta Watershed to help save the declining Delta Smelt and Salmon. They have targeted three tributaries of the lower San Joaquin River; one of which is the Tuolumne River. Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Plan is a real threat to all Modesto Irrigation District (MID) and Turlock Irrigation District (TID) customers including ag, urban water, and electric.

Coalitions for a Sustainable Delta, water diversionsMichael Boccadoro a spokesperson for the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, commented on the SWRCB: “They need to be pushed back. They need to be told no.” Boccadoro explained the water in question represents about 400,000 acre-feet taken from communities, businesses and farms. Ironically 400,000 acre-feet is roughly equivalent to the capacity of Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir (360,400 acre-feet) that funnels water, unabated, to San Francisco.

“This is only Phase One of the Boards’ decision,” said Boccadoro. “This is going to eventually encompass the Sacramento River; this is just the beginning. This isn’t by any stretch of the imagination the only potential impact agriculture would feel,” he said.

Boccadoro, like other people in the industry, cannot fathom why the SWRCB needs to take this water when it doesn’t seem to be doing anything beneficial for the endangered fish species. “This issue of continuing to take water that is providing no benefit—or no clear benefit—for fish, while we do nothing [to mitigate] the other stressors that are having a huge impact on the fish, has to stop,” Boccadoro said.

Boccadoro noted, “It looks like Governor Brown has it in for farmers. We have problems with groundwater and increasing water scarcity in the state, and the result of this [plan] would be increased groundwater pumping—until they tell us we can’t pump groundwater. At that point, they are basically telling us, ‘You can’t farm any more.'”

“It’s a huge problem, said Boccadoro. “For whatever reason, it appears that the Brown administration has declared war on California agriculture. Enough is enough. We need to push back hard against the Water Board’s decisions,” noted Boccadoro.

“This is as good a place to fight as any as I can think of,” Boccadoro explained. “We need to start the fight and continue the fight, which is the only way it’s ever going to be turned back. The regulators and environmental groups must address the other stressors [to the endangered species]. Taking water from agriculture has not corrected the problem.

In the meantime Boccadoro hopes the farmers are taking notice. “I sure hope they’re willing to come up here [to Sacramento] and demand that the state not take their water,” he said.

Breaking News: The 5 Percenters May Not Receive All of Their Water Allocation

5 Percenters and Endangered Fish May Both Lose 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Will the 5 Percenters—the Federal water users in California who were restricted by a 95% water allocation reduction this year—actually receive the promised 5% allocation? This scenario follows a more-than-average winter rainfall and snowfall throughout the state.

Ryan Jacobsenexecutive director and CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, said, “arguably it’s turned out to be much worse. Right now, for the initial 5% allocation to even be questionable right now is just absolutely insane. It all boils down to the amount of water being held up in Lake Shasta for fish purposes, which has put a major stranglehold on what’s happening down here at this point,” noted Jacobsen.

Central Valley Project (CVP) Water
Central Valley Project (CVP) Water

At Shasta Reservoir, a keystone reservoir of the Central Valley Project, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation essentially discharged flood releases earlier this year just to make room for the water that was expected to come in.  Shasta now stands at a above average full for this time of year, because the Feds are holding all the water for release for salmon later.

This is part of the plan to have cold water available to release for the salmon. And Shasta actually has 30 percent more cold water than what they thought, and water leaders are pushing hard to get the Feds to release it for agriculture.

San Luis Reservoir dead pool
San Luis Reservoir at Dead Pool Status

And San Luis Reservoir is  at a dead-pool status, which insures no more water can be sent south from that reservoirDead pool means no more water can be drawn from San Luis Reservoir, which does not bode well.

Jacobsen said, “This means our federal contractors’ 5% is in question. And that’s the irony: we were looking at such a strong year—or at least an average year [of precipitation]—and ending up now where our meager water supply is in jeopardy. This is incomprehensible and inexcusable from the federal side.”

Shasta has both federal and state water, and the federal side is essentially nothing at this point, explained Jacobsen. “Farmers rely upon San Luis Reservoir water for July and August irrigation, “and the water is essentially gone at this point,” he said. “It just shows you the major mismanagement we’re seeing from the federal side and the inability to capture water even when it is available, and not at the demise of any of these species.”

Jacobsen reiterated, “Back when the precipitation was falling [last winter], water was available at some extraordinarily high levels; yet, we never saw the increase in pumping that we would have expected under the normal conditions. “Of course, we’ve seen less pumping this year for the farmers and the cities south of the Delta,” noted Jacobsen. “During the times of the rainfall this year, it was essentially excuse, after excuse, after excuse. Some newer excuses pertained to why the pumps were not operating or operating at a very reduced capacity,” explained Jacobsen.

“The situation has been frustrating for a couple of years, but the anger continues to build because right now, this is not a ‘Mother Nature’ issue. It is completely a man-made regulatory drought that is, again, just incompetency at its best.”

“When we talk about the water stored behind Shasta [Dam] right now, really it is for the fish,” noted Jacobsen. “The most-watched fishery, at this point, is the salmon fishery. We’re in year four of this drought, but when it comes to the critical side of fish, the salmon essentially operates in three-year cycles. The last two years have been arguably two of the worst years on record for them, and this potential third year is a kind of make-it-or-break-it for salmon fisheries in the Delta region.”

Unfortunately, per Jacobsen, many decisions have been based on guesstimates. “There are a lot of folks who think we need to reserve all of this cold water for a fishery that may or may not be responding to what has been done in the past for this [contracted irrigation] water that has been given up for those purposes,” Jacobsen explained. “Right now, I think we’re doing a lot of experiments at the cost of jobs and employment, and most importantly, the farms here in the San Joaquin Valley. The frustration is that science is really not playing a big part in it. A lot of decisions are just simply, ‘We think we should be doing this versus what the science actually says we should be doing.’”

Jacobsen’s leading frustration is that all that water taken from farmers and given to fish has not helped the fish at all. In fact, the smelt and salmon numbers continue to decline. “I talk about growing frustration and anger from so many folks in the last couple of years… specifically because it hasn’t made a difference,” said Jacobsen. “An exorbitant amount of water has been given up for these fisheries, [endangered fish populations] continue to decline and crash, and as we’ve been saying for years, it is beyond time to look at just the water exporters,” he added.

Jacobsen maintains other stressors should be seriously investigated. “Many other issues taken place in the Delta should be pulled into play here, but again the regulators and the environmentalists continue to look only at the exporters as the sole issue for fish decline. There are so many other factors out there that need to be looked at,” he said.


Highly recommenced reading: “We are the 5 percenters, stretching our water supplies to get by,” by Joe Del BosqueContributing writer, The Orange County Register, July 14, 2016.

STATEMENT FROM CALIFORNIANS FOR WATER SECURITY

Californians for Water Security issued the following statement in response to the drought relief package announced today by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, and Republican Leaders Senator Bob Huff and Assembly member Kristin Olsen.

The following quote can be attributed to Robbie Hunter, President, State Building & Construction Trades Council of California:

“Today’s announcement shows the serious problems California faces in the midst of this historic and unrelenting drought. While the steps presented today would deal with the immediate drought, we also need to create long-term solutions to the systemic problems stemming from the state’s aging and sorely inadequate water distribution infrastructure. Our current system cannot accommodate the state’s current population, let alone expected increased demands of the future.

“That’s why we must move forward with implementing the plan to update and modernize California’s water distribution system through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). There’s no time to waste. This plan will help us prepare for future droughts by using the water we have more efficiently and building a modern water distribution system that allows us to better move and capture water in rainy years. It will also address the severe vulnerabilities inherent in our state’s outdated water infrastructure, including the threat of earthquakes and floods.”

The plan was drafted after nearly a decade of extensive expert review, planning and scientific and environmental analysis by the state’s leading water experts, engineers and conservationists. It is the only viable plan supported by leading scientists, water agencies, engineers and other experts.

The BDCP plan will:
– Improve the safety of our water system by fixing aging infrastructure using the most innovative technologies and engineering practices.
– Protect water supplies by delivering them through a modern water pipeline rather than relying solely on today’s deteriorating levee system.
– Build a water delivery system that is able to protect our water supplies from earthquakes, floods and natural disasters.
– Improve the ability to move water in wet years to water storage facilities throughout the state so we can capture it for use in dry years.
– Restoring habitat and more natural water flows above ground in rivers and streams in order to reduce impacts on endangered fish and other wildlife.
– Build a water system that can reliably deliver water to people and businesses, while also protecting water supplies for the environment, fish and wildlife.

About Californians for Water Security:
CWS is a new and growing coalition of residents, business leaders, labor, family farmers, local governments, water experts, environmentalists and others who support the plan to fix California’s broken water distribution system through the implementation of the BDCP, which was drafted after nearly a decade of scientific review and analysis by leading water experts and conservationists and has received input from leading scientists and engineers. The coalition is waging an active advertising, grassroots lobbying, social media and public advocacy campaign to support this important project to fix our aging water distribution infrastructure and improve water reliability and security throughout the state.

For information on Californians for Water Security, visit: www.watersecurityca.com

Zero Water for West Side Districts

The unprecedented zero water deliveries this year are extremely hard for managers of West Side Water Districts.

Martin McIntyre, General Manager of the San Luis Water District based in Los Banos, is very frustrated about keeping farming operations and employment viable with zero percent water allocation.

Martin McIntyre,
Martin McIntyre, General Manager of the San Luis Water District.

“The biggest frustration for us has been the regulations that interfere with water supply deliveries intended to protect a couple of endangered fish species. From our perspective, they are rather misguided,” said McIntyre.

A recent study by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences found that the current drought is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture. This, in conjunction with federal environmental restrictions on the state, have create some difficult situations.

“There are many causes in the decline of species, and the regulators have seized water flow as the principle cause. There is ample evidence that it’s the declining food supply and the toxic releases into the delta; but the popular, publicized notion remains that water deliveries are endangering the species, and its simply isn’t the case,” said McIntyre.

While the preservation of fish species is an admirable goal, the environmental restrictions that have been put into effect are not the most appropriate solution. Especially during a severe drought when farmers are already struggling.

“We’re allowed to take, depending on the year, approximately 300 smelt, little Minnows, at the major pumping stations that serve the lower two-thirds of the state. That’s a snack for a Striped Bass! It’s estimated that, in some reaches of the delta, 90 percent of salmon smelt are eaten by Striped Bass; and yet, regulations are putting the state’s water supply in jeopardy in a misguided effort to try to recover the species–without addressing the more fundamental problems,” said McIntyre.