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.


The President Visits CA Farmer Joe Del Bosque, Sees Drought-Ridden Farmland First-Hand


By Laurie Greene, Associate Editor


In an exclusive interview with Joe L. Del Bosque, Jr. after he and his wife, Maria Gloria Del Bosque, hosted President Obama on his farm in Merced County, Empresas Del Bosque, Inc., Del Bosque reflected on the eventful day.

Joe 1 Make Small
Governor Brown, President Obama, Joe and Maria Gloria Del Bosque


A grower of almonds, cherries, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, asparagus, and mini watermelons, Del Bosque commented, “It was such an honor to have him there, for him to fly all the way out from Washington, and drop in on our farm. We were speechless.”


“My wife was so excited and so nervous about President Obama’s visit, but I told her, “Don’t get nervous. He is coming to our place; this field is our home. We’re inviting him here, it’s a great honor, but we have an important message to tell him.”


“The privilege that we got to be the ones to tell him our story, to represent the Valley—it was just awesome,” said the down-to-earth melon farmer. “It was just awesome; I can’t describe it any other way.”


In addition to Joe and Maria Gloria Del Bosque, participants included:

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Michael Connor, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

California Governor Jerry Brown

Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer

Representative Jim Costa

Nancy McFadden, executive secretary for Gov. Brown

Ann Notthoff, Natural Resource Defense Council California Director

Mario Santoyo, California Latino Water Coalition

Martin McIntyre, San Luis Water District

Thomas Birmingham, Westlands Water District

Ronald Jacobsma, Friant Water Users

Steve Chedester, Exchange Contractors

Barry Bedwell, California Grape & Tree Fruit League

Paul Wenger, California Farm Bureau Federation

Tom Nassif, Western Growers Association

Manuel Cunha, Nisei Farmers League

Andy Souza, Fresno Community Food Bank

Arturo Rodriguez, United Farm Workers President

Gabriel Agustin, Farmworker

Janie Fleming, Ag and Industrial Supply


“And the audience was just my six daughters and their husbands.”


“I know that California is very complicated,” said Del Bosque; “water is very complicated in California. “ I hope they did get the message; it is not easy to understand. But we have some very capable agricultural leaders there who all contributed to this event.”


“I think they got a crash course in California water and Ag,” reflected Del Bosque. “One important thing I came away with is the President said that California is very important to the nation, Ag in particular. I think he has a great awareness and respect for what we do for the country in agriculture here.”

“He certainly mentioned that he and his wife, Michelle, are into eating healthy food,” Del Bosque commented, “and I told him that we don’t just grow food in California; we grow healthy food. And I think he took that with him.”


Joe 5

The President’s trip was brief and very structured, but at one point, Del Bosque and Maria Gloria were invited to join the President and the Governor in the presidential Suburban. “It was a short ride, probably less than 10 minutes. But we got to chat there. It was great: that one-on-one conversation, sitting face-to-face, and the governor there, listening. The President asked me about my life, so I told him a little bit about it. And he mentioned that during the press conference in the field.”

In his speech, President Obama remarked that Joe told him there are three things that make farming work California: soil, water, and people.


“I think the President understands,” continued Del Bosque. “He heard the message of what the potential losses are from some of our agricultural leaders. And I even mentioned that there are far-reaching losses—not just the loss of the communities, the jobs—but loss of food too.”


“The President heard a lot of things; whether they all registered and how well he understood it is hard to say,” Del Bosque remarked. “Because a lot of times, when people come from the city to the country, they don’t know what they are seeing, and sometimes they don’t know the language that we tell them. For instance, President Obama made a mistake in his speech: instead of saying “aqueduct”, he said “aquifer”.

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Joe Del Bosque


“So, when people come from the city like that, you don’t know whether they are really understanding it. I’m hoping he did, but certainly we are going to keep after this, pursue this, to make sure that he understood.”


Del Bosque also thinks this event puts a great deal of pressure on the Governor to do something.


Del Bosque gave careful thought to his own role, “I always try to bring up the impact on farmers and farmworkers because I feel that I don’t just represent farmers; I represent farmworkers and the communities, so that’s what I bring to the table.


“I don’t try to propose solutions. That is for the water guys; they know those things. My job is to say, ‘What is the effect on the Valley and communities?’ So, I always try to bring that approach.”


Del Bosque summed it up, “It was such a great experience today and for the whole week because I was involved in the preparations since last Saturday.”


So, quite an experience!”