Senator Melissa Hurtado Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Fix Friant-Kern Canal
State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), representing the 14th Senate District in California, along with principal co-authors Senator Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno), Assemblymember Devon Mathis (R-Visalia), Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), and Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), announced last week the introduction of Senate Bill 559. The bipartisan-supported legislation will secure California’s water supply by investing $400 million in general funds towards the Friant-Kern Canal, one of the Central Valley’s most critical water delivery facilities.
Currently, the Friant-Kern Canal’s conveyance capacity has degraded due to several factors, including severe land subsidence caused by regional groundwater overdraft. A portion of the canal, roughly 20 miles long, has subsided twelve feet below its original design elevation, including three feet of subsidence from 2014 to 2017. As a result, the canal has suffered the loss of 60 percent of its carrying capacity—constricting the delivery of water to some of California’s most vulnerable communities.
“From 2012 to 2016, California experienced one of the most severe drought conditions. As a result, many of our farmers, families and entire communities within the Central Valley continue to experience limited access to one of their most fundamental rights—clean water,” Hurtado said.
“The Valley’s socioeconomic health depends on the conveyance of clean and safe water. Not only does this canal support nearly 1.2 million acres of family farms in California, but it provides one in every five jobs directly related to agriculture,” Hurtado continued. “For this reason, I am proud to stand with my colleagues to introduce SB 559. This legislation prioritizes our most disadvantage communities by restoring water supply in the Central Valley.”
“The Friant-Kern Canal has lost 60 percent of its carrying capacity in some locations. This problem threatens about 350,000 acres of highly productive farmland below the damaged portion of the canal, and also limit opportunities to maximize groundwater recharge projects that will be very important to helping the Valley comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” said Jason Phillips, CEO of the Friant Water Authority. “On behalf of the farmers, businesses, and communities who rely on the Friant-Kern Canal, we very much appreciate Senator Hurtado’s leadership on this legislation.”
“Today, we are fighting for the future of the Central Valley, and I am pleased to join my colleagues in this bipartisan effort and support funding for the Friant-Kern Canal,” Borgeas said. “Valley farmers and our communities depend on this infrastructure to ensure a reliable supply of water. By restoring the canal to its fully operational state, we ensure the delivery of clean and reliable water supply to our communities and farmers. This investment in our water infrastructure is long overdue and critical for our valley.”
“California faces a stark reality when it comes to water,” Arambula said. “Scarce water supplies, aging infrastructure and a growing population are some of the stressors on our state’s water system. That is why we need real-time solutions to our long-term water challenges. Restoring the Friant-Kern Water Canal will help us protect our existing water supply while we work on reaching sustainable solutions that will get water out to our communities.”
“SB 559 is crucial to keep the Friant-Kern Canal, the largest artery for water on the east side of the Valley, afloat. This measure is extremely important to keep this economic engine which powers our economy and provides tremendous benefit locally, statewide and even nationally. Failing to fix the Friant-Kern Canal is not an option, simply because having water is never an option. I am proud to coauthor this measure with Senator Hurtado and look forward to bringing this funding to the Valley,” Mathis said.
“Water is the lifeblood of the Valley and the backbone of California’s economy. Senate Bill 559 is a step towards bringing the Friant-Kern Canal to its full capacity and addressing the State’s critical water needs. This measure will invest in our future by building water infrastructure projects and helping our local water districts fulfill their sustainable groundwater management plans,” Salas said.
“On behalf of the City of Porterville, I am very appreciative of our leaders’ efforts and support by introducing SB 559,” said Porterville Mayor Martha Flores.
“The Friant-Kern Canal is the lifeblood to the southeastern San Joaquin Valley, and the canal being fully-efficient with the ability to carry surface water to its designed capacity is essential, especially in consideration of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” Flores continued. “The Friant-Kern Canal plays a valuable strategic role in the sustainability of Porterville as the city seeks to enhance its surface water recharge program and reduce its groundwater footprint.”
California Proposition 3, the Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative, will be on the 2018 ballot. A yes vote supports the measure to authorize $8.8 billion in general obligation bonds for water infrastructure, groundwater supplies and storage, surface water storage and dam repairs, watershed and fisheries improvements, and habitat protection and restoration.
If passed, the bonds will help fix subsidence issues and the Friant Kern canal. If passed, this bond is sure to go to fixing things instead of being taken hostage by the California Water Commission and not used as it was intended.
Jason Phillips, CEO of the Friant Water Users Authority, which operates the Federal Friant Kern canal said, “It is real money that will be used. And I think what California will realize is that there’s a real need for that, and when you look at the size of California and the fact that the bond will fund projects that go from as far down as San Diego and the Salton Sea, and as far north to support the repairs needed Oroville Dam, it’s a 100 percent bond that would fund it, no reimbursement required, and the money would come straight to the Friant Water Authority to be used immediately.”
“We’ve already worked with Department of Water Resources to make sure that when the bond passes, we could start submitting requests for some of that funding immediately to start working on the canal in November 2018,” he said.
The subsidence along the canal is a big problem, and it’s growing. The worst part of it is in the middle of the 152-mile canal. The capacity of the canal has been reduced by about 60 percent, and that causes significant problems when there’s high demand, such as the middle of summer when the farmers need the water to put on their crops.
“It’s in the middle of summer, everybody’s asked for water, and we’re not able to move everything, so we have to turn people down and so what do they do? They have to turn on groundwater wells to supplement, and that is the problem that is causing more subsidence and right now,” Phillips explained.
Phillips said the canal, at it’s worse spot is, is sinking at about an inch a month.
Jason Phillips on Groundwater Recharge, Water Bond, and Subsidence
Editor’s Note: Jason Phillips is the CEO of the Friant Water Authority, as well as a member of the Board of Directors with the San Joaquin Water Infrastructure Authority (SJWIA), which is behind the building of Temperance Flat Dam. Editor Patrick Cavanaugh sat down with Jason Phillips, and this interview reflects the topics discussed.
Cavanaugh: The California Water Commission rejected all of the storage proposals for Prop 1 money due to all applicants not showing enough in the public benefit ratio. They have all appealed to the Commission, and their decision will be at the end of July. It’s extraordinary that the California Water Commission does not see groundwater recharge as a public benefit.
Phillips: The law was written in such a way that groundwater recharge, which is what we desperately need, is not considered a public benefit. But I must say that the SJWIA team putting together the application did a great job of using water out of Temperance for multiple benefits, including salmon and keeping water in the valley for groundwater recharge, and I hope the Water Commission can see that.
Cavanaugh: The Commission requires a 1:1 ratio, meaning for every $1 spent on the project, it must benefit the public by $1. Temperance Flat Dam was shown that for each $1 spent, it would give back $3.
Phillips: That’s right, and that’s what is necessary. Anybody who looks into what salmon requires surviving—well, it’s cold water. So the ability to generate more cold water in the upper San Joaquin River is nearly impossible. So if you can get a new reservoir over 600 feet high and have a cold water pool, that would provide a benefit. And that’s what the consultant looked at. The commission in their initial analysis assigned zero benefits to salmon, so that’s why we got such a low score.
But if you look at alternatives to trying to provide that salmon benefit in the river, there aren’t a lot of other options, which is why it’s such a significant benefit for Temperance. And again, it’s not sending the water out of the valley by sending it to the San Joaquin River and recirculating it back to growers and cities … so that we can get the groundwater recharge.
Cavanaugh: Of course, Temperance Flat Dam will triple the current storage of Millerton Lake, and a significant benefit will be groundwater storage?
Phillips: It would almost exclusively help groundwater storage because the surface supplies that are generated in Temperance would be used to supplement what’s being pumped, so people can put that water in groundwater recharge basins or they’re able to use the water and not have their groundwater pumps running. That is the absolute best form of recharging, is somewhat able to shut their groundwater pump off, have a delivery of surface water instead of that, and let the natural recharge take place.
Cavanaugh: Let’s talk about the new $8.9 billion water bond that will be on the November 2018 ballot and written by Jerry Merel, a former deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources and a longtime water-project advocate.
Phillips: About 18 months, Jerry had a conversation with me about what would the San Joaquin Valley need in a water bond to help get it out of the problem that … it’s in with groundwater overdraft? And recognizing that Prop 1 was the state’s path for Temperance Flat and that there’s a different path for the tunnels, north of the Delta. So those two are not part of this November 2018 bond.
And I told Dr. Merel at the time that we needed to fix our canal system. We have to be able to move water when it’s available to the growers, into the cities, and never miss a drop of available surface water. And to do that, we have to fix the Friant–Kern canal and the Madera canal. We have to expand the conveyance between the existing canals. And he thought that was a great idea. It’s something that should have broad statewide support. It has support from conservation groups up and down the valley.
Cavanaugh: Is this specifically for canal infrastructure repair?
Phillips: It is specifically for infrastructure for conveyance projects that would help recharge the groundwater aquifer.
Cavanaugh: The $9 Billion has a lot of water for all regions of state?
Phillips: it’s broader than just infrastructure. It targets the different regions of the state for what they need most. Recycling and desalination are huge for the southern California coastal community. So it targets cost sharing money there. If you go to northern California, there are things that Sacramento rice growers really need to support their water needs. In the central valley, it’s more water infrastructure for conveyance that can complement new storage and water conveyance in the Delta. It also includes a lot of money to help the groundwater sustainability agencies fund their plans that are required under the groundwater law.
Cavanaugh: Prop 1 was $2.7 billion, and this one is nearly $9 billion.
Phillips: That is… it is real money. And I think what California will realize is that there’s a real need for that. And when you look at the size of California, and it’s projected that the bond money will be used as far south as San Diego and the Salton Sea and as far north for repairs at Oroville.
When you look at the scope of the state of California … you see that the need is much bigger than that, when it comes to the state’s water infrastructure.
And regarding the $2.7 for storage—on top of that, the projects will require substantial private investment. And we are all looking at that, and I think there’s a lot of interest. There’s still a need for more storage to the extent that even the water agencies themselves and the growers that are part of those agencies are willing to fund. And we’re still looking at whether the state or federal governments will help cost share it.
Cavanaugh: if the California Water Commission never funds Temperance Flat, is it possible to get it privately funded?
Phillips: Friant Water Authority and other water agencies in the valley are actively and aggressively looking at that right now, doing our feasibility studies to look at whether privately financing the reservoir would make sense. I think it probably will, but it’s a very complicated analysis that we have to do. So by the end of the summer, we’ll hear from the Water Commission, and we should know more about the feasibility of private financing will be available.
Cavanaugh: Regarding the Jerry Merel water bond, where can people go to get more information?
Phillips: People can go to waterbond.org. You can see whether you want to look at it in one page or whether you want to look at the actual text of the bond. It’s straightforward on that website.
Cavanaugh: From where would the investment for the new water bond come?
Phillips: It will all be state dollars and depending on the different categories of where the funding goes. Some of it is for cost-shared work, in the San Joaquin Valley on infrastructure, where it would 100 percent bond funded. No reimbursement required and the money would come straight to the Friant Water Authority for immediate use. We’ve already worked with Department of Water Resources to make sure that, that when the bond passes, we could start submitting requests for some of that funding immediately to begin working on the canal, as early as November 2018.
Cavanaugh: How bad is the subsidence along the Friant Kern Canal?
Phillips: It’s a big problem, and it’s growing. The worst part of it is near the middle of the 152-mile canal, where it has subsided three feet and continues to subside. That subsidence is since 2015. The capacity of the canal has been reduced by about 60%, due to subsidence.
To pass the same amount of flow through that section, the elevation of the water in the canal is very near the top of the canal. And five bridges are impacted by that section where the water comes right up to the bridge, and we’re only at 40 percent of the design capacity there.
Building Above Ground Water Storage Enables Groundwater Recharge
By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor
Dramatically helping to recharge groundwater storage is one of the major benefits of the proposal to build Temperance Flat Dam behind Friant Dam, located to the north and east of Fresno. The new dam would triple the storage that is currently available with Friant Dam. Mario Santoyo, the executive director of the San Joaquin Water Authority, is helping the organization prepare the package to submit to the Water Commission by the August 14 deadline.
“We will be making timed releases to various water districts and amenities that will have groundwater recharging basins,” Santoyo said. “First, we need storage and then some time to move above ground water to underground storage. This is a physics necessity and directly counters those who argue we should not build above ground infrastructure if we need only underground storage. Well, if you don’t have above ground water storage, you ain’t putting any below. It is as simple as that.”
“There are two water conveyances from Friant and [the proposed] Temperance Flat Dams: the Friant-Kern Canal – the longest of the two primary canals – and the Madera Canal. Friant moves water south to Bakersfield, and Madera conveys it north to Chowchilla.”
“We will have one of the strongest applications to receive monies,” said Santoyo, assuring that the water authority will receive the package on time.
Now this is important,” Santoyo stressed. “A new video, ‘Build Temperance Flat,’ is now on YouTube. The video aims to educate Californians on the importance of building Temperance Flat Dam.” Santoyo urges those who are on social media to send the URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f30o_dQNmn8 “to as many people as you can!”
Temperance Flat is a Sure Way to Improve California’s Water Infrastructure
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Mario Santoyo is the Executive Director for the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority. He spoke to California Ag Today about Temperance Flat, a proposal supported by the Joint Powers of Authority composed of five counties: Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kings County. In addition to those counties, there are representatives from the eastern side cities, (Orange Cove) and western side cities, (Avenal)
“We also have water agencies, such as the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors,” Santoyo said. “The JPA is also in the process of dealing with membership requests by Friant Water Authority and the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority.”
“You can see we’ve got a pretty elaborate team as far as the authority,” Santoyo said. “It was put together in order to pursue funding opportunities both by the state of California and the federal government to build revenue leading towards the construction of the Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir project, which will be located just north of Friant Dam on Millerton Lake, and actually would be built in Millerton Lake … expanding that reservoir.”
The five counties got together on this because they understand fully the importance of creating a more reliable water supply for the area. Santoyo said, “It was proven to be a problem when we had the five-year drought and the Valley had to exercise its groundwater pumping, which plummeted the groundwater levels so much that … it actually resulted in what is now the Groundwater Sustainability Law.”
“So there’s no question this project is greatly needed, and the irony is that this year, coming out of a five-year drought, we’ve got high runoff, and the Bureau of Reclamation had to make flood releases in order to not exceed the capacity at Friant Dam/Millerton Lake,” Santoyo explained. “We fully expect that they will have made up to 2.5 million acre feet of releases down the river to the ocean. Then if you stop and think about what that means, it basically you could roughly say it’s about two years’ worth of water supply for the eastern side of the Valley.”
“There are those who would argue that we would never fill up the Temperance Flat Reservoir,” Santoyo said. “Well, not only have we done it twice this year, we also have a history—a long history—of this … [being] the common scenario.”
When there is high runoff water, it doesn’t come in little bits, it comes in huge amounts. “I think we looked at the record, and 50% of the time that we have high runoff, we usually have to make flood releases in excess of one million acre feet, so that’s why the size that was determined for Temperance Flat was just a little bit over a million acre feet,” Santoyo said.
“Now having that, it’s actually 1.2 million acre feet that it adds to the system. When you add it to … the balance of what’s left with the original, we’re close to 1.8 million acre feet,” Santoyo said.
“It will triple the capacity of Millerton, ensuring that for the future, that [there is] a chance to maximize the available water supply for the cities, for the farms, and most importantly, to recharge the groundwater and put us back into a level that we’re stable and that residents, farmers and others can use that groundwater and not be restricted by the new groundwater sustainability laws,” said Santoyo, adding, “If we don’t solve that problem, the world is going to change dramatically for our farmers, number one, and it will have an immediate effect also on our cities.”
Santoyo describes the recharge opportunities. “What we’ll be doing is with Temperance Flat, we will be making timed releases to various water districts and entities that will have groundwater recharging basins, and they will be syncing it, but you need time,” he said.
“You need storage, and you need time to be able to move water from above ground to below ground. That’s just a physical necessity, and that’s part of the argument against those that argue, ‘Don’t build above, you only need below.’ Well, if you don’t have water above, you aren’t putting it below. It’s just as simple as that,” Santoyo explained.
Temperance Flat would be ideal for the state of California. “The Friant-Kern Canal is the longest of the two primary canals. The other one is the Madera Canal. The Madera moves it north to Chowchilla. The Friant moves it south to Bakersfield, so yeah, those are the primary conveyance systems for farmers and cities,” he said.
Recently a video that educates the public on the value of Temperance Flat, released on YouTube called Build Temperance Flat. We ask all who are active on social media to grab a link of the video and post it on Facebook and Twitter as well as other social media platforms.
Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director of the California Water Alliance (CalWA or “Alliance”), described the Alliance’s California water ballot initiative to California Ag Today’s farm news director, Patrick Cavanaugh. If passed by the voters, the measure, which rests in the hands of California Attorney General Kamala Harris to approve it for inclusion on the state’s November 2016 ballot, would strikingly change the water horizon for California. The initiative prioritizes all water to go to citizens of California and then to farms, before it reaches the environment. It combines $8 billion from the high-speed rail project funding with the $2.7 billon approved in November 2014 for water storage projects.
CalWA, a non-profit advocacy and education organization that is dedicated to raising awareness about the nature of water, advocates for the short- and long-term, sustainable policy and infrastructure positions that meet the need for safe, reliable and affordable water by the people, cities, businesses, farms and environment in California.
Cavanaugh: You have created a California water ballot initiative that, hopefully, will appear on the November 2016 ballot.
Bettencourt: Yes. It’s known as “California Water 4 All,” and it is really quite simple. After the Water Bond of 2014 passed, the California Water Commission—the fund administrators entrusted with the $2.7 billion allocated for water storage—placed other stipulations on that funding.
For instance, 50% of the water had to go to the environment and 50% had to directly benefit the Delta. Furthermore, the Commission would not release project funds prior to December 2016, so even though voters allocated funding and were promised water storage, construction was not to start for a long time. All these stipulations on the California Water Commission, through no fault of their own, actually challenged and limited the availability of regional water projects.
Then, when the Commission started to monitor both its funding and its responsibility over that funding—which we don’t blame them for, whatsoever—a lot of organizations that had opposed the Water Bond in 2014 for creating new water storage, suddenly started soliciting the Commission with letters saying, “You don’t have to define that water storage component as traditional water storage. You can open up that funding and grant it to anything else. You don’t have to use it for new water.”
We, as an organization, filed a number of letters in response and actually brought it to [the press], “Hey, they are trying to gut this tiny sliver of funding that was allocated in this program voted on by the people of California as a promise to create new water for us in this drought.” And also, “$2.7 billion would maybe build one and one half projects in California.”
We all know our water infrastructure is 60 years out-of-date, and it cannot keep it up with the needs of the environmental community, the government community, the agricultural community, and the urban community. You will hear everyone say that our infrastructure is so out-of-date that it can’t even keep up with the number of people we have or the amount of priorities we have set. Take a look at how various environmental projects end up competing against each other; a good example is when all of this came to light in the 2014 water bond fight.
Look at this year alone; there wasn’t enough water in storage and there wasn’t enough water available anywhere, so state policymakers had to decide between species. Which species were going to live? Which species were going to die? Why? ’Because there wasn’t enough water for all of them.
There are wetlands in Los Banos that never got water. The creatures and animals and species that are dependent on that habitat and viable property for their existence, did not get that opportunity. Why? ’Because an environmental project and species upstream took higher priority. There is not enough water to go around for all of the water users.
Cavanaugh: So what was the thought process behind combining the approved public funding of the high-speed rail project with the approved Water Bond funding?
Bettencourt: We are very connected to our community. We have always heard, “Well what if we could just change the priorities?” So we thought, “What if we could just take that money being used for high-speed rail and use it for water storage?”
Finally, our conversation with a number of our members and board transitioned to, “Well, what if? What would that look like?” Nobody had really looked into it. So our board decided to really invest into what that would look like. Could it be done? We were always told it couldn’t from a practical standpoint or even from a legal standpoint. We spent some time and resources looking into “What if” with some great legal minds in Sacramento.
We spoke with other organizations and people, especially those who had been involved in the rail and transportation side of this equation longer than we had—Citizens for High Speed Rail Accountability, most notably. We started pooling our resources into this inquiry, and sure enough, we found out it could be done.
Cavanaugh: And if the initiative were allowed on the ballot, it would be up to the voters to decide?
Bettencourt: Yes, it would. So, as we looked at it, we figured it was really quite remarkably elegant to reprioritize. And really, the theme of this ballot initiative is priorities. It is about getting our priorities in this state in the right order again and letting the public direct our elected officials with those decisions.
This ballot initiative takes the unissued bond funding from the high-speed rail project, which is about $8 billion, plus the $2.7 billion in water storage money from the 2014 Water Bond, and pools it in a new locked fund. The reason we did that is, quite frankly, “Why would we have two pots of money going toward the same thing?” It all needs to go into this new locked fund with the sole purpose of expanding the supply of new water for the state of California.
That fund can’t be borrowed against, pulled away from or pirated. The only way to change that funding would be to go back to the ballot and get the voters’ approval to move that funding around again.
An elected board would administer the locked fund.
Cavanaugh: ’Not the Water Commission?
Bettencourt: ’Not the Water Commission, nor appointed body at the state level, not even a legislative body. The board would be elected members from each of the water management districts. So, people from your community who have expertise and experience in water in their own region administer this fund that will benefit the entire state. Everybody gets a vote. You don’t have one region of the state having more of a vote than another region of the state; that is not what happens here. Everybody has a vote, and there is one at-large member that everyone in the state gets to vote on.
Cavanaugh: What about the Bay Area, and Los Angeles?
Bettencourt: ’Equal Players. Each of the regions has a representative on the board.
Cavanaugh: They only get one vote?
Bettencourt: That’s right. So, in that structure, the funding is used fairly for the whole state. That is the long-term infrastructure portion of the proposed initiative.
We always talk about how the water crisis in California has two problems. One is an infrastructure problem, and, two: we have a management crisis. We don’t have set rules and regulations for where our water goes and how.
Cavanaugh: Can you elaborate?
Bettencourt: A good example is our own governor is saying he doesn’t have a plan for getting us out of this, and we don’t know what will happen when it starts raining. We don’t know how the system is supposed to be operated. There are no guidelines on the books anywhere right now. And in this time of drought, where you have low supply, you are seeing regulators making ad-hoc decisions. Well, there are no rules and there are no first, second, and last priorities. They are making decisions on a case-by-case basis, and that is no way to solve this.
We address the long-term shortage by expanding our water supply with more storage. Expanding the water supply for everyone increases the flexibility of our system, overall, for the environment, for agriculture, and for the communities of our state.
Cavanaugh: Is a constitutional amendment part of the initiative?
Bettencourt: The theme of this ballot is to get our priorities straight. We are taking what is already in the California Water Code that was passed in 1928. The people of California said, “This is the way we want our water used and in this priority,” and it was put in the California Water Code. Since then it has been subjectively adhered to.
But we take what was in the California Water Code—the intention of the people of California—put it into the State Constitution. And we say, “Reasonable and beneficial use of water is for people, food security, irrigation; and then everything else.” And we define what that is.
It is very simple. It is nothing new. It is already out there; but what is so important is that it addresses theimmediate, and it instantly hands down the guidelines:
So, this is how we operate the system.
This is how we make these decisions.
These are the rules and orders of operation.
This is how we get ourselves out of the drought.
This is how we get our system back up and running. This is how you address the short-term: by setting the priorities, making them clear, providing guidelines to the regulators so they can do their jobs on behalf of the people of California to get us out of this drought and protect us from future droughts. From an operational standpoint, this provides the certainty we need in our water supply that we just don’t have. Also, when you expand supply for everybody, you gain back flexibility in the system.
Cavanaugh: That’s great, because as we know, the proposed Temperance Flat Reservoir can move water North or South and really help out if a seismic event were to occur in the Delta. How do we get around the Environmental Species Act (ESA) rules that affect the Delta?
Bettencourt: That is all federal, and this initiative does not address federal law. This is purely California-only. However, I think, should this measure pass, it would bump against the federal statute from an infrastructure standpoint because California pays for half the cost of an infrastructure project and from an operations standpoint as well. How would the federal regulatory system affect this California measure, should it pass? A new dialogue with the federal government would have to ensue after state voters adjust the priorities for our water supply.
Cavanaugh: So “California Water 4 All” is going to address water infrastructure. Of course, you can leave the whole ESA out of the conversation. So are building dams beyond Temperance, plus the Cross-Valley Canal the top priorities?
Bettencourt: Yes, we outline four specific projects within the infrastructure component of this initiative: Temperance Flat and Sites are the two darlings of the recent new water projects. In addition, we outline raising both Shasta and San Luis, which would minimally impact the environment and maximally impact water supply. The cost is low because while you are building on existing infrastructure and having less impact on the space you are taking up, you end up capturing more water utilizing existing footprints, which is great.
So we outline those four specific projects, which leaves almost $5.5 billion for additional regional water projects with the stipulation of creating new water. One good example is our partners in the Southland have a mandate from both the state and federal governments to capture and use storm runoff, but they don’t have the mechanisms to do that.
This ballot initiative could help them capture and store rain runoff in Southern California, which would provide more local regional water and increase flexibility to move water around the state north of them. So it is all about capturing more water and expanding supply, so we have more supply to go around.
Cavanaugh: It appears the best part of this initiative is that it benefits everyone in the state.
Bettencourt: Absolutely, and that was important to us when we crafted this initiative, that it couldn’t be so tight. This proposal really does benefit the entire state, not only from the macro-economic standpoint, such as new reservoirs; we are talking about groundwater recharge, storm water runoff, water recycling, desal, all of these projects would have a nice pot of money with the explicit direction of creating new water supply. And the best part about this entire initiative is it doesn’t cost anybody anything.
Cavanaugh: That must ring very nicely up there in Sacramento.
Bettencourt: It does. There is no new burden on the taxpayers; these are dollars that already been approved of by the voters. The only thing we are doing is reprioritizing. It is no different than if you are at home considering, “Well, I’d really like that new pair of shoes, but I have a leaky toilet I must fix. I’m going to take that money and say, “The shoes are great. I love the shoes. They get me to where I want to go, but the toilet is kind of mandatory right now. It is the only one in the house and that’s that priority.”
We have only one water supply, and transportation is absolutely important…
Cavanaugh: You are talking about the health and safety of the state—not just drinking water—but health and safety.
Bettencourt: The health and safety of our state and its environment are absolutely important. We were talking about this as a team, and someone on the team said, “This is about survival. In order to survive, you need to know what your need and use priorities are.”
California voters have made priorities of water need and use very clear, and it is time that we put that first so we can afford everything else. This is a great state and our organization always advocates from the position of, “We should be able to BE the Golden State and grow and revolutionize going forward over the next century. And that will happen if we get up to speed and have our priorities straight to meet and provide the most basic needs of the innovators and doers of California.
So we have written the initiative; that was a heavy lift. Then we found two great proponents in California State Senator George Runner, Vice Chair of the Board of Equalization, and California State Senator Bob Huff to act as our submitting proponents. We, at CalWA, are the sponsoring organization, and we have submitted the package to Attorney General Harris.
Now the Attorney General has 50 days from November 13, 2015 to say, “Yes this can go on the ballot,” and to return it with a suggested title and ballot summary or how it will appear on the ballot to be read by the voter.
We have also held required meetings with the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which score the ballot measure’s costs to the taxpayer. The costs will be budget neutral because there are no new funds. So, after 50 days, we will know whether or not we will be permitted to qualify for the ballot. We are hoping we will be, at which point we would have until April 16 to get 900,000 signatures of California voters to qualify automatically.
Cavanaugh: April 16 is not a lot of time before the election.
Bettencourt: That’s right. So everyone with a ballot initiative has to follow these rules: 50 days then hit the streets and get the signatures. This is the campaign mode so voters can make this decision in November 2016.
Cavanaugh: Do you anticipate any lobbying from Attorney General Kamala Harris’s office?
Bettencourt: No, It’s strictly in Kamala Harris’s hands on this one. We are permitted to suggest our own title and summary, but the decision will come from her office. I think over 100 ballot initiatives have been submitted.
Our biggest concern is that someone will say there are too many initiatives. Secondly, how do we stand out among so many other ballot initiatives?
Cavanaugh: How do we ensure this initiative stands out? It is going to be competing for attention in a presidential election year, as well as a big election year in the state, so it is no easy undertaking.
Bettencourt: The feedback we are getting is voters want to make this decision. They want to say, “Yep, we are changing priorities, not that we think certain projects are not important. We believe certain projects are more important than others at a given point in time.”
Cavanaugh: Doesn’t it seem like the best time to do it? A poll of California citizens shows they are concerned. The top priority, behind jobs, is water availability.
Bettencourt: Yes, the Public Policy Institute of California’s polls over the last year support that. And I think the Hoover Institute conducted an independent survey of California voters at the beginning of last year, ranking the top 36 priorities of the state: number 36 was high-speed rail and number 2 was water. So the California public is stating, “This is our priority now.” We want to make sure we give the voters of California an official opportunity to say that.
Cavanaugh: While we wait for the Attorney General’s approval or disapproval, where can we get more information on California Water 4 All?
Bettencourt: Visit our website: CAWater4All.com. There you will find the language of the ballot initiative. You’ll be able to read the legalese, first-hand. It is about 25 pages—could be worse; could be better.
We worked really hard to make that tight. You’ll also find summaries of the initiative, how it benefits the environment, what the facts are on high-speed rail and why all of a sudden we think high-speed rail needs to be a different priority at this point. What are the facts on water supply and where are we on our storage? Where are we regarding the competing mandates on our existing supply? Why are changes in direction and priority needed? We must create certainty in our water supply so we can get out of this drought and we need to know how to handle the next one when it comes.
Cavanaugh: Comment on your outreach for people to connect with you on the website to increase voter awareness of what’s going on.
Bettencourt: We are setting up this campaign to be as interactive with constituents as possible. Right now during the 50-day period, there is not much to do besides staying connected with us. We’ll be communicating on a weekly basis, if not more often. We’ll share not only what are other people saying about the initiative, but also where we are in the process: when it is time to sign up, to volunteer and to help us gather these signatures and where to get them.
If you visit the website, CAWater4all.com, you’ll can register with your email, your cell phone if you choose, and your zip code so we know your location in the state. You’ll be able to stay connected with us on next steps in the process and be active with us as well. There is also a donation page. This ambitious endeavor is going to take time, treasure and talent, so we need all the help we can get.
Cavanaugh: Once on the ballot, what do you envision initiative cost will be?
Bettencourt: The rule of thumb for an average statewide campaign in California when we took this on was $10 million, and that is the operating budget we are thinking about here. So, this is going to take little donations and big donations. But more importantly, this is going to take spreading the word, so we really encourage people to get connected.
Cavanaugh: Other social media?
Bettencourt: All social media: @cawater4all on on Twitter and cawater4all on Facebook as well.
California Citrus Mutual (CCM) will directly contribute $150,000 to the campaign to pass Proposition 1, the water bond measure.
The CCM Board of Directors voted unanimously to support the measure in order to secure a reliable and sustainable water supply for California agriculture and communities across the state.
“We are in a state of unprecedented crisis in terms of water supply,” says CCM President Joel Nelsen. “CCM worked closely with members of the legislature to create a long term solution path for the State’s water infrastructure and sustainability needs. It is essential to the future of agriculture in California that voters approve Proposition 1 this November.”
Proposition 1 includes $2.7 billion to build additional water storage that will alleviate pressure upon Millerton Reservoir and water users on the Friant-Kern Canal in critical drought years such as this. Approximately 58% of U.S. fresh citrus is grown by farmers in the Friant service area who received zero surface water allocation from the Central Valley Project for the first time in the project’s history this year.
“CCM’s contribution of $150,000 is an investment in our future, and the future of California,” says CCM Board Chairman Kevin Severns. “It is critical that voters understand the importance of the issue and vote to pass Proposition 1.”
Additionally, CCM has committed $50,000 to the “El Agua es Asunto de Todos” (Water is Everybody’s Business) outreach campaign to raise awareness among the Latino community about the importance of a reliable water supply for California’s economy and jobs.
“CCM is proud to support the ‘El Augua’ campaign in its effort to empower the Latino community to support policy that creates water for California,” concludes Nelsen.
Late last week, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that rain and snow storms in February and March have allowed an increase of water contract allocations for State Water Project deliveries from zero to five percent.
Although this appears to have been positive news for agricultural interests in the San Joaquin Valley, it is far from it. The DWR announcement went on to state that the precipitation from these recent storms eliminates the need for rock barriers to be constructed in the Delta. This means that the increase in water deliveries will be flushed into the ocean in order to protect fish species and prevent saltwater intrusion in the Delta. San Joaquin Valley agriculture remains at zero percent allocation.
Approximately 75% of the California citrus crop is produced in Tulare, Kern, and Fresno Counties. A majority of this acreage relies on surface water from the Friant-Kern Canal. DWR’s delivery increase does nothing to reduce the pressure on the Friant from exchange contractors who would otherwise receive their water via the State Water Project.
Earlier this month, the DWR and State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) released a 168-page document they refer to as the “plan.” However, the plan does not refer once to the people or the economy that will be impacted by zero water allocation to agriculture. The word “farmer”, or “agriculture”, appears once. The word “fish” is stated 328 times.
“Friday’s announcement was made with much fanfare and yet the decision completely ignores the East side of the San Joaquin Valley, and even stipulates that we are not important,” says CCM President Joel Nelsen.
The photo above depicts “petal fall” and the first life stages of an orange, when the blooms have fallen. It is at this critical point of the growing season, when we enter into the hottest months of the year, that sufficient water is available for the cultivation of the crop.
California is the Nation’s number one supplier of fresh citrus. “Our Valley is the number supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables and yet that does not enter into the equation for water needs,” continues Nelsen. “What ever happened to the goal of providing a bountiful array of fresh produce at affordable prices?”
The Friant-Kern Canal needs at least 200,000 acre-feet to remain functioning. The decision not to release sufficient water to the State Water Project guarantees that exchange contractors will call upon their first rights to water supplies in Millerton Lake and reduce the amount that would otherwise flow to the Friant-Kern Canal. This decision is forcing growers to make their own decision – between pushing out trees and holding out for water that may come too late, or not at all. Over 50,000 acres of citrus in the San Joaquin Valley is at risk. But, it is not just trees that will be pushed if Friant does not receive water – jobs will be pushed, people will be pushed, and the economy will surely suffer.
“I continue to be mystified by the announcement last Friday and the inconsistencies it presents,” says Nelsen. “The announcement on Friday and previous announcements all state that the public should strive to conserve at least 20% of their normal water use. Yet the producers I represent, and for that matter all producers on the Eastside of the San Joaquin Valley, are being told to give up 100% of their water. In fact, those in the Friant Service area are the only contractors being asked to give up 100% of their water.”
This situation is real and devastating for many family citrus farmers. Here are a just a few growers who are facing zero water allocations.
These growers, and others, will be available for interviews tomorrow, April 23rd at 2:00 p.m. at the Lamp Liter Inn in Visalia. Please provide advanced notice to Alyssa Houtby, 559-737-8899 if you plan to attend.
Andrew Brown, a fourth generation citrus grower in the Orange Cove, Orosi/Cutler area works alongside his father and brothers on his family’s farm. Andrew has known since college he would follow in his father’s footsteps and return to faming because it is a rewarding business mentally, spiritually, financially. Now he has his own ranch where, one day, his two young children want to be second generation farmers.
Gus Carranza grew up picking oranges in the San Joaquin Valley alongside his parents. He worked through school as a truck driver for a farming operation. His career in the citrus industry eventually led him to work for a major citrus grower-shipper operation. He now manages their field department.
In 2000, he started farming his own acreage in Terra Bella with his brothers. What began as a 10-acre operation has now expanded to 130 acres. Carranza has received zero surface water this year. Unless something changes, he will watch his trees die, and watch his investment of $30,000 per acre die with them.
Maribel Nenna works for a packing house in Southern California as the operation’s field advisor in the Central Valley. Ten years ago, she and her brother took their passion for the citrus industry and purchased 10 acres of citrus. Today, they farm 40 acres – all have received zero water allocation. In two weeks those trees, approximately 135 trees per acre, will lose their crop if they do not receive water.
Matt Leider is a 5th generation citrus producer. He grew up working on his mother’s ranch in Southern California before going to college. His involvement in the citrus industry is now two-fold. He works on his uncle’s citrus ranch in Porterville, and manages a successful mechanical pruning business that services citrus growers throughout the Valley. He needs one acre-foot of water per acre just to keep his family’s citrus acreage alive, but he doesn’t have it.
Carlos Gutierrez came to Lindsay when he was four years old. In 1999 he started a portable restroom business servicing citrus harvest crews. He then bought 12 acres of citrus on his own in 2001. Now, he manages harvesting crews for a packing house and owns over 100 acres on his own. He has a little water, but not enough to keep all of his acreage alive.
Jesus Ramos farms 86 acres in Terra Bella and another 50 acres in Strathmore. He put down a deposit of $600 per acre-foot for water, and now hopes to find water at $1,200 an acre-foot. But, he can’t find any because none is available. He hopes to save his best acreage because he knows he can’t save everything.
The California citrus industry is dominated by family farmers. “Everybody talks about protecting the family farmer, but by denying surface water to the Friant service area the state’s water agencies are aiding in their demise,” concludes Nelsen.