Who Safeguards California Farm Workers’ Rights?

Mudslinging in the Field

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

In his 1984 Address to the Commonwealth Club of California, American labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez explained that he cofounded the National Farm Workers Association, the forerunner to UFW, in 1962 “to overthrow a farm labor system in this nation which treats farm workers as if they were not important human beings.” Yet recent developments among United Farm Workers (UFW), Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), Gerawan Farming, Inc. and farm workers illustrate the continuing, increasingly complex quagmire that masquerades as protecting California farm workers’ rights.

ALRB Chairman William B. Gould IV, who resigned on January 13, wrote to Governor Jerry Brown that the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) is irrelevant to farm workers because they are unaware of the law’s provisions, procedures and rights.

“The instances of unfair labor practice charges and invocation of the Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation Act (MMC) are few and far between,” Gould explained. “There is no union organizing which might make workers aware of the [ALRA].” He added that only one union representation petition was filed during his 3-year tenure.

Nevertheless, under Gould’s watch, the ALRB doubled both its staff and taxpayer-funded budget to harass Gerawan and its farm workers.

Remarkably, on March 26, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled that the UFW underpaid their own employees. Consequently, UFW must pay a $1.2 million award that includes funds to plaintiff former UFW employee Francisco Cerritos and other internal organizers, sums to other members of the class action suit for pay stub violations and penalties for California Labor Code Violations.

“It’s unfortunate that a union asks for laws to be respected,” plaintiff Cerritos said, “but [the union does] not respect them.” The UFW, Cesar Chavez’s legacy, has shortchanged its own workers.

Furthermore, ALRB whistleblower Pauline Alvarez, a 30-year former ALRB field examiner, filed a retaliation lawsuit in 2015 against the ALRB, which is still pending in Sacramento Superior Court. According to a February 27 Gerawan press release, Alvarez alleges that she recommended to former ALRB chief counsel Sylvia Torres-Guillén the dismissal of cases in which the UFW failed to cooperate and provide witnesses and evidence to support its allegations. Alvarez claims Torres-Guillén directed her and other field examiners “to dredge up witnesses that would assist the UFW’s position.”

Alvarez also asserts that she protested the settlement of farm worker cases against the UFW that contained sufficient evidence to establish UFW violations of the law. Stunningly, she affirms that the ALRB refused “to notify workers of their rights to file charges against the UFW when the UFW violated the workers’ rights,” and the “ghostwriting” of the UFW legal brief by the ALRB staff.

Perhaps most astonishing, the ALRB withheld this whistleblower’s report from ongoing legal proceedings with Gerawan and Gerawan farm workers for seven months.

Most recently, ALRB Administrative Law Judge William L. Schmidt issued a decision on April 14 in favor of the UFW, finding Gerawan violated labor law by negotiating a collective-bargaining agreement with UFW “in bad faith”— commonly called “surface bargaining”— in the eight-month period from January 2013 through August 2013.

To explain this decision in context, the UFW was voted in by Gerawan farmworkers in a runoff election in 1990 and certified by the ALRB in 1992. Significantly, UFW never reached a contract to represent Gerawan farm workers in wage negotiations with their employer. Neither did the UFW collect dues from or provide services for the farm workers, reportedly among the highest-paid in the industry.

The UFW effectively abandoned the Gerawan farm workers – that is, until 2012, after the California State Legislature amended the Agricultural Labor Relations Act to allow and accelerate an imposed mandatory mediation and conciliation process for union contracts. Thus, UFW offered a new contract proposal, via imposed mandatory mediation, to Gerawan farm workers.

Meanwhile, during the same time period in which Gerawan supposedly negotiated with UFW in bad faith, Gerawan farm workers were actively collecting signatures to petition the decertification of the UFW as their bargaining representative. The ballots cast in the ALRB-certified election in November 2013 have never been counted, to this day. Rather, they were sealed and stored in an undisclosed location, allegedly in ALRB custody.

Who is safeguarding California farm workers’ rights?

An ongoing conversation.



Safeguarding CA Farm Workers Rights – Part 2



Resources

Chavez, Cesar. “Address to the Commonwealth Club of California,” San Francisco, CA, November 9, 1984.

Cloud, Tal and Matt Patterson, “The ALRB and UFW: Partners in Crime,” The Fresno Bee, 4/24/17.

Gould’s January 13, 2017 Resignation Letter provided by the LA Times.

Grimes, Katy, “ALRB Spent $10 Million To Prevent Gerawan Workers’ Ballots From Being Counted,” FlashReport, March 22, 2016.

Mohan, Geoffrey, “California Farm Labor Board Chairman Quits in Anger,” LA Times, January 13, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-alrb-resignation-20170112-story.html 

Sheehan,Tim, “Rising expenses, accusations of bias confront state agency in Gerawan farm-labor conflict,” Fresno Bee, July 31, 2015.

State of California Agricultural Labor Relations Board Decision And Recommended Order, signed by William L. Schmidt, ALRB Administrative Law Judge, on April 14, 2017.

Wu, Amy, “UFW ordered to pay $1.2M in wages, OT,” The Californian, March 29, 2017, updated March 31, 2017.

Will AB-1066 End Sunup to Sundown Farming?

Will Overtime Bill Kill Sunup to Sundown Way of Farming?

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

Newly approved by the California Assembly, AB-1066, which would effectively extend the payment of overtime compensation to agricultural employees after 8 hours of work in a day or 40 hours per week, instead of 10 hours per day or 50 to 60 hours per week, awaits Governor Jerry Brown‘s final decision this month. The theory behind the bill is understandable, but according to Bryan Van Groningen, field manager for Van Groningen & Sons, Inc.a California family farming business begun in 1922, agriculture works within a different timetable than other industries.

 

Because agricultural production is fundamentally nature-based, Van Groningen said there is an underlying need for non-traditional workdays. “Our crews, more or less, work from sunup to sundown,” he said. “That is what is required to get our harvest finished.”

 

Van Groningen & Sons employs different types of laborers, some who already work 8-hour days and others who work on a schedule that AB-1066 would  eliminate. “Our field workers—everybody is accustomed to a 10-hour per day and 50-hour per week system,” explained Van Groningen.

 

For Van Groningen & Sons, one of the largest producers of pumpkins for the West Coast, the period leading up to Halloween is naturally one of their busiest times of year. They have a short window of time to get their produce ready for its final destination, so putting an 8-hour limit on their employees would cause problems in meeting their deadline. “We have to get all of our crop in, harvested, transported, packed and shipped by a certain date. If we don’t,” he said, “the date comes and we’re pretty much finished.”

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Climate change’s impact on restaurants

By Patrick Mulvaney, chef and restaurateur; The Sacramento Bee

When I read about climate change, I learn about rising sea levels and shrinking polar ice caps – problems for 100 years in the future. But when I talk to my friends and customers about climate change, the focus is on what is happening today. It seems little things are already adding up.

As a chef, I have always believed that the completed dish will only be as good as the ingredients used. The bounty of the 12-month growing season is the main reason we decided to open our restaurant here in Sacramento. Because of our close relationships with local farmers, our “supply chain” is basically a truck and the farmer’s market. We can see how the drought has affected their crops.

Three years of drought have taken a toll on the ranchers and farmers we depend on. Lack of rain to refill the state’s reservoirs has reduced water levels to historic lows. Some water allocations have been cut entirely, and most farmers have been forced to scale back on planting. Forty-five percent of rice land went unplanted this year; farmers were forced to sell off cattle this spring. Researchers at UC Davis estimate that drought will prevent farmers from planting nearly 430,000 acres and cost the state $2.2 billion.

This isn’t just a Sacramento problem; it will affect the whole country. California grows nearly half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, including 70 percent of the lettuce, 76 percent of the avocados, 90 percent of the grapes and virtually all of the almonds. Unfavorable conditions in California mean higher prices for restaurants across the country.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said produce prices could increase 5 to 6 percent this year. Even though beef prices are at historically high levels, the drought has raised the prices of feed even higher, forcing ranchers to sell the majority of their herds. A few years ago, the U.S. had 102 million head of cattle. That number is now under 88 million and dropping. It’s the smallest herd since 1951, so prices keep rising.

In addition to drought, climate change is causing other kinds of severe weather swings. Last winter was unusually brutal in the Midwest, causing an almost complete failure of the cherry crop and raising doubts about harvests for the rest of the tree fruits this summer.

In some ways, we are lucky at my restaurant; our daily-changing menus have allowed us to respond to climate disruptions. And while we continue to serve the best of what’s coming out of the nearby land, some items have become harder to find at a reasonable price. During the past year, restaurants have changed their menus to reflect higher meat prices, sudden collapses in citrus yields and the lack of products as farmers are forced to let their land lie fallow.

I worry that extreme weather, like California’s drought, may become the new normal. Our agricultural partners face the greatest risks. Many businesses will experience climate change through limited supply and poor supply-chain quality.

There’s something we can do about this. California has long been a national leader on clean-energy policies. Gov. Jerry Brown is supportive of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations that will reduce carbon pollution. He said, “Clean-energy policies are already working in California, generating billions of dollars in energy savings and more than a million jobs. Bold, sustained action will be required at every level, and this is a major step forward.”

Now is the time to continue California’s clean-energy leadership tradition by implementing changes that encourage business leaders to use resources more efficiently. This will help prevent more extreme weather events and make our economy more resilient.

 

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Governor Brown Signs Bill Allowing Wine Tasting at Farmers’ Markets

By David Siders; The Sacramento Bee

Californians can start sipping wine at farmers markets. Immediately.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced he has signed an urgency measure allowing winegrowers who bottle their own wine to conduct instructional tastings at California’s numerous farmers markets. Assembly Bill 2488, by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, was approved by both houses of the Legislature without dissent.

The bill expands a provision of state law allowing the sale of estate-grown wine at farmers markets. Wine industry groups said the inability to offer samples hurt sales in an industry in which customers are accustomed to a taste.

Brown, a Democrat, signed the legislation without comment. It was one of 10 bills the governor announced signing Tuesday.

The measure requires wine tasting areas to be separated from the rest of the farmers market by a rope or other barrier, and it limits tastings to three ounces per patron per day.

Proponents of the bill said it would help small wineries build their brand. Opponents, including the California Council on Alcohol Problems, opposed the measure, according to a legislative analysis.

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California water bond: The burning questions

Source: Jeremy B. White; The Sacramento Bee

Having passed an on-time budget and concluded their committee hearings, California lawmakers have escaped Sacramento for a few weeks and retired to their districts for a July recess. When they return, much of the remaining legislative session will be devoted to trying to get a new water bond on the November ballot.

Water policy remains one of the most complex and potent topics to engulf the state Capitol. Here are some answers to the key questions in the water bond debate:

What happened to the other water bond they passed?

In the dwindling days of the 2009 legislative session, lawmakers and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger compromised on an $11.1 billion bond offering. That bond has been delayed twice and is now scheduled for the November 2014 ballot.

But the general Sacramento consensus now holds that the $11.1 billion bond is a goner: too large and too full of specific allocations redolent of pork. Gov. Jerry Brown has told lawmakers he is concerned about the 2009 proposal passing muster, and lawmakers argue it would be dead on arrival.

So what are they doing instead?

Even if they don’t like the existing bond proposal, many lawmakers still want something on the ballot. A historically intense drought can be a big motivator.

Several lawmakers have floated proposals for a new bond. Only one has made it as far as a floor vote. That measure, a $10.5 billion proposal by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, could not garner enough votes to get out of the Senate. On the day lawmakers adjourned for recess, senators announced a diminished $7.5 billion proposal.

Assembly members are hammering out their own compromise measure. They were close to introducing one earlier last week but had to go back to the drawing board. It now looks more likely they will unveil a pact once legislators return from summer recess.

What does the governor think?

For much of this year Brown declined to weigh in on a water bond. But he finally broke that silence recently and has begun meeting with lawmakers. Since the governor would need to sign any new bond, his opinion matters.

In keeping with his image as California’s responsible fiscal steward – a reputation he would like to burnish in an election year – Brown has advocated a bond that is smaller than both the $11.1 billion measure and the alternative bonds lawmakers are floating. These numbers are more starting points for negotiations than hard ceilings, but Brown suggested a bond worth $6 billion overall, with $2 billion for storage.

Surface Storage? What does that mean?

The term “surface storage” generally refers to big projects like dams and reservoirs. If California has more places to stash water in wet years, the thinking goes, it will be better equipped to survive the dry stretches. But storage could also encompass money to replenish or clean up supplies of groundwater, which California relies on more heavily in dry years.

Determining where storage dollars might go spurs fierce disputes over what types of projects could be eligible. Since all taxpayers are subsidizing them, bond-funded storage projects must carry broad public benefits.

Defining those benefits can be a problem. Bonds that list recreation as a benefit, for example, are a red flag for dam-averse environmentalists. As they note, you can’t take a boat out on groundwater.

Will a bond help with the drought?

One thing lawmakers can’t do is create more water. If rain is scarce and the Sierra snowpack is diminished, that means there’s less to go around. If big storage projects are advanced, it would still take years for construction to finish and yield results.

Other money could bolster access to drinking water. Proposals would offer grants to treat drinking water contaminated with nitrates or other chemicals, money for recycling and reusing wastewater, funding to repair water infrastructure in disadvantaged communities and support for capturing more stormwater.

What about the Delta tunnels? Will a bond pay for those?

This is a tricky one. Understanding the answer requires a brief explanation of the so-called “co-equal goals” of Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

The centerpiece of Brown’s legacy water project would be a pair of massive water tunnels capable of funneling water to southern parts of the state without needing it to flow through the Delta. It’s very controversial. But the project isn’t just tunnels. It would also need to pay for sweeping environmental restoration to help the Delta’s teeming habitat, what’s known as “mitigation.”

That imperative of spending money on Delta habitat is affecting the water bond debate. None of the bonds would allocate money to build the tunnels. But they all offer money for the Delta. Senate President Pro Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and others point to polling suggesting that any bond that is not “BDCP-neutral” will rally the opposition and falter before voters. Brown also believes a bond must be divorced from the tunnels.

Would a bond with money for the Delta ecosystem help Brown build the tunnels? Depends who you ask. For now, Delta advocates and environmentalists believe Wolk’s bond is the most tunnel-neutral option. But some observers believe that Delta plan skeptics could frame any bond with Delta money as a boon to Brown’s tunnel dreams and hurt its chances for passage.

Are special interests involved?

Assuredly. With billions of dollars at stake, various interest groups have been making their priorities known to lawmakers. That includes environmentalists, agricultural interests, organizations like the Alliance of California Water Agencies, major urban water agencies like the Metropolitan Water District and prominent agricultural water providers like the Westlands Water District.

For the environmentalists, a key point of contention is what sort of projects a bond could fund. They don’t want to see preference given to new large-scale reservoirs, expressing skepticism that the new dams would be cost-effective and warning about environmental degradation.

Most pressing for many water districts and agencies is more money for storage. Their customers are thirsty, something they hope a bond can address. Since Brown’s tunnels have become bound up with the bond conversation, it’s worth noting that significant support for the Delta tunnels comes from exporters that would like to see a steadier flow of water.

When is the deadline?

The statutory deadline to get a new water bond on the ballot has come and gone (it was June 26). The Legislature can still waive various laws to put something before voters in November.

But elections are complex undertakings, and the civic machinery has already started whirring. The secretary of state’s office has begun assembling the voter guides that must go on public display by July 22 before being printed and mailed to voters. County election officials typically start ordering ballots to be printed in August. Those ballots have to be translated into nine other languages.

Lawmakers have options. Administrators are already allotting space for the $11.1 billion bond, so swapping out that language for a new bond would be simpler. If lawmakers take too long striking a new bond deal, they could end up having to print a second, separate voter guide. That would cost more money, potentially millions of dollars.

So the short answer is: there is no immutable deadline. But the longer lawmakers take, the more complicated and expensive it gets.

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Climate Change Funding for Ag Part of Budget Debate at State Capitol

Source: Nick Miller; Sacramento News and Review

If Sacramento is truly the nation’s farm-to-fork capital, then the state Capitol has an opportunity this week to prove so by putting millions of budget dollars where its mouth is.

Here’s what’s at stake: California’s cap-and-trade carbon tax is expected to generate a cool $850 million next fiscal year. This money needs to be spent on projects that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposes that $25 million of this nut go toward agriculture. That’s not a ton of funding, but it is direly needed, and would be spent on fertilizer management, methane mitigation at dairy farms, biofuels, farmland preservation, plus other sustainability programs that combat climate change.

The catch is that some Democrats in the Senate and Assembly have the governor’s ag money in their crosshairs. They want to use the millions for their own pet projects: urban infill, mass transit, etc. To that end, both houses of the Legislature have proposed their own budget plans.

This concerns sustainable-agriculture advocates. Since most lawmakers represent urban areas, not rural districts, they fear that farmers might end up losing out on some of the state’s first ag-related funding in years. Lawmaker’s budget deadline is next Sunday, June 15.

“I can’t predict how this will go,” said Jeanne Merrill, a policy director with California Climate and Agriculture Network, or CalCAN. But what she does know is that “you can’t seek agriculture solutions to climate change without protecting land.”

When most Californians think of the fight against climate change, they picture doing so by switching out lightbulbs and not running the air conditioner, or by buying hybrid cars and driving less.

“But agriculture’s total emissions … are roughly about 7 percent of the state’s total emissions,” said Ryan Harden, a staff researcher at UC Davis who works on studies for the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission.

He concedes that 7 percent is “not very much compared to electricity use and cars.” But it can make a dent. “Every little bit helps.”

For sure, agriculture has definitely been part of the mix when California’s leaders look at ways to reduce emissions and meet the celebrated Assembly Bill 32’s global-warming goals.

“Natural- and working-land strategies to reduce greenhouse gases aren’t at the top of the list in the building,” said Merrill, “but I think we’ve seen good progress.”

One of the main ways agriculture addresses climate change is with fertilizer. Almost all crops in California need it. But UCD’s Harden said, “One of the bigger sources of greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture is nitrous-oxide emissions from soils,” which comes from chemicals in fertilizer. Some 50 percent of ag’s overall emissions derive from this, he explained.

Harden and others aren’t saying we should stop using fertilizers, however. Farming is too complex and vulnerable to advocate for that, he said. The state does encourage farmers to adopt greenhouse-gas-mitigation tactics on a voluntary basis.

Brown’s budget would allocate $5 million to research ways to improve fertilizers and manage their emissions. Again, that’s not a huge chunk of change. But it’s needed, experts say.

“There are a 400 different kinds of crops in California, with different soil and different watering systems,” said Karen Ross, head of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. She argues that there’s “a huge need to develop a research road map” for how to manage fertilizers, and this funding will help pave the way.

But the feud over farm-to-fork’s funding future is over more than just fertilizer.

Democrat leaders in the Assembly have a different plan. They want to split the $850 million in cap-and-trade money into two pots: Some of this would eventually go toward reducing agricultural waste and “carbon farming,” a method of reducing emissions that is popular with farmers. But there aren’t any guarantees, and critics of the Assembly plan remain uncertain that money will be set aside for priority projects.

The governor’s plan would be managed by Ross’ Department of Food and Agriculture, while the Assembly’s would be under the Strategic Growth Council’s purview (of which Ross is a member).

Over in the Senate, lawmakers recommend setting aside a specific amount of the cap-and-trade revenue, $30 million, but for nonspecific emissions-reduction and water-efficiency projects. This plan builds off the governor’s drought bill, and the California Wildlife Conservation Board would oversee it.

Sustainable-ag groups put up a good face and say they are happy to have any state monies. “We want to make sure some funding goes to agriculture,” Merrill said. “And we’re pleased all three proposals recognize the agriculture as a solution to climate change.”

In a perfect world, however, farmers and advocates would like to see more investment in farmland preservation. This means investing in ag land and ending sprawl policies.

“If you look at the rate of emissions for an urban area, they tend to have 70 times higher emissions than your typical plot of agriculture land,” said Harden. This means that the more farmland conservation takes place, the more Sacramento and the rest of the state can stabilize—and hopefully reduce—emissions.

But, no surprise, conservation often takes a backseat to industry. This is why a large piece of the governor’s budget, $12 million, will go to big-time dairy producers, who hope to install pricey digesters to reduce methane emissions.

That’s not a bad thing. And Ross says it’s a priority, “considering that we have almost 2 million dairy cows in the state and only a handful of dairy digesters.”

But she also advocates for strategic growth, conservation and sustainability: investment in modernization of water irrigation, renewable energy on farms (more than 5,700 state farms primarily use renewable energy, she said), alternative fuels and soil health.

“We can do all these things, and we know they’re the right things to do,” Ross said. But it comes down to money and time.

“When I think about the next generation, I think we’re really going to see tremendous change,” she said.

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Public Listening Session: Water Transfer Process Streamlining

The staff of the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) will hold a listening session to solicit ideas on recommendations to streamline the review process for temporary water transfers, in which water can be transferred for up to one year.

The purpose of the listening session is to obtain input to inform efforts by the State Water Board and DWR to streamline water transfers. Information provided will be considered in the context of near-term and long-term planning for improvements in transfer processing.

Background and Agenda:

On May 20, 2013, Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. issued Governor’s Executive Order B-21-13 (Executive Order), for the purpose of streamlining approval for water transfers to address dry conditions and water delivery limitations.

The Executive Order directs the State Water Board and DWR to expedite processing of water transfers and to assist water transfer proponents and suppliers, as necessary, provided that the transfers are consistent with the Water Code, will not harm other legal users of water and will not unreasonably affect fish, wildlife, or other instream beneficial uses.

The State Water Board and DWR were also directed to make all efforts to coordinate with relevant federal agencies, water districts, and water agencies to expedite the review and approval of water transfers in California.

On January 17, 2014, Governor Brown issued a Proclamation of a Drought State of Emergency (Proclamation). The Proclamation finds that dry conditions and lack of precipitation present urgent problems to drinking water supplies and cultivation of crops, which put farmers’ long-term investments at risk.

The conditions also threaten the survival of animals and plants that rely on California’s rivers, including many species in danger of extinction. The Proclamation directed the State Water Board and DWR to expedite the processing of water transfers as set forth in Executive Order B-21-13.

Proposed Agenda
• Overview of State Water Board Transfer role and current process

• Overview of DWR Water Transfer role and current process

• Public Comments on Streamlining Water Transfers

This Listening Session is designed as a forum for public input on the agencies’ streamlined water transfer processes, rather than discussion of specific transfer projects. Input received during the session will be taken into consideration in determining whether to modify the agencies’ water transfer processes in the short and long term.

DWR and the State Water Board seek suggestions for improving:

• availability of information on water transfers

• responses to comments on water transfer proposals.

• coordination between transfer approval agencies

• available information on impacts due to water transfers

• evaluation of surface water, groundwater, and environmental impacts related to water transfers.

Each commenter may be asked to limit their remarks to five minutes, depending on the number of parties present. Parties of like interests are encouraged to consolidate their comments and may pool their allotted time in a joint statement.

Parties also may submit written comments, either in lieu of or in support of their verbal comments. Comments will be collected for consideration in future transfer efforts, however the State Water Board and DWR will not be providing formal responses to comments.

Click here for more information.

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California to Ease Water Restrictions

Excerpted from Sharon Bernstein; Reuters

Drought-plagued California will ease some protection for fish in the fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, officials said Tuesday, a move expected to make more water available for farming and ease political tensions in an election year.

“California’s agriculture is critical to the world’s food supply,” said assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, who represents part of the San Joaquin Valley, who had lobbied hard against the restrictions. “An inability to produce that food would clearly be devastating to health and human safety not only in California but around the globe.”

Citing recent rains, regulators said Tuesday, there was enough water in the state’s reservoirs now to partially ease restrictions.

“We were quite concerned at that time about the issue of public health and safety,” Tom Howard, executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board, said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “This really had the markings of a historic drought.”

Recent storms dropped nearly a foot of rain in some areas, boosting reservoir levels and the snowpack that the state relies on for drinking water in the spring, but still leaving supplies way below normal for this time of year.

Earlier this month, concern that the state was about to restrict water supplies to farmers even further swept through the agricultural community, spurring intensive pushback and a series of tense meetings with water regulators in the administration of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

“We are very concerned that if the current proposal as reported to us is enacted, it will have significant near- and long-term effects on the California economy and, more importantly, will not achieve the desired water supply security intended,” U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Congressmen Jim Costa and John Garamendi, all Democrats, wrote in a letter to the water board.

Under the new rules announced Tuesday, which Howard said may be modified again next month, the two massive public water projects responsible for pumping in the Delta will be able to deliver it to farmers and others, once the state determines that there is enough flowing to meet the health and sanitation needs of residents.

Scott Shapiro, an attorney specializing in water issues for the Sacramento firm Downey Brand, said expanding the allowable uses of tight water supplies was not just important for farmers.

“It’s not just for agriculture, because there are other needs that may be contracted for that go beyond health and safety,” Shapiro said. “It could include other municipal, industrial and agricultural needs.

In addition to allowing more of the water pumped from the Delta to be used for purposes other than meeting health and safety needs, the state planned to reduce by about a third the amount of water that the projects were required to leave in the Delta as a way of protecting fish, Howard said during the press briefing.

Mark Cowin, Director of California Department of Water Resources, commented that fish and wildlife experts consulted by his department said that endangered species in the Delta would not be harmed by the looser rules.

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Governor’s Office Creates Drought Toolkit

Source: Matt Williams in Water News

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) has created a new toolkit for local governments that provides guidance for coordinating on drought response and meeting the governor’s call for a 20% reduction in water use.

The document, available here, contains a list of regional contacts for the Office of Emergency Services, State Water Board and other water-related state agencies; templates for a proclamation declaring a local drought emergency or a resolution calling for voluntary water conservation; web links to drought information and resources for local governments; and water-related curricula for grades K-12.

CA

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is encouraging local governments to enact water use reduction plans at their facilities, share well data, pursue emergency drinking water grants if necessary, and update local ordinances to encourage water conservation.

The tools were designed with city and counties in mind, and are appropriate for use by water districts, officials said.

OPR has launched a Local Drought Clearinghouse to ensure local governments can quickly access the toolkit and other resources.

For more information, contact Debbie Davis, local drought liaison, at (916) 327-0068 or drought.clearinghouse@opr.ca.gov.

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