The California Farm Water Coalition (Coalition) was formed in 1989 to increase public awareness of agriculture’s efficient use of water and to promote the industry’s environmental sensitivity regarding water.
Mike Wade, executive director of the Sacramento-based Coalition, has major concerns about the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB)‘sproposal of taking 40% of the water from many irrigation districts along three rivers that flow into the San Joaquin River to protect an endangered fish. The SWRCB proposes to divert water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers to increase flows in the Sacramento Delta.
Wade explained, “The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is important for the United States, and we want to see it work. However, it’s not working. It’s not helping fish, and it’s hurting communities.” But Wade wants to revise the ESA “in how we deal with some of the species management issues.”
Wade said SWRCB is doubling down on the same tired, old strategy that is not going to work any more now than it has in the past. “What happened in the past isn’t helping salmon. What’s happened in the past isn’t helping the delta smelt. You’d think someone would get a clue that maybe other things are in play, there are other factors that need to be addressed.”
The State Water Resources Control Board estimated the proposed 40% diversion of river flow would decrease agricultural economic output by 64 million or 2.5% of the baseline average for the region.
Ag officials warn that if the proposal goes through it would force growers in the area to use more groundwater—which they have largely avoided because the Turlock Irrigation District and Oakdale Irrigation District historically met the irrigation need of local farms.
This is the only agricultural area in the Central Valley that does not have critical overdraft problems. If the state takes away 40% of water available to growers, it could lead to a critical overdraft issue there as well.
Michael Boccadoro a spokesperson for the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, commented on the SWRCB: “They need to be pushed back. They need to be told no.” Boccadoro explained the water in question represents about 400,000 acre-feet taken from communities, businesses and farms. Ironically 400,000 acre-feet is roughly equivalent to the capacity of Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir (360,400 acre-feet) that funnels water, unabated, to San Francisco.
“This is only Phase One of the Boards’ decision,” said Boccadoro. “This is going to eventually encompass the Sacramento River; this is just the beginning. This isn’t by any stretch of the imagination the only potential impact agriculture would feel,” he said.
Boccadoro, like other people in the industry, cannot fathom why the SWRCB needs to take this water when it doesn’t seem to be doing anything beneficial for the endangered fish species. “This issue of continuing to take water that is providing no benefit—or no clear benefit—for fish, while we do nothing [to mitigate] the other stressors that are having a huge impact on the fish, has to stop,” Boccadoro said.
Boccadoro noted, “It looks like Governor Brown has it in for farmers. We have problems with groundwater and increasing water scarcity in the state, and the result of this [plan] would be increased groundwater pumping—until they tell us we can’t pump groundwater. At that point, they are basically telling us, ‘You can’t farm any more.'”
“It’s a huge problem, said Boccadoro. “For whatever reason, it appears that the Brown administration has declared war on California agriculture. Enough is enough. We need to push back hard against the Water Board’s decisions,” noted Boccadoro.
“This is as good a place to fight as any as I can think of,” Boccadoro explained. “We need to start the fight and continue the fight, which is the only way it’s ever going to be turned back. The regulators and environmental groups must address the other stressors [to the endangered species]. Taking water from agriculture has not corrected the problem.
In the meantime Boccadoro hopes the farmers are taking notice. “I sure hope they’re willing to come up here [to Sacramento] and demand that the state not take their water,” he said.
Water Use Efficiency Grants: Beneficial or Double Jeopardy for California Farming? Or both?
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Through a competitive joint pilot grant program, the Agricultural Water Use Efficiency and State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) jointly intend to demonstrate the potential multiple benefits of conveyance enhancements combined with on-farm agricultural water use efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas reductions.
The grant funding provided in this joint program is intended to address multiple goals including:
Water use efficiency, conservation and reduction
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction
Groundwater Protection, and
Sustainability of agricultural operations and food production
Are these competitive grants promoted by DWR and CDFA providing financial support for further compliance or insulting to farmers who have already met and exceeded these stockpiling regulations? Or both?
I would like to address each goal, one by one.
Water Use Efficiency
I challenge DWR and CDFA to find one California farmer who is using water inefficiently or without regard to conservation. Grant or no grant, many farmers in the state have lost most of their contracted surface water deliveries due to the Endangered Species Act, which serves to save endangered species, an important goal we all share, but does so at any cost.
In addition, DWR is now threatening to take 40 percent of the surface water from the Tuolumne River and other tributaries of the San Joaquin River from February 1 to June 30, every year, to increase flows to the Delta to help save the declining smelt and salmon. This will severely curtail water deliveries to the Modesto Irrigation District (MID)and Turlock Irrigation District (TID)—population centers as well as critical farm areas.
This proposal, which disregards legal landowner water rights and human need, would force MID and TID to dedicate 40 percent of surface water flows during the defined time period every year, with no regulatory sunset, for beneficial fish and wildlife uses and salinity control. The proposal disregards other scientifically acknowledged stressors such as predatory nonnative non-native striped bass and largemouth bass, partially treated sewage from Delta cities, and, according to the Bay Delta Fish & Wildlife Office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest Region, invasive organisms, exotic species of zooplankton and a voracious plankton-eating clam in the Delta from foreign ships that historically dumped their ballast in San Francisco waters.
While many farmers have fallowed their farmland, other farmers across the state have resorted to reliance on groundwater to keep their permanent crops (trees and vines) alive. The new DWR proposal to divert 40 percent of MID and TID surface water will force hundreds of growers in this region—the only groundwater basin in the Valley that is not yet critically overdrafted—to use more groundwater.
In a joint statement, MID and TID said, “Our community has never faced a threat of this proportion. MID and TID have continued to fight for the water resource that was entrusted to us 129 years ago.”
Ironically, farmers want to reduce their groundwater needs because groundwater has always functioned in the state as a water savings bank for emergency use during droughts and not as a primary source of irrigation. But massive non-drought related federal and state surface water cutbacks have forced farmers to use more groundwater.
Golden State farmers are doing everything possible not to further elevate nitrates in their groundwater. Some nitrate findings left by farmers from generations ago are difficult to clean up.
But the DWR and CFA grant wants California agriculture to do more!
Sustainability of Agricultural Operations and Food Production
Virtually, no one is more sustainable than a multi-generational farmer. Each year, family farmers improve their land in order to produce robust crops, maintain their livelihoods, enrich the soil for the long term, and fortify the health and safety of their agricultural legacy for future generations.
California farmers will continue to do all they can to improve irrigation methods and track their crop protection product use.
And so, I ask again, is this beneficial or double jeopardy for California farming? Or both?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with local growers across America to conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. Elisabeth “Elise” Miller, is an area engineer for the entire Southern California region. “I also serve my agency as the NRCS-California LGBT Special Emphasis Program Manager, a collateral duty that I perform on several levels to increase diversity,” said Miller.
“First, I work to educate employees within my agency, to make them better informed and more in tune to language,” Miller explained. “Then, I work to get a more diversified workforce within the USDA,” she added, to make the organization stronger and better.
“My efforts might include going to a university,” she elaborated, “trying to tie in with their resource center and encouraging more people who identify as LGBT to apply for federal jobs. Our colleges, the University of California (UC) and the California State (Cal State) University system, have a lot of really good, positive and powerful resource centers that I’m hoping will continue to help us with our outreach and pull more people in who want to work for us.”
“Certainly we do have human resources,” commented Miller. “And we do a lot of outreach. With California being so large and so diverse,” Miller said, “it is hard to reach out to everybody. We have to start with the big UC schools first. We also try to reach out to universities such as Fresno State, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo or Pomona or UC Davis, or Humboldt State. Those would be schools that certainly we want to outreach to and try to bring more of those graduating students in under our fold.”
“My agency is a very technical agency,” said Miller. “We work on conservation-type issues—resource issues that farmers, ranchers or private landowners might deal with—requiring an agronomist, biologist or soil scientist. I often go out with a multi-disciplinary team and meet with a farmer, rancher, or just a landowner.”
“Every farmer I meet has some kind of issue,” Miller commented, “whether it’s pest management, whether it’s dealing with manure management or an erosion issue that’s going on. If they have a hillside orchard, they have to deal with that.”
“And obviously they focus a lot on drought management and water conservation,” Miller explained, “A lot of these farmers of course are forced to use groundwater, which is depleting the groundwater sources and may be causing irreparable damage.
We work cooperatively to try to help them resolve their land issues. That’s what I like about my agency—that we’re invited there. We’re not there to push a regulation. We’re there to help them to better manage. They always maintain control of their decision making. We try to give them options available and we have cost share programs to assist them, if something is identified. We work towards developing conservation plans on the property.”
The agency is also responsible for the soil survey work. “We map the soils five feet deep,” said Miller, “to gather information, resource information, which has worked fantastically well for a farmer to know what kind of soil he’s dealing with. It may make a difference on how a farmer irrigates. It may be why he’s having a problem with a crop or many other areas that could be helpful to them.”
“We are in the community. We’re very much aware; we know who the farmers are, we know what the issues are and we work with farmers to try to address their land problems. We don’t just pop in and then pop out,” Miller said.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRSC) works with local growers across America to conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources with voluntary programs and science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.
Tulare County’s top ten crops [crop value] in 2015 were:
Cattle & Calves
Oranges- Navels & Valencias
Almonds Meats & Hulls
Tangerines – Fresh
Corn – Grain & Silage
Silage – Small Grain
Kinoshita explained, “Dairy is our number one industry here. Our milk production was off a little bit. We have fewer dairies in business now because of the low milk prices. Anytime your fresh market milk is off, that’s going to affect our overall value. A good 2/3 of that billion-dollar decrease came from the dairy industry. The price was low the entire year, as opposed to the year before.”
Thus far, the reported 2015 county crop reports in the Central Valley are down this year. “Fresno County, for instance, was down 6.5% off its record $7 billion in 2014,” Kinoshita said.
“It has a lot to do with low water deliveries in Fresno and Tulare Counties,” she continued. “The smaller the water deliveries, the more efficient those growers have to be with that water. Anytime you’re pumping water out of the ground, it’s terribly expensive,” she noted.
“Some of our growers have had to decide, ‘All right, I’ve got this much water; I’m going to keep those blocks alive and I’m going to push an older block that isn’t producing as well.’ The returns aren’t as good as some of the newer plantings,” said Kinoshita.
Despite all of that, Kinoshita said agriculture does sit at the head of the table in Tulare County. “Yes, and we need a successful Ag industry to thrive here,” she said.
Tricia Stever Blattler, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, noted the crop report demonstrates the strength of the agricultural industry. “I think every year when this crop report comes out, it is always a testament to the resiliency of this industry. This industry takes hard knocks, gets knocked down, then steps right back up to the plate and keeps swinging,” Blattler said. “The agricultural sector has a lot of outside challenges that impact the number that we see reported every year.”
Blattler acknowledged the crop value numbers do not reflect net revenue for growers. “It’s always really important for our listeners to know that the crop value is a gross revenue number. When our Ag Commissioner steps to the microphone and speaks to our Board of Supervisors about this report each year, she’s reflecting values that are attributed to all of the gross revenue, and it’s not only the field value,” Blattler said.
“That gross number reported each year also represents our packing houses, our milk processing facilities—the creameries, the butter plants—the packing sheds, all those other parts of our industry that [create] value in our industry,” said Blattler.
Blattler noted up or down, it’s all about the resiliency of farmers. “The industry has its years that are really blockbuster and it has its years when it falls back and we see a reduction acreage. We see reductions in surface water deliveries. The drought is still certainly playing a significant role in the numbers we’re seeing,” she explained.
With regard to surface water, Tulare County is in a bit of a unique position. “As an Eastside county, some of our water deliveries are not as subject to the situation that the Westside is in. In the same sense, we have some significant cutbacks that have been attributed to the San Joaquin River’s restoration and the biological opinions in the Delta—all have had an impact on the Central San Joaquin Valley [water] deliveries regardless of whether you’re Eastside or Westside.
“Also, as the exchange contractors either take greater deliveries of water or give up water, that also impacts the amount available to Eastside growers here in Tulare County,” she said.
In summary, 2015 Tulare Crop Report covers more than 120 different commodities, 45 of which have a gross value in excess of $1 million. Although individual commodities may experience difficulties from year to year, Tulare County continues to produce high quality crops that provide food and fiber to more than 90 countries worldwide.
The State is Sinking, and Its Wealthy Class Is Full of Hypocrites
Editor’s note: We thank Victor Davis Hanson for his contribution to California Ag Today’ CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND.
By Victor Davis Hanson
There was more of the same-old, same-old California news recently. Some 62 percent of state roads have been rated poor or mediocre. There were more predications of huge cost overruns and yearly losses on high-speed rail—before the first mile of track has been laid. One-third of Bay Area residents were polled as hoping to leave the area soon.
Such pessimism is daily fare, and for good reason.
The basket of California state taxes—sales, income, and gasoline—rate among the highest in the U.S. Yet California roads and K-12 education rank near the bottom.
After years of drought, California has not built a single new reservoir. Instead, scarce fresh aqueduct water is still being diverted to sea. Thousands of rural central-California homes, in Dust Bowl fashion, have been abandoned because of a sinking aquifer and dry wells.
One in three American welfare recipients resides in California. Almost a quarter of the state population lives below or near the poverty line. Yet the state’s gas and electricity prices are among the nation’s highest.
One in four state residents was not born in the U.S. Current state-funded pension programs are not sustainable.
California depends on a tiny elite class for about half of its income-tax revenue. Yet many of these wealthy taxpayers are fleeing the 40-million-person state, angry over paying 12 percent of their income for lousy public services.
Public-health costs have soared as one-third of California residents admitted to state hospitals for any causes suffer from diabetes, a sometimes-lethal disease often predicated on poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive weight.
Nearly half of all traffic accidents in the Los Angeles area are classified as hit-and-run collisions.
Grass-roots voter pushbacks are seen as pointless. Progressive state and federal courts have overturned a multitude of reform measures of the last 20 years that had passed with ample majorities.
In impoverished central-California towns such as Mendota, where thousands of acres were idled due to water cutoffs, once-busy farmworkers live in shacks. But even in opulent San Francisco, the sidewalks full of homeless people do not look much different.
What caused the California paradise to squander its rich natural inheritance?
Excessive state regulations and expanding government, massive illegal immigration from impoverished nations, and the rise of unimaginable wealth in the tech industry and coastal retirement communities created two antithetical Californias.
One is an elite, out-of-touch caste along the fashionable Pacific Ocean corridor that runs the state and has the money to escape the real-life consequences of its own unworkable agendas.
The other is a huge underclass in central, rural, and foothill California that cannot flee to the coast and suffers the bulk of the fallout from Byzantine state regulations, poor schools, and the failure to assimilate recent immigrants from some of the poorest areas in the world.
The result is Connecticut and Alabama combined in one state. A house in Menlo Park may sell for more than $1,000 a square foot. In Madera, three hours away, the cost is about one-tenth of that.
In response, state government practices escapism, haggling over transgender-restroom and locker-room issues and the aquatic environment of a three-inch baitfish rather than dealing with a sinking state.
What could save California?
Blue-ribbon committees for years have offered bipartisan plans to simplify and reduce the state tax code, prune burdensome regulations, reform schools, encourage assimilation and unity of culture, and offer incentives to build reasonably priced housing.
Instead, hypocrisy abounds in the two Californias.
If Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg wants to continue lecturing Californians about their xenophobia, he at least should stop turning his estates into sanctuaries with walls and security patrols. And if faculty economists at the University of California at Berkeley keep hectoring the state about fixing income inequality, they might first acknowledge that the state pays them more than $300,000 per year — putting them among the top 2 percent of the university’s salaried employees.
Immigrants to a diverse state where there is no ethnic majority should welcome assimilation into a culture and a political matrix that is usually the direct opposite of what they fled from.
More unity and integration would help. So why not encourage liberal Google to move some of its operations inland to needy Fresno, or lobby the wealthy Silicon Valley to encourage affordable housing in the near-wide-open spaces along the nearby I-280 corridor north to San Francisco?
Finally, state bureaucrats should remember that even cool Californians cannot drink Facebook, eat Google, drive on Oracle, or live in Apple. The distant people who make and grow things still matter.
Elites need to go back and restudy the state’s can-do confidence of the 1950s and 1960s to rediscover good state government — at least if everyday Californians are ever again to have affordable gas, electricity, and homes; safe roads; and competitive schools.
Victor Davis Hanson, as described on his website, is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.
He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.
Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007, the Bradley Prize in 2008, as well as the William F. Buckley Prize (2015), the Claremont Institute’s Statesmanship Award (2006), and the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002).
Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin.
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various participants on CaliforniaAgToday.com do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, viewpoints or official policies of the California Ag Today, Inc.
Temperance Flat Dam Would Provide Groundwater Relief, Jobs
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Mario Santoyo, executive director, San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority (Joint Powers of Authority), described the major and historic event held last week at the Friant Dam regarding the Temperance Flat Dam and California’s future water supply.
“At the event,” Santoyo said, “a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation and the Joint Powers Authority, basically defines what the scope of work is going to be. In essence, it is full cooperation between their technical people and our Joint Powers Authority. Our people are working on tailoring the application to the state to optimize how much money we get from them. Keep in mind, we’re talking big dollars here; we’re not talking a million or a hundred million.”
Santoyo hopes to receive $1B in funding for the Temperance Flat Dam, although “it is going to cost somewhere around $2.8B. The maximum you could ask from the state is $1.4B. We don’t expect to be getting that because there is a lot of competition and there’s not enough dollars to go around. We’re hoping to shoot for somewhere around $1 billion,” he stated.
“In parallel with our efforts with the state,” Santoyo explained, “we’re working on the federal side with our senators and our congress members to obtain what they call a federal construction authorization—which allowsthe federal government to move ahead with this project. Then we work on appropriations,” he said.
Santoyo said the funding necessary to complete and complement dollars from the state will be procured in the same fashion as have projects in the past. “The Bureau of Reclamation typically funds the construction of a project and then recovers the cost through long-term water supply contracts or adjustments to existing water supply contracts,” he stated. “In this case, it would be adjustments to existing water supply contracts.”
Santoyo also noted preliminary feasibility studies are underway. Those already completed triggered the final feasibility report, “which is going through a final upper management review before being released to the public. I think we are all pretty confident it will come out in a very positive manner. I would expect that in the next sixty days,” he said.
The expected completion of the project varies. Santoyo estimated physical completion within five years,” but it has to go through design and environmental paperwork, plus legal challenges could cause setbacks as well. By the time you’re good to go, you’ll end up having this project built in probably under 15 years,” he said.
DAM CREATES NEEDED JOBS FOR VALLEY RESIDENTS
Nevertheless, Santoyo said the benefits of the Temperance Flat Dam project is to creates an economic boom and an increase in available jobs. “You’re going to be spending about $3B here for materials, labor, and everything that goes into it. It will be an economic boom; and once it’s built, we get more water reliability, creating a better situation for the farmers, and that creates employment. I wouldn’t look at waiting 15 years, it starts as soon as we start building,” he said.
“The best year for Temperance Flat is when we have high runoff periods, and we have those frequently,” Santoyo elaborated. “What I’ve determined is that there’s a 50% shot every time we have one that we will be dumping more than a million acre-feet into the ocean. That’s equivalent to a full-year of water supply for the east side of the valley. That’s a lot of water.”
DAM PROVIDES GROUNDWATER RELIEF
“The fact is, without this project, we will not be able to meet the ground water sustainability laws that exist because this water will be necessary to move underground to all these regions,” he said. “Right now, as it stands, San Joaquin River Settlement has taken away the Class II water that used by the Friant contractors to replenish the groundwater. Unless we have a means of replacing it, and that would be through Temperance Flat, we’re going to encounter very serious problems,” Santoyo noted.
“Take the typical example of a year in which we can save a million acre-feet in storage. We are not going to keep it there,” he said. “We are going to move it via the canal systems to the various groundwater recharging basins,” which capture and replenish underground water. “It’s not a matter of whether groundwater storage is better [or worse] than above-ground storage; they work in conjunction with each other to maximize storage.”
DAM SERVES A PURPOSE IN TIMES OF CRISIS
“There are a lot of conversations about the San Andreas Fault rumbling. If we had an earthquake, we could have a seismic event in the Delta,” Santoyo said. “What differentiates this project from all the other projects is that we could take Temperance Flat water and go north via the San Joaquin River to the Delta, or south via the Friant-Kern canal, across the valley canal to the California aqueduct then subsequently down to southern California,” he said.
“In a scenario of Delta failure, in which water was no longer moving to the millions of people in Southern California, that would be a crisis,” he stated, “they would be looking for help in any way, shape, and form. Temperance Flat could do that. That’s one of the public benefits being looked at by the California Water Commission, in a category called emergency services. That was written in there specifically because of Temperance’s capability.”
“We estimate the pipeline will be completed by December 2017—less than two years,” Hansen stated. “The first year’s combined quantities, if both cities (Turlock and Modesto) are online at the start date, will be somewhere between 25K and 30K acre-feet per year,” Hansen calculated.
NVRRWP will convey recycled water from Turlock and Modesto, currently being discharged into the San Joaquin River, instead to the Delta-Mendota Canal via pipeline for storage purposes and later use. “The sense that we all have here,” said Hansen, “is that this transaction and this accomplishment will change the future of the Del Puerto Water District for the better. It will give us some stability in our base [water] supply that we know will come year in and year out.”
After many years of working with various agencies and collaborating with multiple cities, the project has passed all of its major hurdles and is set to break ground within the next few months. Using recycled water from treatment plants will reduce reliance on unsustainable groundwater supplies and also lower the amount of water pumped from the Delta.
“People use water in the cities every day, 365 days a year,” explained Hansen. “The reliability of the supply is so important to us because, for such a long time, we have not had reliability in our water supply,” Hansen noted.
“We have 40-year agreements in place with both cities,” she continued. “As a result of the program, even in the first years, each irrigable acre in the district will receive somewhere between one half to three-quarters of an acre-foot of guaranteed water supply, year in and year out.”
Hansen added the project will sustain a growing population. “Over time,” she remarked, “as the cites grow and the populations expand, the quantities of water are projected to grow over the build-out period for the project.”
Nat DiBuduo: Valley Winegrape Growers Must Produce Quality
By Laurie Greene, Editor
Nat DiBuduo, president of Fresno-based Allied Grape Growersbelievesthere are good opportunities for Central San Joaquin Valley winegrape growers. “I think the San Joaquin Valley [winegrape growing industry] will survive because growers are working at producing winegrapes at a higher quality and at a higher price,” said DiBuduo.
“Overall, I think the industry is doing well,” stated DiBuduo, “and we just have to work with our San Joaquin Valley growers to produce a better quality grape. It’s like a chicken and an egg; they’ve got to be able to get paid for that better quality. And of course, growers need a solid contract with a good price to make it worthwhile,” he noted.
DiBuduo noted that the Bureau of Reclamation’s initial announcement at the beginning of this month that federal water users will receive merely a five percent water allocation, fortunately, does not affect many of his grower-members. “Most Allied growers are not Westside growers; but they will be severely affected by the groundwater regulations soon to be in place.”
DiBuduo explained the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is predicted to create major issues for production agriculture. “Oh yes, we’ve got guys who have sold their property because they didn’t have enough groundwater,” he said.
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 despicable—the 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 are—more of the same—and 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 farmland—the most productive farmland in the country—in the world—and losing the jobs that are associated with it.
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.