Temperance Flat Denied Funding

All Hope Dries Up

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Again, it came down to fish, specifically Chinook salmon, that forced the proposed Temperance Flat Dam out of the race for Proposition 1 funding for building new water storage projects.

Mario Santoyo and Temperance Flat Denied Funding
Mario Santoyo fought hard for Temperance Flat Dam funding.

For more than 20 years, the Temperance Flat Dam proposal was passionately advocated with unwavering support by Central Valley cities and the San Joaquin Valley Infrastructure Authority (SJVIA) who were behind the application. Temperance Flat came crumbling down Wednesday at the California Water Commission (CWC) meeting in Sacramento on the second day of discussion.

On Tuesday, CWC staff members assigned to crunch the Public Benefit Ratios for the project were solidly encased in concrete, refusing to grant the project any consideration for its ecosystem restoration benefits. The Dam would provide critical cold water to flow down the San Joaquin River, thus helping the salmon spawn.

CA Water Commission kills Temperance Flat funding
CA Water Commission denied funding for Temperance Flat Dam.

And while the official public benefit calculation came up short today, proponents already saw that the project was already on life support Tuesday, with a dire prognosis.

“Stunned is an understatement,” said Mario Santoyo, executive director of the SJVIA, who has worked for more than 18 years on the project. “Temperance Flat is the most critical water project ever proposed for the Central Valley, which is ground zero for significant water shortages that will not go away.”

It all boiled down to the Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment (EDT) model that was approved by Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources. Despite both approvals, that model did not jive with the Commission staff’s model, which undervalued the project’s public benefit ratio, killing the opportunity for Temperance Flat Dam to receive funding of more $1 billion for construction.

“We are working in an area of great uncertainty in professional judgment,” Bill Swanson, vice president, Water Resources Planning & Management for Stantec, a global planning and engineering firm, who presented data for the SJVIA. “We do not have fish in the river. We do not have empirical data. The only issue available to us is a comparison of how the system would respond to changes in flow, temperature and habitat,” Swanson said.

“That’s the reason we used the EDT model, the same model that the Bureau of Reclamation has used in their models of flow,” Swanson explained. “The SJVIA’s challenge was how to take the results of that model and analyze them to a level of detail that distinguishes the precision that we might want to have around the results,” said Swanson.

Bill Swanson
Stantec’s Bill Swanson advocated for Temperance Flat Dam funding.

“I’m very disappointed with the way they scored a great project that needed to be built,” noted Santoyo. “And I am not happy about one commissioner from Orange Cove who stabbed us in the back and scolded us on why we did not meet the Public Benefit Ratio. We did meet and exceed that ratio, but the CWC disagreed with our ecosystem restoration model that had been used by both the state and the feds.”

Several Water Commissioners publicly wrangled with their staff on how they could make the project work. They sought areas to increase the project’s cost-benefit evaluation to get it funded.

Commissioner Joe Del Bosque read the ballot text of Prop 1, approved by California voters by 67 percent in 2014. He reminded those present that voters expected a water storage project to be built, adding, “We need to find more certainty in order to get Temperance Flat built.”

Commissioner Daniel Curtain distinguished two parts to the discussion—physical and monetary. “Take a look and see if there is a physical benefit for ecosystem restoration. Finding a potential benefit and attaching a potential monetary benefit could be helpful,” he said.

The project was also short on points for recreation opportunities on what would be a new lake behind the 600-foot high dam east of Fresno, behind Friant Dam. Commissioner Joseph Byrne said he hoped for more thought given to the recreation cost benefit. “Intuitively, zero benefit does not make sense. We need a higher level of confidence in the estimated recreation cost-benefit,” he said.

CWC staff stipulated that while the newly created lake behind Temperance Flat Dam would accommodate boating activity, the lack of camping, hiking, and other activities within the existing San Joaquin River Gorge neutralized any recreation benefits.

If built, the Temperance Flat Reservoir would contain 1.26 million acre-feet of new water storage above Millerton Lake, northeast of Fresno. Temperance would have helped provide a more reliable supply of fresh drinking water for disadvantaged Valley communities. It would have enabled below-surface groundwater recharge, addressed extreme land subsidence and provided critical help to farmers facing severe groundwater restrictions due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

Santoyo said the SJVWIA spent more than $2 million on the California Water Commission application, utilizing what he said were the most qualified engineers to develop the technical data required by Commission staff. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which administers California’s Central Valley Project for the U.S. Department of the Interior, has invested more than $38 million in studying the project. Santoyo said those studies supported the finding that the selected Temperance Flat site is the most preferred location for such a crucial project.

Nov 9 Annual Ag Awards Luncheon Honors Manuel Cunha, Booth Ranches

Manuel Cunha, Agriculturist of the Year

By Laurie Greene, Editor

 

On Wednesday afternoon, November 9, the Who’s Who of Agriculture will gather at the long-standing celebratory Annual Ag Awards Luncheon in Valdez Hall at the Fresno Convention Center to commemorate the achievements of an individual and a company in the County’s agricultural industry.

 

Fresno Chamber of Commerce logoNathan Ahle, president and CEO of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, said, “We are very excited about this. This is the 33rd time the Fresno Chamber has presented the Agriculturist of the Year Award, and the 21st time the Fresno-based CPA firm Baker, Peterson and Franklin has presented the Ag Business of the Year Award. We recognize that Ag is really the life-blood of our economy. This event is an honor to do and something we take great pride in.”

 

This year’s Agriculturist of the Year Award recipient is Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League. “Everybody knows Manuel Cunha—a legend in Valley Ag as president of the Nisei Farmers League for two decades,” Ahle said. “ This gentleman is a force to be recognized with when it comes to fighting for our farmers, fighting for water, fighting for anything and everything that has to do with agriculture in the Central Valley.”

2016 Fresno Chamber of Commerce Agriculturist of the Year recipient, Manuel Cunha, president, Nisei Farmers League.
2016 Fresno Chamber of Commerce Agriculturist of the Year recipient, Manuel Cunha, president, Nisei Farmers League.

 

Nisei Farmers League, established in 1971, informs grower members about ever-changing regulations and policies and provides legal assistance for labor and workplace-related issues. The league’s leadership and staff maintain a close working relationship with local, state and federal agencies and legislators to assure grower interests are adequately understood and defended.

 

The League also collaborates with other grower and agricultural organizations in California and other states to help provide a powerful and unified voice for the agricultural community.  The Nisei Farmers League is all about strength, clear focus and growers looking out for growers and farmworkers.

 

This year’s Ag Business Award recipient, Booth Ranches, is a premium San Joaquin Valley citrus grower. Otis Booth, Jr. founded Booth Ranches in 1957 on 40 acres by the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Range near Orange Cove.

booth ranches logo

 

Today, Booth Ranches is still family owned and operated on acreage from Orange Cove in the Northern San Joaquin Valley to Maricopa in Kern County to the South. Pasadena-born, fifth-generation farmer Loren Booth currently manages Booth Ranches which boasts premium Navel oranges, Valencia oranges, Cara-Caras, Minneolas and W. Murcott Mandarins that are distributed worldwide.

 

The selection panel went through a tough selection process, according to Ahle. “Those who have been in the Valley longer than I have tell me this is the strongest group of candidates for the award that we have ever had. I think it just speaks to the great passion that we have for Ag in this community, and Manuel Cunha and the team at Booth Ranches are great, great recipients.”

Harlan Ranch Bulldozes Citrus Trees Due to No Water

 

Harlan Ranch Loses More than Just Trees

Shawn Stevenson is the Vice President of Harlan Ranch, a third-generation family-owned and operated farm located in Fresno County. He says this is the toughest time the ranch has experienced in its history.

Stevenson spoke as a bulldozer uprooted productive trees last week.  “Once we finished pushing these trees, we’re going to be out about 400 acres of the 1200 acres that’s pushed. In addition, we have another 140 acres we’re just giving enough water to barely keep alive,” said Stevenson. “The balance of our crops are receiving 66 percent of their normal water. So no matter what kind of crop that is out here on Harlan Ranch this year, it’s a very tough year as far as water goes,” he added.

Stevenson explained that the lack of water isn’t just about crops, but the people involved as well.

“There’s not enough water. It impacts the trees. It impacts our employees. Earlier this year I had my first layoffs I ever done because of lack of work, and that’s because we are pushing out so many trees. About 30 percent of our employees were let go. That was the probably the most devastating time that I’ve faced here,” said Stevenson.

He added that this reaches far more than just his farm, that the drought permeates all aspects of the industry, not just growers.

Stevenson predicted that this coming season, he’ll produce and deliver to the packing house about 25 percent of the volume of citrus produced in the past year. “That impacts not only our employees but the packers at the packing house, the people who sell the fruit, and the people we buy pesticides and fertilizers from,” Stevenson added.

With drought reaching the majority of the state, with 58 percent of California at the highest drought-level, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor reportsome farmers are thinking about the future of the industry in California.

“Now, I understand not all of Fresno and not all of California looks this bad, but imagine that we’re like the “canary in the coal mine”. This is what the future of California looks like. This kind of devastation that you see here is what our future looks like. If we continue to have no or little surface water deliveries, and as the groundwater situation continues to deteriorate. Without more surface water, without more water supplies, this is the future of the Central Valley,” said Stevenson.

“Several months ago, I looked back at what the worst case scenario would be and started making plans for that worst case scenario. And, the worst case scenario is about right on track. I don’t think a lot of people realize that is like a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, or a wildfire or an earthquake, it’s just going to take a lot longer time to happen. It’s going to happen slowly—the devastation to our economy, to peoples’ lives, to whole communities,” he said.

Stevenson also mentioned communities such as Mendota and Orange Cove, which rely completely on the agriculture industry for employment, and added, “without work, this can leave entire cities in dire situations.”

“Our water infrastructure has been far out-stripped by the people in this state, so it’s time we update it and figure out how to get more water to more people in the state and try to preserve agriculture for our state, our country, and our world,” Stevenson said.

Valley Citrus Growers Receive 0% Water Allocation; Citrus Growers Available for Interviews April 23, 2014!

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.

California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen
California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen

“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. 

Andrew Brown
Andrew Brown

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
Gus Carranza

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
Maribel Nenna

 

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
Matt Leider

 

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
Carlos Gutierrez

 

 

 

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.