President’s Order Restores Western Water Supplies

Farm Bureau, CA Farm Water Coalition, Family Farm Alliance and Western Growers Support Order

News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh

Last week, President Trump provided welcome relief to Western farmers, cities, rural communities and wildlife refuges that have struggled under water supply rules that are long overdue for an update. Prioritizing national interest and the value of California food production, the president’s order requires the re-consultation of the biological opinions to be completed and fully implemented by August 2019.

The deadline will bring to a close the review of rules governing the long-term operation of the federal Central Valley Project and California State Water Project. The review has been underway since August 2016, a process the order requires to be concluded by Aug. 31, 2019.

The president’s action fulfills his campaign commitment to help solve the state’s water supply shortages and will greatly benefit Central Valley communities and the environment. Since 1992, water supply restrictions have caused severe economic consequences for farms and the people who depend on them for work. Many of the state’s most disadvantaged communities have suffered due to scarce water supplies.temperance flat dam

Wildlife refuges that are a critical component of the Pacific Flyway have had insufficient water to meet the needs of millions of ducks, geese, shorebirds, songbirds and endangered animals in large parts of the Central Valley and the Klamath Basin. An ongoing review of the rules governing these critical water supplies only delays the ability of these important areas to recover.

This action will also help address water shortages that have occurred across the West as the result of federal regulations overseen by multiple agencies. It offers hope to farmers and ranchers served by federal water projects in the Pacific Northwest, including the Columbia Basin and the Klamath Basin. The president’s order places the responsibility of operating the federal water projects with the Department of the Interior, to be supported by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The action prohibits any impacts to threatened or endangered species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

This issue has been scrutinized by the Executive Branch as far back as 2011. At that time, President Obama observed that the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in freshwater, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. Those overlapping jurisdictions have only slowed efforts to help the fish.

A committee convened by the National Research Council also studied this matter a few years ago. The NRC found that the lack of a systematic, well-framed overall analysis between the two services is “a serious scientific deficiency, and it likely is related to the ESA’s practical limitations as to the scope of actions that can or must be considered in a single biological opinion.”

Improved coordination between federal agencies will promote more efficient, effective and coordinated management of all ESA responsibilities for anadromous and freshwater fish in Western watersheds, from the highest reaches of our headwaters to the Pacific Ocean.

“This action is an important and common-sense move that will benefit Western farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods depend on federal water projects,” said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance. “It’s a practical and assertive change to Western water management and species recovery that our membership strongly supports.”

California’s GOP congressional delegation from the Central Valley played an important role in identifying the problems in the state’s water system and worked closely with the Trump administration to produce a solution that is consistent with federal law and will improve the water delivery system.

“There’s no question that the Central Valley has lagged behind the economic recovery experienced in other parts of the state. We’re optimistic that these changes will not only help improve water supplies for farms, farm-related businesses, and disadvantaged rural communities, they will provide the incentive to put science-based solutions to work to help recover iconic native fish species that have suffered under the existing regulatory approach,” said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

“This is a common-sense improvement to a process that has been abused in the past by regulatory agencies seeking to impose a scientifically-unsound regime on water users that ultimately, by design, de-irrigates some of the highest quality farmland in the world. This move by the Administration simply ensures that the process of revising the rules governing Delta water operations will be less vulnerable to regulatory abuse,” said Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers Association.

“Implementation of the Endangered Species Act can be better for both species and people, and the president’s action moves us in that direction,” California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson said. “It’s time to grow beyond the culture of conflict that has governed California water for too long. We need streamlined solutions that benefit species and that benefit both the farmers who provide California-grown food and farm products and everyone who depends on those products.”

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Pushing for Immigration Reform

The Unrelenting Push for Immigration Reform

By Laurie Greene, Editor

 

Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers Association is frustrated with the lack of immigration reform. “In 2013, we finally got a bill passed in the United States Senate. The reason we got it passed in the Senate is because we supported the pathway to citizenship; the other things we could work out,” Nassif said.

Tom Nassif
Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers Association

“However, in the United States House of Representatives,” Nassif continued, “they didn’t want a pathway to citizenship. They weren’t even sure if they wanted a pathway to legalization,” he noted.

“Most people didn’t even want a border security bill coming to the floor for a vote in the House because they didn’t want any immigration reform—whatsoever,” said Nassif. “They were part of that ‘send them home crowd.’ Anything you did, even if it was putting them on probation or fining themwhatever we didwas still considered amnesty. That is not amnesty. What we have today is amnesty because we’re not doing anything about it,” he argued.

Nassif had a mixed opinion on the recent Supreme Court of the United States’ 4-4 ruling against President Obama regarding his expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). “In a way, it disappointed us; in a way, it didn’t,” Nassif commented.

Western Growers logo“The reason it didn’t disappoint us is because there was no requirement that the people working in agriculture who might qualify for DACA or DAPA would remain in agriculture. Under the Senate bill, to get a pathway, you had to stay in agriculture for a certain number of years. In this case, they could have gone to work in any industry. If you have the choice of working in industry, why would you work on the farm? The choice adds adversity and affects other American jobs,” said Nassif.

Immigration reform should not be done by executive order, according to Nassif, as President Obama was trying to do. “It should be done by the legislature. They have the responsibility and the duty to pass immigration reform,” he said.

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Westlands Water Allocation “Despicable”

Westlands Water Allocation “Despicable”

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Earlier TODAY, the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) stunned the farming industry by announcing a  5% water allocation for most of the farmland to the Westlands Water District on the Westside in the Central San Joaquin Valley. This single digit water allocation to the comes during an El Niño year of wet weather, following four years of drought and restricted water deliveries to Westlands of 40% in 2012, 20% (2013), 0% (2014) and 0% again (2015).

Westlands Water District LogoLes Wright, agriculture commissioner for the Fresno County Department of Agriculture—ground zero for agricultural water cutbacks, said, “I can’t think of a word to describe how I am feeling about our federal water managers. It’s despicable what they’re doing to this Valley.”

“You have two major reservoirs in flood stage,” said Wright, “but they are refusing to turn the pumps on. It’s like they want to starve out the Valley, its farmers and communities. Agriculture is the major economic driver for the Valley communities, and they’re doing everything they can to drive the people out of this Valley.”

Established in 1902, the USBR, according to its website, is best known for the building of more than 600 dams and reservoirs, plus power plants and canals, constructed in 17 western states. These water projects led to homesteading and promoted the economic development of the West. 
Sign of drought Westlands Water District Turnout

The USBR website reads, “Today, we are the largest wholesaler of water in the country. We bring water to more than 31 million people, and provide one out of five Western farmers (140,000) with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland that produce 60% of the nation’s vegetables and 25% of its fruits and nuts.”

Yet, some Western farmers have received a 0% water allocation for each of the past two years, and now may receive only 5% this year. Already, Westlands Water District reports over 200,000 acres of prime farmland in the district have already been fallowed.

Ryan Jacobsen, Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO
Ryan Jacobsen, Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO

“Reservoirs throughout the state have been filling,” said Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO, Ryan Jacobsen, in a statement TODAY. “However, the government’s restrictive interpretation has resulted in the permanent loss of 789,000 acre-feet of water,” said Jacobsen. “Since December 2015, more than 200 billion gallons of water have been forever lost to the ocean, with almost no water being allocated to agriculture.”

Commissioner Wright reflected, “President Obama and both California senators have been here in the Valley, on the ground. They have seen what we are doing. They recognize the crisis; yet they refuse to use their authorities to correct the situationin a year when we’re dumping millions of gallons of water to the ocean.”

Wright explained the federal government is sending fresh water to the ocean in excess of what is needed for the environment and the protected species. “They are just wasting the water,” he said, “and yet, we have the Governor telling us to cut back 25% to 35%. And all of that water we saved last summer and in the last year, they have more than doubled the waste.”

“Where is the governor on this issue?” Wright asked. “It is despicable what the government is doing to its people.”

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Feinstein Urges President to Increase Delta Pumping

Feinstein Calls on President to Direct Federal Agencies to Increase Delta Pumping

 

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) TODAY called on President Obama to direct federal agencies “to maximize pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the maximum extent allowed under the Endangered Species Act and biological opinions.”

Feinstein wrote in her letter to the president: “I believe that this year’s El Niño has highlighted a fundamental problem with our water system: A dogmatic adherence to a rigid set of operating criteria that continues to handcuff our ability to rebuild our reserves. We need a more nimble system. That’s why I included $150 million the past two years in the Energy and Water budget—so that decisions would be based on real-time data, rather than relying on intuition.”

Full text of the letter follows:

March 24, 2016

The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I ask you to direct the Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service to maximize pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the maximum extent allowed under the Endangered Species Act and biological opinions. Water flows in the Sacramento River are the highest they have been in four years. Just last week, flows in the Sacramento were as high as 76,000 cubic feet per second. We’ve only seen flows that high twice in the past ten years, and not once during this drought. Yet the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service are now considering reducing pumping due to concerns about larval smelt.

Despite these high flows, rather than pumping as much water as possible without undue harm to the smelt, pumping levels remained constant for the past month (see Chart B). Coupled with the fact that only three individual smelt were caught at the pumps this year, and that the most recent trawls revealed no Delta smelt in the south Delta, it seems to me that the agencies operate the system in a manner that may be contrary to the available data, culled from what is already a limited monitoring regime. I understand that the biological opinions impose a ceiling of -5,000 cubic feet per second, but the agencies have the discretion to exercise at least some flexibility to pump above that level.

To put this all in context, between January 1 and March 6 last year, 1.5 million acre-feet of water flowed through the Delta and 745,000 acre-feet were pumped out. During the same period this year, 5.5 million acre-feet of water flowed through the Delta, but only 852,000 acre-feet were pumped out (see Chart A). If we can’t increase pumping during an El Niño year, then when else can we?

The agencies have also put California and the communities that depend on this water in a Catch-22: Pumping is reduced when there are concerns about the presence of smelt caught as far away as 17 miles from the pumps. Yet agencies will also reduce pumping due to the absence of smelt, based on the idea that historically low smelt populations make detection difficult.

I believe that this year’s El Niño has highlighted a fundamental problem with our water system: A dogmatic adherence to a rigid set of operating criteria that continues to handcuff our ability to rebuild our reserves. We need a more nimble system. That’s why I included $150 million the past two years in the Energy and Water budget—so that decisions would be based on real-time data, rather than relying on intuition.

There are real-world consequences to the decisions being made in the Delta. 69 communities in the Southern San Joaquin Valley reported significant water supply and quality issues. And land is caving, bridges collapsing, as a result of overdrawn ground wells and subsidence. That’s why we need to make sure we’re using every possible tool to make the right choices. Basing pumping decisions on better science and real-time monitoring is the least we can do.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

###

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Bipartisan Group of Former Agriculture Secretaries Urges Congress to Pass Trade Promotion Authority

A bipartisan group of former U.S. Agriculture Secretaries, representing all past Administrations from those of President Jimmy Carter to President George W. Bush, issued the following open letter urging Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority.

The former secretaries note that boosting trade and exports is highly beneficial to America’s agriculture economy and that Trade Promotion Authority—which has been given to all previous presidents since Gerald Ford (with similar authority granted to all presidents since Franklin Delano Roosevelt)—is critical for successfully negotiating new trade partnerships that boost exports and create jobs. Congress could begin consideration of legislation to grant President Obama Trade Promotion Authority as early as next week.

The letter from the former Secretaries follows:

As former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture, we know firsthand the importance of trade to America’s farm and ranch families. Access to export markets is vital for increasing sales and supporting farm income at home. Recognizing the importance of exports, we worked hard to open foreign markets, including negotiating new or expanded trade agreements with other countries. Trade agreements lead to expanded agricultural exports by promoting economic growth, removing trade barriers and import duties and developing mutually beneficial trade rules.

Key to our ability to negotiate and implement market-opening agreements has been enactment of trade negotiating authority. This authority, now called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), ensures that the U.S. has the credibility to conclude the best deal possible at the negotiating table. TPA also ensures common negotiating objectives between the President and the Congress, and a continuous consultation process prior to final Congressional approval or disapproval of a trade agreement.

Every President since Gerald Ford has received TPA. Thanks to opportunities created by trade agreements, U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal year 2014 soared to a new record of $152.5 billion propelling farm income also to new highs. Trade helps farmers, their suppliers, distributors and customers. Exports support rural economies and the U.S. economy as a whole through agricultural processing, ancillary services and a host of related businesses. This was true when each of us served as US Secretary of Agriculture, and it is true now.

We are excited about new opportunities for U.S. agriculture in foreign markets. Opening markets helps farm families and their communities prosper. Other governments also recognize this and are actively forging their own trade agreements. If the United States stands still, other countries will quickly move ahead of us.

For us, the choice is clear: we encourage Congress to enact Trade Promotion Authority and support trade agreements that help U.S. farmers, ranchers, and producers thrive.

Signed,

Secretary Ed Schafer (2008–2009)

Secretary Mike Johanns (2005–2007)

Secretary Ann Veneman (2001–2005)

Secretary Dan Glickman (1995–2001)

Secretary Mike Espy (1993–1994)

Secretary Clayton K. Yeutter (1989–1991)

Secretary John R. Block (1981–1986)

Secretary Robert Bergland (1977–1981)

USDA Designates Imperial County as Primary Natural Disaster Area

Drought-Ridden Imperial County Named Primary Natural Disaster Area 

TODAY, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated Imperial County in California as a primary natural disaster area due to damages and losses caused by a recent drought.

“Our hearts go out to those California farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling California producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”

Imperial County, CA
Imperial County, CA

Farmers and ranchers in Riverside and San Diego Counties in California also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.

Farmers and ranchers in La Paz and Yuma Counties in Arizona also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.

All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas TODAY, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

Additional programs available to assist farmers and ranchers include the Emergency Conservation Program, The Livestock Forage Disaster Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program, and the Tree Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

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Federal Plans Begin to Address Climate Realities

Source: Dru Marion; CalCAN

Despite producing mixed results for sustainable agriculture interests, President Obama’s 2015 budget request is an encouraging sign that the federal government is getting serious about climate change, and particularly about adapting to its impacts.

The President’s proposal includes a $1 billion dollar Climate Resilience Fund, which is intended to strengthen preparedness of states and communities for increasingly extreme weather like floods, droughts, and wildfires.

The fund would support investment in research, technologies, and infrastructure across numerous agencies and sectors, including agriculture.

Word of the fund first came out in February, when Obama met with growers and ranchers in the San Joaquin Valley, the heart of drought-stricken California.

While touring the farm of Joe and Maria Del Bosque, who have fallowed their melon fields due to water shortages, the President emphasized the role federal support could play in alleviating drought impacts and preparing for the future.

“A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods are potentially going to be costlier,” he noted, “And they’re going to be harsher.”

More and more, the President’s administration seems to be acknowledging the link between climate change and adaptation needs in agriculture.

Last month’s visit from the President followed close behind Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s announcement that the USDA will be launching seven ‘Climate Hubs’ across the country, intended to “deliver science-based knowledge and practical information to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners within each region of the United States to support decision-making related to climate change.” (See the USDA fact sheet).

It is uncertain exactly how the Climate Hubs will be funded, however, and USDA Climate Change Program Office Director Bill Hohenstein has declined to comment on the overall estimated costs of the program.

Meanwhile, the 2015 budget request for USDA comes in at $23 billion – about a billion dollars below FY2014 levels. The Climate Resilience Fund is an obvious place to provide needed financial support to the Climate Hubs, but it remains unclear as to whether the President intends for the Fund to provide that support, and also whether Congress will approve the expenditure.

Despite these uncertainties, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson has voiced his support for Obama’s budget plan, saying, “The President’s proposed Climate Resilience Fund will provide farmers and ranchers with much-needed assistance after extreme weather events, which are occurring with increasing frequency.”

A growing acknowledgement of the link between climate change and agriculture on a federal level is heartening, to be sure, but it is worth noting that the budget plan leaves significant room for improvement with regard to sustainable ag programs more generally.

For a full overview of what the budget request means for sustainable ag interests, click here.

The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) brings a sustainable agricultural perspective to climate change and agriculture policy. Their efforts are aimed at increasing funding for research, technical assistance and financial incentives for farmers whose practices reduce GHG emissions, sequester carbon, and provide many environmental co-benefits.

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