Mario Santoyo: Hold Environmental Water Use Accountable!
By Laurie Greene, California Ag Today Editor
California Ag Today met with Mario Santoyo, executive director for the California Latino Water Coalition at the recent Clovis drought forum organized by Assemblymember Jim Patterson to talk about how serious the current drought situation has become.
“We are definitely in one of the worst drought situations that has happened in recent times. But the fact is, the 1977 drought was actually worse than where we are now. But this year, we’re at a zero water allocation and in ’77 we were at 25% for both the Eastside and Westside. So what’s the difference? Well, it boils down to the differences that are now dedicating a whole bunch of water to environment use, but the environment is not being held accountable for its usage,” Santoyo said.
“Cities and agriculture have had to be very accountable for their water usage and efficiency. It’s not the same for the environment, and so I’m hoping people will understand this discrepancy when we push to reallocate some of the water back to the cities and farms. We must hold environmental water use accountable!”
Santoyo noted the critical importance of building new water storage projects. “We have been working on this for a long time, and we just can’t afford to continue losing millions and millions of acre-feet of water to the ocean during times like this, when we could use that water. We need everyone to understand they have a role in communicating to the state government that we must advance our storage capacity.“
Santoyo noted, “Farmworker communities are doing a lot worse because, again, zero allocation on both the Eastside and Westside quickly translates into fallowed land, which means there are fewer jobs available. So farmworkers now find themselves in an extremely difficult position in which they either stick around and hope for the best or they leave. But once they leave, they aren’t coming back,” he said.
And, that makes life tough for the farmworkers, but it also makes it tough for the farmers because they need water and labor. You can’t do without both, and the lack of one causes problems with the other; if you don’t have water, you lose the labor, and then what do you do? So, it’s unfortunate that some changes in the way we are using water today have changed the entire landscape of agriculture here in the Central Valley.”
In terms of what we can do, Santoyo urged Californians never to give up. “There’s no reason why we all cannot write letters to our representatives and to the governor! Wake him up! Tell him, ‘Hey by the way, you’re supposed to represent us and step to the plate. Have better control over State Water Resources Control Board because they are making tons of mistakes.’ Governor Brown must start making the right decisions for the people.”
We are witnessing the dismantling of the California water conveyance system that supplies drinking water for 25 million California residents and four million acres of prime farmland in the San Joaquin Valley.
Our water resources are being “Withheld” from the very people of this state who have shown what “Free Enterprise” can do not only for the well-being of all in California, but the entire nation. Unfortunately, several major environmental groups and complacent politicians are killing the freedoms that have been the bulwark of success in California. Let me explain.
Water is our most valuable renewable resource and Mother Nature gives it to California in copious amounts during most years. What we do with that water—water management—is critical to the future of the Golden State.
On average, 200.0 million acre-feet of water a year blankets our state. One acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons of water. Of that precipitation, 75% originates north of the Sacramento River. The other 25% falls in central and southern California.
The water that is not manageable by us is 120.0 million acre-feet. Some of it evaporates, but most of it settles into the ground, fills lakes, and what remains heads for the Pacific Ocean. The balance of the water is called “directable” surface water (80,000,000 acre-feet) and this is where we have the opportunity to put it to its best and proper use.
By 2005, according to the Department of Water Resources, 48% of that directable water went to the environment, 41% to agriculture and the remaining 11% to rural areas. This balance of such a precious resource seemed at the time to be equitable to all parties, thanks to the ingenuity of our forefathers in the 20th century. Their foresight gave us a water conveyance system second to none in the entire world.
California’s water conveyance system had four major objectives:
To provide reliable water deliveries to 25 million people to avoid water shortages that would otherwise exist and continually plague two-thirds of the California population.
To support four million acres in central California of what the National Geographic Magazine proclaimed to be the most productive farmland in the world.
To reinforce our natural environment.
To recharge our groundwater supplies.
Some distinctions should be made here as to how much directable water we are actually concerned about. At full capacity, the two California water conveyance systems—the State Water Project (SWP) and the federal Central Valley Project (CVP)—deliver water from northern California to southern and central California. Each system, the CVP and the SWP, has the capacity to each deliver 4.0 million acre-feet water each year. However, this water delivery capacity has never been tested. The record shows that in the years prior to 2005, the average total delivery COMBINED for both projects was 5.4 million acre-feet per year. The ultimate users of this water went to agriculture (60%) and the rural population (40%).
The volume of water available, on average, from the Sacramento River, including the San Joaquin River, is 30.3 million acre-feet. It is from this volume of water that the 5.4 million acre-feet are sent south.
In 2007, several environmental organizations led by Natural Resources Defense Council took the Department of Water Resources to court to compel the court to enforce the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The court ruling to enforce this law declared that the giant water export pumps that raise the water from the Delta into the California Aqueduct were cut back because it was suspect that the pumps were killing too many delta smelt, an endangered species.
Even in flood years restricted pumping has reduced the water flow to a fraction of the contracted normal flow. Henceforth, since 2007, our water deliveries to urban and agricultural areas have been severely compromised.
The enforcement of these laws is now negating the four major functions of the giant California water conveyance system outlined with the possible exception of the natural environment. Now mind you, this water comes from northern California where 75% of the rain in California falls, averaging over 50 inches a year. Central and southern California “average” less than 15 inches a year.
During the seven years from 2007 through 2014, average deliveries to farms have been reduced to less than one acre-foot per year. Most agricultural crops require 3 ½ acre-feet of water per year. Today, without recourse, these farms are left with barely enough water to keep their plants alive. As for the hardship visited upon 25 million consumers, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) in southern California is a good example.
The MWD services 19 million accounts, and prior to 2007, was receiving 40% of its water from the SWP. That water source has now only been able to supply approximately 10% of their needs. Consequently, due to seeking other sources to replace their water losses, rate increases to their customers over the years 2007 to 2014 have doubled. On top of all these setbacks, Mother Nature now has shown us her own drought versus our manufactured water crisis. All the way through this synthetic drought, the average rate of precipitation at the source of our water in northern California has been 45 inches each year.
In order to survive, those of us who must have an adequate supply of water to sustain us have been forced to pump more groundwater and/or purchase water from farmers who idle farmland and transfer their water to areas severely threatened with water shortages. For some of those lucky enough to find water for sale, the cost of water has become a severe financial burden. Where farms in the Central Valley were, prior to 2007, paying just under $100 per acre-foot, today if a willing seller can be found, the price can range anywhere from $1,000 to over $2,000 per acre-foot. In many such cases, water costs can exceed all other cultural costs combined. Likewise, the aquifer has dropped every year since 2007 due to frantic attempts by farmers to supplement the critical loss of surface water.
WHAT MUST BE DONE:
The effects of water deprivation over an eight-year period by a man-made drought capped by one of nature’s real droughts, is wrecking havoc with the nation’s food supply. The state of California is now in the grips of the Law of Diminishing Returns and is incapable of averting a disaster due to environmental regulations. Consequently, this country’s NATIONAL SECURITY is being compromised. CONGRESS MUST ACT NOW before further damage is done. These actions need to be taken:
1. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) must be excluded from jurisdiction over the pumps, which move northern water to central and southern California. The pumps are presently operating at about 15% of their capacity. This measure should be permanent and under the management of the Department of Water Resources (DWR).
2. The Endangered Species Act needs to be revised in order to “protect all species”, including humans, from collateral damage due to methods employed to save one species that results in severe damage to other species. This would be implemented through a biological opinion that would INCLUDE a list of all species that would be adversely affected by the METHOD employed to protect one specific species. This measure would make right just one of the irregularities in this flawed law, which attracts litigation like bees to honey. The law does not need to be struck down, simply rewritten to safeguard “all” species, including human beings.
3. California’s magnificent water distribution and conveyance system has no peer in this world. It is a remarkable feat of engineering admired by those who have come from far and near to marvel at its accomplishment. Yet, by environmental fiat, it has been reduced to a token of its capabilities. “Directable” water in California originally ceded one-third of its 80,000,000 acre-feet to the environment.
Today, according to the DWR, the environment now takes, not one-third, but 50% of the direct able water, leaving the rest to urban and farming communities. This is not what the original framers envisioned, but under the DWR, its control has been gradually diluted by federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and one of its extensions known as the STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD (SWRCB). THIS FIVE PERSON-BOARD IS STAFFED WITH ENVIRONMENTALISTS, such as their chairwoman, Felicia Marcos, a Governor Brown-appointee, whose professional background includes eight years with the EPA and five years with the radical Natural Resources Defense Council.
The influence of these federal agencies, backed by political power brokers’ lobbyists, has tilted the water distribution of surface water away from its original intended users. In essence, the environmentalists now control California’s surface water; and now, with the passage of the recent 7.5 billion dollar Water Bond, they will control our groundwater as well. If the water agencies do not perform with the desired results, the bottom-line is that final control will go to the SWRCB.
The ship of state now needs to be righted; it is drifting far off course. First of all, the EPA must be brought to heel. For a federal agency, it exerts far too much power. And, in so doing, has completely distorted California’s surface water delivery system. Next, the SWRCB must either be eliminated with FULL CONTROL restored to the Department of Water Resources, or completely reorganized as an ADVISORY BOARD to the DWR where ALL recipients of the surface water system would be represented. A ten-board membership might be in order, with a director and the nine remaining seats divided into three equal parts by experienced personnel in agriculture, city water management, and the environment, i.e., three persons from each classification and residents of northern, central and southern California.
4. Finally, one in every ten workers in California is either directly, or indirectly dependent upon the health of our vast agricultural industry.
It is time to step forward and reveal, with facts and figures, the house of cards that water management in this state has become. Likewise, those 25 million people in southern California, such as the MWD’s 19 million users who once got 40% of their water from the giant conveyance system, deserve to get that water back.
With years of a man-made drought compounded by a natural drought now in the eighth year, there is ample information available through various farm county records to quantify in lost dollars the cumulative effect of, (1) lost production due to forced fallowing of land, (2) water costs that are now ten times what they were prior to 2007, and (3) the heavy burden economically of converting hardworking farm labor to the welfare roles where some Central Valley towns are now approaching 50% unemployment. Combined, these costs will be in the billions of dollars, bloating further our California deficit.
The goal of society has always been to improve the human condition and for one generation to leave a better world for the next. The visionaries of the 20th century got it right. They delivered in spades to us, the beneficiaries, a modern miracle. It is a water conveyance system like none other to serve all the people of California. Where are those visionaries now? Rather than embrace the gifts of a reliable source of precious water, they proceed to dismantle the entire system. It is because of the system that California feeds the nation. This is not just a California crisis. It is one that will affect the entire nation. Look upon it as a national security threat and demand that our leaders do what is right for the vast majority of this country’s people.
Lawrence H. Easterling, Jr. Administrator, Kettleman Pistachio Growers and Director, American Pistachio Growers
Mobilizing state resources to face another year of extreme dry conditions, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. joined Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, and Republican Leaders Senator Bob Huff and Assemblymember Kristin Olsen to announce legislation to help local communities cope with the ongoing, devastating drought. The $1 billion package will expedite bond funding to make the state more resilient to the disastrous effects of climate change and help ensure that all Californians have access to local water supplies.
“This unprecedented drought continues with no signs yet of letting up,” said Governor Brown. “The programs funded by the actions announced today will provide direct relief to workers and communities most impacted by these historic dry conditions.”
The legislation includes more than $1 billion for local drought relief and infrastructure projects to make the state’s water infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather events. The package accelerates $128 million in expenditures from the Governor’s budget to provide direct assistance to workers and communities impacted by drought and to implement the Water Action Plan. It also includes $272 million in Proposition 1 Water Bond funding for safe drinking water and water recycling and accelerates $660 million from the Proposition 1e for flood protection in urban and rural areas.
“Taken together, this package provides a major boost to our state’s efforts to manage the drought and strengthen our infrastructure,” said pro Tempore De León. “I want to thank the Governor and the Speaker for working together to respond to this crisis. It shows how we—as leaders–can get things done when we all work together in common purpose.”
“The drought isn’t letting up, so we can’t let up either,” said Speaker Atkins. “This legislation will deliver relief to Californians harmed by the drought and help us manage the significant problems the drought continues to cause. Since our skies are still clear—our job is too. And making sure we meet emergency needs, prepare for short term problems, and advance longer-term projects are an important part of that effort.”
“I want to thank the Governor, the pro Tem and the Speaker for inviting us today. We were briefed on this proposal just this morning, and so far it sounds like a good approach. We need to review the legislation in detail but it seems like a reasonable start,” said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff. “Republicans have consistently said that storage is essential for providing a reliable water source to all of California for future generations. The Prop 1 water bond that was passed last year is a critical step forward in meeting the needs for California’s future. There’s no question California’s drought crisis has worsened, as once again we’ve experienced a dry winter. With the hot summer months approaching, it’s incumbent on all Californians to be responsible with how they use water. It’s critical that we act now.”
“This emergency drought relief is an important band aid,” said Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen. “We must move beyond temporary fixes. Projects to increase water supply have been hung up in government red tape for decades. I’m glad today we are making decisions that help people and look to us all to take real actions on long-term projects so emergency actions are no longer needed.”
The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which Californians rely on heavily during the dry summer months for their water needs, is at a near record low. The March snowpack measurement came in at 0.9 inches of water content in the snow, just 5 percent of the March 3rd historical average for the measurement site. The overall water content for the Northern Sierra snowpack came in at 4.4 inches, just 16 percent of average for the date. Central and southern Sierra readings were 5.5 inches (20 percent of average) and 5 inches (22 percent) respectively. Only in 1991 has the water content of the snow been lower.
Taking action to further strengthen water conservation in the state, the State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday voted to expand and extend an emergency regulation to prohibit certain water use, such as washing down sidewalks, and create a minimum standard for outdoor irrigation restrictions by urban water suppliers.
Since last February, the state has pledged over $870 million to support drought relief, including money for food to workers directly impacted by the drought, funding to secure emergency drinking water supplies for drought impacted communities and bond funds for projects that will help local communities save water and make their water systems more resilient to drought. Last month, Governor Brown met with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in Sacramento to announce nearly $20 million in federal drought relief for California’s Central Valley Project.
In December 2013, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force to closely manage precious water supplies, to expand water conservation wherever possible and to quickly respond to emerging drought impacts throughout the state. The following month, the administration finalized a comprehensive Water Action Plan that charts the course for California to become more resilient in the face of droughts and floods and the Governor declared a drought state of emergency. In April 2014, the Governor called on the state to redouble their efforts at combating drought.
Last fall, the Governor signed legislation requiring local, sustainable groundwater management as well as legislation to put a water bondbefore voters, which won bipartisan approval in the Legislature and was approved overwhelmingly at the polls. He also issued an Executive Order streamlining efforts to provide water to families in dire need as the extreme drought continues to grip the state by making funding available through the California Disaster Assistance Act to provide water for drinking and sanitation to households currently without running water.
Governor Brown has called on all Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent and prevent water waste. Visit SaveOurWater.com to find out how everyone can do their part and Drought.CA.Gov to learn more about how California is dealing with the effects of the drought.
California legislators in Washington, D.C., issued a bicameral, bipartisan letter TODAY requesting the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) reverse last week’s decision of its Executive Director, Thomas Howard, to deny the joint Central Valley and State Water Projects’ request to more equitably share limited fresh water outflow into the Pacific Ocean.
Separately, Congressional House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued the following explanation TODAY via Kyle Lombardi, his Legislative Director:
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources submitted a Temporary Urgency Change Petition (TUCP) to the California State Water Resources Control Board (the State Board) on January 23rd to revise certain standards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to allow increased pumping to send more water, including from recent storms in the northern part of the state, to the Valley given the drought crisis.
Unfortunately, the initialdecision by the State Board’s executive director last week rejected the important part of the TUCP that would have allowed increased pumping because of concerns about impacts to smelt and salmon. Congressman McCarthy strongly feels this was the wrong decision, particularly given Federal and state fish agencies (i.e. the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife) all supported the TUCP, including the provisions to allow increased pumping.
Accordingly, Representatives Kevin McCarthy, David G. Valadao,Devin Nunes, Ken Calvert, Jeff Denham, Jim Costa, and Senator Dianne Feinstein sent the letter below to State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus demanding that the Water Board reverse their executive director’s decision and approve the TUCP in full to allow increased pumping. Here are a few passages:
Our constituents have told us that some do not even have water for basic necessities like cooking, drinking, and showering, and that some are abandoning their homes and moving out of State.
Many Central Valley towns have unemployment rates that are triple or quadruple that of the state average of 7 percent due to significantly reduced employment in the agricultural sector.
When five agencies – including three tasked with protecting fish – have already assessed and concurred that the export adjustment would not cause harms beyond those allowed under the most stringent statutes and biological opinions, we believe the Executive Director should not have rejected the agencies’ shared assessment and denied the export adjustment in the TUCP without a compelling rationale for taking such an extraordinary action.
We find the Executive Director’s reasons for denial unpersuasive and unsupported by the facts that have been carefully evaluated by five State and Federal agencies.
McCarthy encourages constituents to express similar support for the TUCP and increased pumping levels by contacting the Water Board via:
-In person: Public Water Board Workshop at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, February 18, 2015, in the Byron Sher Auditorium Joe Serna, Jr.-Cal/EPA Building, 1001 I Street, Second Floor, in Sacramento, CA.
California has allocated five times more surface water than the state actually has, making it hard for regulators to tell whose supplies should be cut during a drought, University of California researchers reported.
The scientists said California’s water-rights regulator, the State Water Resources Control Board, needs a systematic overhaul of policies and procedures to bridge the gaping disparity, but lacks the legislative authority and funding to do so.
Ted Grantham, who explored the state’s water-rights database as a postdoctoral researcher with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, said the time is ripe for tightening the water-use accounting.
“Given the public’s current attention on drought and California water, we now have an unprecedented opportunity for strengthening the water-rights system,” said Grantham, who conducted the analysis with UC Merced Professor Joshua Viers.
Better information might enable state regulators to better target water cutbacks in times of drought, Grantham said.
Grantham and Viers verified that water-rights allocations exceed the state’s actual surface water supply by about 300 million acre-feet, enough to fill Lake Tahoe about 2.5 times.
The state has allocated a total maximum allowable use of 370 million acre-feet of surface water — more than five times the 70 million acre-feet available in a year of good precipitation, according to the researchers’ review of active water rights on record. The analysis was published today (Aug. 19) in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
The scientists said the California’s water-rights allocation system is complicated and backlogged, which contributes to the mismatched accounting. For example, people sometimes take water, apply retroactively for the right to use the water and continue taking it — sometimes for up to a decade — while their applications are pending.
Inaccurate reporting by water-rights holders worsens the problem. Some may even deliberately overestimate so they do not lose as much if cutbacks occur. The result is that in most water basins and in most years, far more people hold water rights than there is water. In the San Joaquin River basin, for example, water-rights allocations exceed the river’s average annual flow by eightfold.
“All those allocations mean that in times of drought, it’s hard to tell who should have to reduce water use, causing delays in issuing curtailments,“ said Viers, director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at UC Merced.
During the current drought, the state water board has for some watersheds ordered curtailments for all water users, to protect fish.
Viers and Grantham, now with the U.S. Geological Survey, are working to iron out issues with its database and make the information available to policymakers.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has extended its deadline for applications for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) by two weeks, until July 29, 2014.
An estimated $10 million in competitive grant funding, authorized by emergency drought legislation (Senate Bill 103), will be awarded to provide financial assistance to agricultural operations for implementation of water conservation measures that result in increased water efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Applications must be submitted electronically using FAAST by Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 5:00 p.m. PST.
Applicants must access the Application Guidelines for detailed information and program requirements. To streamline and expedite the application process, CDFA is partnering with the State Water Resources Control Board, which hosts an online application using the Financial Assistance Application Submittal Tool (FAAST).
Prospective applicants may contact CDFA’s Grants Office at email@example.com with general program questions.
Governor Brown has called on all Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent and prevent water waste – visit SaveOurH2O.org to find out how everyone can do their part, and visit Drought.CA.Gov to learn more about how California is dealing with the effects of the drought.
On January 17 Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued a drought emergency proclamation following three dry or critically dry years in California. Extreme drought now covers nearly 80 percent of the state and these conditions will likely continue into the foreseeable future.
More than 400,000 acres of farmland are expected to be fallowed, thousands of people may be out of work, communities risk running out of drinking water and fish and wildlife species are in jeopardy. Many communities are down to 50 gallons a day or less per person for basic sanitation needs. With our inability to predict the effect of the next rainy season, water saved today can improve a region’s water security and add flexibility to systems that may need to withstand another year or more with precipitation below average.
In a survey conducted by the State Water Board in June, while many communities have significantly reduced their water demand over time, it is clear that more can be done.
Conservation Actions Needed
Because of these dire conditions and the need to conserve more, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) is proposing that individuals and water agencies take necessary steps to conserve water supplies both for this year and into 2015, and is recommending that individuals and water agencies do even more voluntarily to manage our precious water resources.
Most Californians use more water outdoors than indoors. In some areas, 50 percent or more of our daily water use is for lawns and outdoor landscaping. Some urban communities have been investing in conservation, particularly indoors, for years, but reducing the amount of water used outdoors can make the biggest difference of all.
Temporary Water Restrictions
To promote water conservation statewide, the emergency regulations would prohibit each of the following, except in case of health or safety needs or to comply with a term or condition in a permit issued by a state or federal agency:
The direct application of water to any hard surface for washing
Watering of outdoor landscapes that cause runoff to adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadways, parking lots or structures
Using a hose to wash an automobile, unless the hose is fitted with a sit-off nozzle
Using potable water in a fountain or decorative water feature, unless the water is recirculated
Action by Urban Water Suppliers Required
To reduce water demand, the regulations would require urban water suppliers to implement their Water Shortage Contingency Plans at a level that triggers mandatory restrictions on outdoor water use. Almost all urban water suppliers (those with more than 3,000 water connections) have these plans; about 40 of these larger agencies do not.
Water supplier serving fewer than 3,000 connections must also, within 30 days, require customers to limit outdoor irrigation to no more than two days per week or implement another mandatory conservation measure to achieve a comparable reduction in water consumption by the people it serves relative to the amount consumed in 2013.
Citrus growers and communities within the Friant service area, however, are still without water despite the availability of additional supplies from recent storm events.
There have been many opportunities for the state water agencies to communicate with stakeholders the amount of water that will be delivered, yet they consistently fail to provide numbers.
A conference call was scheduled on Friday, but after being postponed twice it was cancelled. “The lack of communication by Federal and State administrations to producers of fresh fruits and vegetables regarding future deliveries is unacceptable,” says Nelsen.
A vast majority of the Central Valley’s $1.5 billion citrus industry is located within the Friant Service Area. Due to the unwillingness of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to cooperate with State and Federal lawmakers and agencies, an estimated 50,000 acres of citrus in the Central Valley is at risk of being forced out of production.
We now know that because of the February and March storms there is sufficient supply to service the Friant Canal’s minimum needs of 200,000 acre-feet. However, “NMFS fails to realize the disastrous impacts of their unwillingness to reevaluate the actual needs of the fish and reach a balanced solution for all stakeholders,” says CCM President Joel Nelsen. “Growers are now being forced to make difficult decisions as the bureaucrats at NMFS fail to reach a decision of their own.”
Acres upon acres of valuable citrus trees have already been pushed out of production. 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.
California Citrus Mutual estimates that a loss of 50,000 acres will result in a $3 billion hit to the California economy. “This is not just about trees, it is a matter of public health,” continues Nelsen. “Unless our growers receive their fair share of water from the Friant Canal our communities will suffer without the economic driver of a vibrant citrus industry in the Central Valley.”
“I ask, is it worth sending excess amounts of water down the river at the expense of an entire industry and the 20,000 jobs it creates,” concludes Nelsen.
With California’s driest months ahead, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued an executive order to strengthen the state’s ability to manage water and habitat effectively in drought conditions and called on all Californians to redouble their efforts to conserve water.
“The driest months are still to come in California and extreme drought conditions will get worse,” said Governor Brown. “This order cuts red tape to help get water to farmers more quickly, ensure communities have safe drinking water, protect vulnerable species and prepare for an extreme fire season. I call on every city, every community, every Californian to conserve water in every way possible.”
In January, the Governor declared a drought state of emergency. Since then, state water officials say that reservoirs, rainfall totals and the snowpack remain critically low. Current electronic readings show the snowpack’s statewide water content at just 16 percent of average.
In the order, Governor Brown directs the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board to expedite approvals of voluntary water transfers to assist farmers. He also directs the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to accelerate monitoring of drought impacts on winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River and its tributaries, and to execute habitat restoration projects that will help fish weather the on-going drought.
To respond to the increased threat of wildfire season, the order streamlines contracting rules for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and CALFIRE for equipment purchases and enables landowners to quickly clear brush and dead, dying or diseased trees that increase fire danger.
The order also calls on Californians and California businesses to take specific actions to avoid wasting water, including limiting lawn watering and car washing; recommends that schools, parks and golf courses limit the use of potable water for irrigation; and asks that hotels and restaurants give customers options to conserve water by only serving water upon request and other measures. The order also prevents homeowner associations from fining residents that limit their lawn watering and take other conservation measures.
The order provides a limited waiver of the California Environmental Quality Act for several actions that will limit harm from the drought. This waiver will enable these urgently needed actions to take place quickly and will remain in place through the end of 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.
“Friday’s announcement was made with much fanfare and yet the decision completely ignores the East side of the San Joaquin Valley, and even stipulates that we are not important,” says CCM President Joel Nelsen.
The photo above depicts “petal fall” and the first life stages of an orange, when the blooms have fallen. It is at this critical point of the growing season, when we enter into the hottest months of the year, that sufficient water is available for the cultivation of the crop.
California is the Nation’s number one supplier of fresh citrus. “Our Valley is the number supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables and yet that does not enter into the equation for water needs,” continues Nelsen. “What ever happened to the goal of providing a bountiful array of fresh produce at affordable prices?”
The Friant-Kern Canal needs at least 200,000 acre-feet to remain functioning. The decision not to release sufficient water to the State Water Project guarantees that exchange contractors will call upon their first rights to water supplies in Millerton Lake and reduce the amount that would otherwise flow to the Friant-Kern Canal. This decision is forcing growers to make their own decision – between pushing out trees and holding out for water that may come too late, or not at all. Over 50,000 acres of citrus in the San Joaquin Valley is at risk. But, it is not just trees that will be pushed if Friant does not receive water – jobs will be pushed, people will be pushed, and the economy will surely suffer.
“I continue to be mystified by the announcement last Friday and the inconsistencies it presents,” says Nelsen. “The announcement on Friday and previous announcements all state that the public should strive to conserve at least 20% of their normal water use. Yet the producers I represent, and for that matter all producers on the Eastside of the San Joaquin Valley, are being told to give up 100% of their water. In fact, those in the Friant Service area are the only contractors being asked to give up 100% of their water.”
This situation is real and devastating for many family citrus farmers. Here are a just a few growers who are facing zero water allocations.
These growers, and others, will be available for interviews tomorrow, April 23rd at 2:00 p.m. at the Lamp Liter Inn in Visalia. Please provide advanced notice to Alyssa Houtby, 559-737-8899 if you plan to attend.
Andrew Brown, a fourth generation citrus grower in the Orange Cove, Orosi/Cutler area works alongside his father and brothers on his family’s farm. Andrew has known since college he would follow in his father’s footsteps and return to faming because it is a rewarding business mentally, spiritually, financially. Now he has his own ranch where, one day, his two young children want to be second generation farmers.
Gus Carranza grew up picking oranges in the San Joaquin Valley alongside his parents. He worked through school as a truck driver for a farming operation. His career in the citrus industry eventually led him to work for a major citrus grower-shipper operation. He now manages their field department.
In 2000, he started farming his own acreage in Terra Bella with his brothers. What began as a 10-acre operation has now expanded to 130 acres. Carranza has received zero surface water this year. Unless something changes, he will watch his trees die, and watch his investment of $30,000 per acre die with them.
Maribel Nenna works for a packing house in Southern California as the operation’s field advisor in the Central Valley. Ten years ago, she and her brother took their passion for the citrus industry and purchased 10 acres of citrus. Today, they farm 40 acres – all have received zero water allocation. In two weeks those trees, approximately 135 trees per acre, will lose their crop if they do not receive water.
Matt Leider is a 5th generation citrus producer. He grew up working on his mother’s ranch in Southern California before going to college. His involvement in the citrus industry is now two-fold. He works on his uncle’s citrus ranch in Porterville, and manages a successful mechanical pruning business that services citrus growers throughout the Valley. He needs one acre-foot of water per acre just to keep his family’s citrus acreage alive, but he doesn’t have it.
Carlos Gutierrez came to Lindsay when he was four years old. In 1999 he started a portable restroom business servicing citrus harvest crews. He then bought 12 acres of citrus on his own in 2001. Now, he manages harvesting crews for a packing house and owns over 100 acres on his own. He has a little water, but not enough to keep all of his acreage alive.
Jesus Ramos farms 86 acres in Terra Bella and another 50 acres in Strathmore. He put down a deposit of $600 per acre-foot for water, and now hopes to find water at $1,200 an acre-foot. But, he can’t find any because none is available. He hopes to save his best acreage because he knows he can’t save everything.
The California citrus industry is dominated by family farmers. “Everybody talks about protecting the family farmer, but by denying surface water to the Friant service area the state’s water agencies are aiding in their demise,” concludes Nelsen.