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.
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.
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.
California State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”), in response to a Temporary Urgency Change Petition filed by the CVP and SWP operators, issued an order that had the effect of undermining water rights and contracts, regardless of historic priority, under SWCRB control for “health & safety” purposes. The current proposal would cause State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP) agricultural surface water deliveries to cease until 2015. Areas in need of “health & safety” water for the next year are undefined and not one evidentiary hearing has occurred.
Further, an official SWRCB decision was scheduled for March 12, 2014. A formal request for a delay of decision until March 21, 2014 was submitted by Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer, Congressman Garamendi, and Congressman Costa on March 5, 2014. SWRCB’s response was received on March 10, 2014, but with no clarity as to when they will implement further orders or hold hearings.
STATE WATER RESOURCE CONTROL BOARD
The State Water Board’s mission is to preserve, enhance and restore the quality of California’s water resources, and ensure their proper allocation and efficient use for the benefit of present and future generations. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (Regional Boards) protect water quality and administers surface water rights.
Felecia Marcus; Chair – Appointed in May 2012 by Gov. Jerry Brown
Frances Spivy-Weber; Vice-Chair – Reappointed in March 2013 by Gov. Jerry Brown
Steven Moore; Member – Appointed in May 2012 by Gov. Jerry Brown
Tam M. Doduc; Member – Reappointed in March 2013 by Gov. Jerry Brown
Dorene D’Adamo; Member – Appointed in March 2013 by Gov. Jerry Brown
Tom Howard; Executive Director – Appointed in August 2010 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
AREA of IMPACT
Area of impact includes 3,750,000 irrigated acres.
State Water Project Service Area includes Greater Los Angeles Area, Greater San Diego Area, Greater San Francisco Area, Santa Clara Valley, Inland Empire, Central Coast, Sacramento Valley, and San Joaquin Valley.
Central Valley Project Service Area spans 400 miles from the Cascade Mountains near Redding to the Tehachapi Mountains near Los Angeles. CVP manages 9 million acre feet of water for California cities, businesses, farms, and wildlife refuges. Including 1 million households daily water needs, 1/3 California’s farmland, 11 power generating facilities, and over 420,000 acres of fish & wildlife refuge annually.
Impacted Counties: Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Fresno, Kern, Kings, San Joaquin, Merced, Madera, Stanislaus, Alameda, Santa Clara, Tulare, Shasta, Trinity, Tehama, Colusa, Butte, Glenn, Sutter, Yuba, Yolo, Sacramento, Mariposa.
PROJECTED ECONOMIC IMPACTS
40-80% unemployment in impacted SWP & CVP service areas.
700,000-800,000 acres of farmland fallowed. Equivalent of 1,100 square miles or the Greater Los Angeles & San Diego areas combined.
Estimated $2.5 billion direct loss to California farm economy.
Estimated additional $5 billion loss to state economy from reduced related economic activity. Related industries include, but are not limited to, processing, transportation, wholesale, retail, cargo shipping via ports of Oakland, Stockton, Los Angeles, & Long Beach.
Increased consumer level food and milk prices estimated at $10 – $15 per trip to the market, and 10% – 15% increase in fruit, vegetables, beef and poultry prices in the short-term.
Increased utility costs, including energy & water. Projections based on 2007-2009 drought data where consumers paid $1.7 billion more in energy bills.
Habitat for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds will be reduced by up to 550,000 acres.
Water for refuges are expected to be reduced or eliminated impacting up to 230 species of wildlife.
Depleted aquifers due to over reliance on groundwater, and inability to annually recharge aquifers with surface water.
Water rights within impacted SWP & CVP service areas, including historic pre-1914, are being undermined, fundamentally changing California state law.
Reassessment of all property values with effected water rights, changing all tax assessment & revenues in all impacted counties. Estimated reduction of property values, on average, by approximately 50%.