Interior Dept: Water Grab at New Melones Devastating for Central Valley

Comments Come After Secretary of the Interior’s Visit

News Release from the Office of Rep. Jeff Denham

Following Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s visit to Don Pedro and New Melones Reservoirs at the request of U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), the Department of Interior issued an official comment on Friday regarding the State Water Resources Control Board’s proposed water grab.

The Department of Interior’s comment notes that the proposed water grab “directly interfere[s] with the New Melones Project’s ability to store water” and “elevate[s] the Project’s fish and wildlife purposes over the Project’s irrigation and domestic purposes contrary to the prioritization scheme carefully established by Congress.” Interior’s comment also specifies that siphoning off at least 40 percent of Central Valley’s rivers during peak season would result in significant reductions in water storage at New Melones and result in diminished power generation as well as recreational opportunities. DOI recommends the Board reconsider and postpone the scheduled August 21-22 public meeting to allow for “additional due diligence and dialogue.”

Rep. Jeff Denham, photo courtesy of his Facebook page

“Sacramento’s radical water grab would cripple the Central Valley’s economy, farms and community.  Secretary Zinke saw that when he visited New Melones and Don Pedro reservoirs with me last week,” Denham said. “They cannot drain our reservoirs and ignore our concerns.  I will continue fighting to make sure Central Valley voices are heard.”

“Under Sacramento’s plan, the Valley will suffer skyrocketing water and electricity rates.” Denham explained. “After a decade and millions of our money spent on a study that they required, the board ignored the science based proposal that would save our fish while preserving our water rights.  We will not allow them to take our water and destroy our way of life”

Last week, Denham’s amendment to stop the state’s dangerous water grab passed the U.S. House of Representatives as part of a Department of the Interior appropriations bill, and put a major spotlight on this issue. The amendment, currently awaiting a vote in the Senate, prohibits federal agencies from participating in the state’s plan to deplete the federally owned New Melones reservoir, which provides water for the Central Valley Project and generates hydropower. Sacramento’s plan would drain significantly more water from New Melones each year, potentially leaving it completely dry some years. This would put in jeopardy critical water supplies for Central Valley farmers and communities who rely on the water for their homes, businesses, farms, and electric power. The amendment takes this issue head-on to protect Valley water.

Denham will continue fighting to protect Central Valley water, support science-driven river management plans that revitalize our rivers without recklessly wasting water, and push major policies like the New WATER Act that will solve California’s water storage crisis and keep the Valley fertile and prosperous for generations to come.

To read the full comment from the Department of the Interior, click here. For more information about what Denham is doing to fight for water in the Valley, visit www.Denham.house.gov/water, where you can also sign up to receive periodic updates on his work in Washington to improve local water infrastructure, storage and delivery.

Almond Assessment Increase Comment Period Reopened

Comment Period Reopened for Almond Assessment Increase Through October 12.

 

Julie Adams, vice president global, technical, and regulatory affairs with the Almond Board of California, commented in an exclusive interview with California Ag Today on the proposed additional one cent almond assessment increase from 3 cents to 4 cents a pound by the Board of Directors to use in marketing the anticipated crop increases over the next three years, starting this season.

The proposed rule change was first published in the Federal Register on July 18, 2016. The comment period was reopened on Sept. 12 with an announcement in the Federal Register. The comment period is open for 30 days, ending Oct. 12, 2016, at midnight, Pacific Standard Time (PST).

California Ag Today (CAT): Where do almond growers go to make comments about the increased almond assessment?

Adams: Growers can go to www. regulations.gov and search for almonds.

Click here for the direct link to the Assessment entitled, Almonds Grown in California: Increased Assessment Rate.

CAT: The first comment period in August was only two weeks. How long will this one last?almond assessment increase

Adams: The new comment period is now open and will be stay open until Oct. 12. We have also sent out notifications to handlers and we’ve included it in our communication to growers. 

CAT: Why did the comment period reopen?

Adams: Basically this discussion has been going on for quite some time, actually, and started with planning and strategic meetings within the production and environmental research committees. Some of this discussion also started back a year ago when we were talking about all of the challenges facing the industry related to environmental issues, water requirements, and sustainability issues. And then, of course, with the anticipated increase in crop size, what was that going to mean in terms of keeping demand growing ahead of supply?

Discussions at strategic planning meetings underway and within our global market development committees, started feeding up to the Board recommendations that we really needed to get ready both for the challenges facing growers as well as building that [market] demand. It was at that time that the Board started talking about an increase in the assessment for a specific period of time.

We recognized that crops were increasing, and to get us through this period, we really needed to accelerate our activities. The increased assessment was approved by the Board several months ago and was published in the Federal Register. It was, at that point, a two-week comment period. While there had been a lot of communication out to the industry, the comment notification had not been sent out in a timely fashion as it needed to be since it was such a short comment period.

Based on that, as you’ll see from the reopened comment period, USDA determined that they would go ahead and reopen the period for 30 additional days. That’s the process we’re in right now.

Almond Board of California CAT: One argument against the assessment is that the almond industry is heading into big record crop, and the 150,000 to 200,000 non-bearing acreage will soon be bearing—and that alone is sure to increase the Almond Board’s marketing budget.

Adams: It does. What we have found throughout our programs is that the more we can start building consumer awareness and demand for the product, it’s going to be ready as those crop sizes increase. We really want to be ahead of that supply situation so that we’re not trying to chase the opportunities in the market. We want to make sure there’s a strong foundation. As crops are more available, customers are ready to take in that product, really ready to put more on the shelf for consumers, and hopefully [meet] increased demand from consumers.

I think the other part of this assessment increase is about what’s happening on the production side. Research takes time and growers are facing more challenges now in terms of water availability, water quality, production issues, and environmental concerns. There’s more pressure on growers now than ever before. Part of this assessment increase for this three-year period is really to accelerate a lot of the research and work that’s underway on irrigation practices and harvesting practices, and to ramp up our food safety education. We’ve got the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) coming on board now—a  requirement starting to put additional burdens on the industry.

With all of that happening, the concern is that we really need to get in front of all of this. The idea is to do that with some additional funding, so while we’re keeping up our ongoing programs, accelerating some of this research over the next three years will put us in a position, when we do come into those larger crops, where we will already have a lot of those programs in place and we will have accelerated the research so we can continue to meet a very demanding market.

California AlmondsCAT: We can see the need to increase our momentum in research and marketing. Of course, the vast majority of the Almond Board’s budget is for marketing right? Will the vast majority of this extra assessment go toward global marketing?

Adams: The global marketing demand portion of the budget is over 70%. That includes more than just market development. It includes a lot of consumer research, attitudes and awareness research It also includes a lot of the investment we’ve made lately on reputation management—how consumers really perceive almonds and how we need to best communicate back to consumers about what our industry is doing.

CAT: Obviously there is not going to be a vote on the added assessment. There is going to be a comment period, and if the USDA approves the assessment, it will go forward.

Adams: It was a unanimous recommendation coming forward from the Board of Directors and from a number of committees that included industry members that made recommendations to the Board of Directors. Obviously the Board is responding to the strategies and recommendations coming through the committee process. That’s what the Board unanimously endorsed and put forward in a recommendation to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and USDA. Now based on the comments that start to come forward through this period, then USDA will assess all of that and publish a final rule, a final determination, after the comment period closes.

CAT: If the added assessment is for this season, the USDA will have to turn it around very quickly?

Adams: They would. Obviously the USDA is monitoring this comment period and will respond to the comments and the issues expressed by individuals who are commenting on the rule. They will reflect their thinking as they come forward.

CAT: If there is a big mixture of No and Yes comments, is it possible that the comment period will stay open past the 30 days to get a consensus?

Adams: I think the USDA will look at the issues and the context of the comments. If the comments are more about clarifications and they feel what has been proposed will deal with those concerns or areas of focus, then they will look at that and make a determination. I really couldn’t say whether they would go forward with an additional comment period.

CAT: And the additional assessment will automatically sunset in crop year 2018/2019?

 Adams: Exactly, and it would go back to the current 3 cent assessment. Really nothing has to be done for that to happen and that’s why the industry put in that sunset period. The Board does not have to vote on it; there does not have to be any further consultation. It will automatically go back to the 3 cent assessment.