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.”

Understanding California’s Groundwater

California’s Groundwater Is in Crisis

Source: Janny Choy and Geoff McGhee; Water in the West

 

California’s groundwater is back in the spotlight. Largely invisible, lightly regulated and used by 85% of California’s population and much of the state’s $45 billion agriculture industry, groundwater is a crucial reserve that helps stave off catastrophe during drought periods like we’ve experienced over the past three years.

Unheralded, Underegulated and Overused, California’s Groundwater Is in Crisis

California's groundwater managementBut after more than a century of unregulated use, California’s groundwater is in crisis – and with it the state’s hydrologic safety net. This carries profound economic, environmental, and infrastructure implications. How did it come to this, and what do we do now?

6 Million Californians Rely on Groundwater

Over 6 million Californians rely solely or primarily on groundwater for their water supply. Many of them reside in towns and cities in the Central Valley and along the Central California coast, where communities generally have limited local surface water options or don’t have the ability to finance other water supply sources.

For Others, Groundwater Complements the Surface Water Supply

Generally, though, groundwater is used alongside surface water to meet the state’s needs, which range from urban and industrial uses to irrigating roughly half the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States.

In normal and wet years, groundwater provides 30 to 40% of the water supply. It supplements surface water that is collected from snowmelt and rainfall then is stored and conveyed by a vast system of state and federal dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts.

During droughts, surface water availability can be sharply reduced, leaving water users to pump water from local wells. At times like these, groundwater can surge closer to 60% of water used statewide, and even higher in agricultural areas like the Central Valley.

When Rain and Snow Don’t Fall, Groundwater Prevents Disaster

This year, the third consecutive year of an extreme and extensive drought, state officials have warned that little or no surface water will be made available to most consumers. In turn, water providers are advising large users to pump their own groundwater.

As bad as this drought is, it is not uncommon. Droughts are a part of life in California, as anyone who has lived here long enough knows. But what most may not know is that groundwater has been getting us through droughts, including the last big one in the 1970s, and it is getting us through the one today.

In fact, 5 million acre feet of additional groundwater will be pumped in the Central Valley alone to make up for the 6.5 million acre feet in surface water reductions for agriculture in 2014. Even so, the economic loss for the Central Valley from this drought is expected to be $1.7 billion.

By Overusing Groundwater Today, We Are Living Off Our ‘Savings’

Writers often turn to financial metaphors to explain the importance of groundwater. As Tom Philpott of Mother Jones magazine wrote recently, “To live off surface water is to live off your paycheck … To rely on groundwater, though, is to live off of savings.”

Another metaphor frequently applied to groundwater is that of mining. In fact, “groundwater mining” is exactly what experts call nonrenewable groundwater use, where farmers “mine” water to grow almonds, alfalfa or grapes. You could even say they are “mining” those commodities themselves.

Recommendations for Groundwater Reform 

Through numerous hearings, workshops, and consultations with experts and interest groups, recommendations by groups such as the California Water Foundation are coalescing around the concept of local groundwater management with the state serving as a backstop authority if local action has not occurred or is insufficient.

Next steps might include creating and empowering local groundwater management entities; requiring groundwater management plans; and defining the state’s role for assistance, oversight, enforcement and funding. Read more in the California Water Foundation’s report with recommendations for sustainable groundwater management.