State Needs to be More Sustainable with Water

Releasing 56 Million Acre Feet Not Sustainable

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Following the critical seven-year drought, last winter, the rains came back and filled up the reservoir, but then rain and snow continue to come. Then what happens? More than 56 million acre feet of water had to be released, and it went straight to the ocean.

This past winter and early summer, farmers across California saw it as a great waste of water following that immense drought.

Keith Freitas is a lemon grower in Fresno County. He said the water releases were not in any way sustainable, and this is ironic because the State Water Resources Control Board has put up heavy regulation on farmers with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), soon to impact farmers throughout central California.

“We still had lots of water that we could have done more with, but it was kept from us, and so that’s another element of this,” Freitas said. “If you don’t have an infrastructure in place that could support a plan of sustainability, it’s almost like we’re going to send you to school, but you get no books. You get no pencils. You don’t have paper you. You get nothing to work with. No tools. The water resources control board is, in fact, crippling farmers.”

Freitas said the Water Resources Control Board is looking for an adaptation for the state of California that is not just for the parties that cooked up this false agenda of what’s sustainable and what’s not, but for those voting, to keep those votes in the hands of the people controlling the state and the people that control the state.

“They have made it plain and clear through SGMA that they could care less about how they get their source of food and fiber. They don’t care if it’s quality. They don’t care if it’s secure. They don’t care if it’s ongoing.”

“They could care less as far as they’re concerned. Let the world bring food to California, not California taking food to the world. So that’s a big, big dynamic that’s really changed his whole perspective,” Freitas said.

Breaking News: Contracted Contractual Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Breaking News: 

Promised Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Delta Smelt Among Many Reasons for Pumping Constraints

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

Farmers in the federal water districts of Fresno and Kings Counties were granted only five percent of their contracted water this year; yet they are at risk of getting even less due to pumping constraints. Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, a Los Banos-based federal water district explained, “The original forecast had full pumping in June, July, August, and September.

“Because of the temperature constraints and because of the water quality standards,” Peltier stated, “we’ve been operating only one or two pumps. There’s just not enough water flowing south to meet the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) obligations to the exchange contractors, the [wildlife] refuges and the urban agencies, along with the 5% allocation to the ag services contractors,” he noted.

SLDMWAPeltier is concerned for those in the Central Valley, and water agencies are working frantically to find answers. “We’re working on it,” Peltier affirmed. “We’ve got a lot of engineers and operators preparing spreadsheets and analyzing both the variables and what changes could be made to avoid lower water levels at San Luis Reservoir.”

Commenting on this year’s deliveries, Peltier stated, “No doubt we’re in an unprecedented operating environment. Here we are, eight months into the water year, and we just got a temperature plan for Lake Shasta—that is driving the whole operation—the project. Limiting releases like they are in the temperature plan [designed keep the water cold to protect winter-run salmon eggs]at least we thoughtwould allow Reclamation to hold the commitments they made. But we’re on razor’s edge right now,” Peltier explained.

Peltier described how the process is holding up water release, “The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to keep as much water in storage as possible, in order to keep the cold water cool as long as they can. This is all to protect the winter-run salmon eggs that are in the gravel right now, protect them until the weather turns cool and things naturally cool down. Then they can release water. Shasta’s been effectively trumped by another million-acre feed because of this temperature plan.”

Peltier further noted that the Lake Shasta temperature plan has not allowed water to flow into the Sacramento River. It has severely impacted growers in Northern California on a year when the northern part of the state received above average rain and snowfall during the winter.

“People diverting off the river in the Sacramento Valley have had their own water level issues. There hasn’t been enough water coming down the river to get elevation enough adequate for their pumps. There’s been a lot of ground water pumping,” he said.

The nearly extinct Delta Smelt has been a longstanding issue for those affected by California’s drought. After the past five years of sacrifice, even more water is being taken from agriculture and cities to help save the fish from extinction.

“We’ve got the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wanting significant increases in delta outflow over the summer, supposedly for the benefit of delta smelt, another operational complexity that is sadly not based on any science that we could see. The agencies have their beliefs, and they have the power,” said Peltier.

Featured photo: Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.


California Ag Today will update readers on Bureau of Reclamation announcements about the 5% contracted water delivery federal water district growers were expecting.