Congress Seeks Solutions
By Family Farm Alliance
The U.S. is facing yet another record-breaking drought year in the West. Farmers and ranchers in some of these areas are receiving little to no water from federal water projects as they enter the dry summer months.
Meanwhile, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has decreased and destabilized worldwide agricultural commodity production and availability. Rising input costs, combined with the ongoing energy and supply chain crises, continue to impact food supply and demand.
“We’re seeing reports that the war in Ukraine, sanctions and destroyed ports could take nearly 30% of the world’s grain supply out of production or off the market this year,” Family Farm Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen recently said at a Congressional drought forum hosted by House GOP Members.
All of the above factors have combined to cause significant inflation – food prices alone have increased 9 percent this year – that will impact all Americans.
Loss of Agricultural Water Means Less Food on Grocery Store Shelves
Many Western farmers rely on federal Bureau of Reclamation projects for irrigation water. Over the decades the operations for several of these projects – including the Klamath Project (California and Oregon) and California’s Central Valley Project – have been significantly impacted by government decisions that disproportionately direct water to perceived environmental needs.
Every acre of farmland taken out of production equates to a loss of real food that could help replenish grocery store shelves that may soon run short of once-plentiful food products.
“When people talk about taking millions of acres of California farmland out of production, those are just numbers,” said Bill Diedrich, a fourth-generation California farmer said at the recent Congressional drought forum. “Let me put them in perspective for you. For every acre that is left unplanted because of a lack of irrigation water, it is the equivalent of 50,000 salads that will not be available to consumers.”
Mr. Diedrich also serves as President of the California Farm Water Coalition.
“Our food supply is just as much a national security issue as energy,” he said. “If we fail to recognize that, we put the country at risk.”
Sacramento Valley Farmers and Business Leaders Talk About This Dry Year
As NCWA President David Guy recently wrote, California farmers are no strangers to drought, although one of the driest years in California has widespread and significant impacts in the Sacramento Valley.
To provide some context for the dry year and the economic impacts, see the recent paper prepared by Dr. Dan Sumner at UC Davis entitled, Continued Drought in 2022 Ravages California’s Sacramento Valley Economy. In sum, the report suggests there will be 14,000 lost jobs, with $1.315B in impacts for those who rely on agriculture in the Sacramento Valley.
In a recent Ingrained Podcast, Jim Morris was able to catch up with several farmers and business leaders on the west-side of the Sacramento Valley to talk about the dry year and the impacts they will see this year.
“We’re down to 25 percent of normal rice acreage,” said grower Kurt Richter, who farms in Colusa County. “For a westside operation, that figure is actually very high this year. I’m the only person I know who is on the west side who is even planting rice at all.”
We encourage you to listen to the Ingrained Podcast to hear firsthand how the dry year will impact people and businesses in the region.
Water Allotment to Klamath Basin Farmers Hindering Food Production Amid High Market
Many farmers across the Klamath Basin are currently in the stages of planting their crops following the first few water deliveries from irrigation districts. However, with only 50,000 acre-feet of surface water allocated by Reclamation, one farmer says the impacts of another low production year will continue to hurt the community and the farming industry.
“It’s about to get a lot worse because the entire West is in this situation and food scarcity is going to be a real thing this year,” said Scott Seus, a farmer, Tulelake Irrigation District board member, and member of the Family Farm Alliance.
CLICK HERE for the interview Scott did with CBS affiliate KTVL TV (Medford, Oregon).
Clearly, federal management of water has become too inflexible in places like California and Central Oregon, where a frog protected by the ESA impacts water deliveries to Deschutes River Basin producers.
“We must restore balance in federal decision-making regarding water allocation, particularly in times of drought,” said Alliance President Patrick O’Toole, a rancher from Wyoming. “This is one of several solutions needed to maintain food security for the nation and the economic wellbeing of the Western landscape.”
Congress Proposes Measures to Increase Western Water Supplies
Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress bill are advancing additional measures that would increase water supply and modernize water infrastructure in California and other areas of the Western U.S.
A suite of new water supply enhancement projects and demand management programs can also help alleviate the stress on existing Western water supplies. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law last November by President Biden, provides a once-in-a-generation federal investment towards this end. Legislative proposals made in the House and Senate seek to further improve water supplies for the West.
In February 2021, U.S. Representative David G. Valadao introduced the Responsible, No-Cost Extension of Western Water Infrastructure Improvements, or RENEW WIIN, Act, a no-cost, clean extension of operations and storage provisions of the WIIN Act (P.L. 114-322).
“Food prices are at a record high, and people are struggling to put food on the table,” Rep. Valadao recently wrote in a recent blog, titled “Severe drought threatens America’s farmers and food supply”. “The ongoing war in Ukraine is destabilizing worldwide agricultural commodity production. Experts are warning about the very real possibility of a global food shortage. Now more than ever, we need to do everything in our power to support our domestic farmers, ranchers, and producers to provide much needed stability to our global food supply.”
The RENEW WIIN Act – supported by the Alliance and several of its member agencies – would extend the general and operations provisions of Subtitle J of the WIIN Act and extend the provision requiring consultation on coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The legislation would also extend the authorization of appropriations for water storage projects that the Secretary of the Interior finds feasible.
“Making sure our agriculture producers have access to safe, clean, and reliable water is critical,” said Rep. Valadao.
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on May 17 introduced S.4231, the Support to Rehydrate the Environment, Agriculture and Municipalities Act or STREAM Act, a bill that would increase water supply and modernize water infrastructure in California and throughout the West.
“If we don’t take action now to improve our drought resilience, it’s only going to get worse,” said Senator Feinstein. “We need an ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy to meet this challenge, including increasing our water supply, incentivizing projects that provide environmental benefits and drinking water for disadvantaged communities, and investing in environmental restoration efforts.”
Click here for the press release issued by Senator Feinstein’s office, which includes links to a one-page summary of the bill, a section-by-section analysis, and a list of supporters, which includes the Family Farm Alliance.
“We appreciate the increased attention that many Western Members of Congress recognize the importance of modernizing and expanding our water infrastructure,” said Mr. Keppen. “There is still time for all of our state and federal officials to right this ship and recognize the importance of storing water and growing food with it.”