Food Grows Where Water Flows

For more than 25 years, the California Farm Water Coalition has been working with our members to share information about farm water issues, and reminding Californians that "Food Grows Where Water Flows."

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Salmon numbers down but there’s hope in the floodplain

March 2, 2018 in A Vibrant Future, California Water, CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Environment

Salmon numbers down but there’s hope in the floodplain

There have been valid concerns for years about the declining fish populations in California. While the immediate forecasts for the year aren’t much improved, there is reason for hope. Projects now underway are showing great promise in helping to turn around declining salmon numbers. The Nigiri Project is a collaborative effort between farmers and researchers to help restore salmon populations by reintroducing them during winter, to floodplains that are farmed with rice during summer. Salmon given time to grow in floodplains are bigger and healthier in a shorter period of time than fish left to their own in the Sacramento River. The project, operated by CalTrout, is being funded by a public-private partnership including Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley farmers, the California Department of Water Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife, UC Davis, and others. More cooperative efforts are also underway to improve salmon fisheries in California’s rivers, such as rebuilding spawning habitats, and reducing predation.

New regulations for salmon fishermen may be coming because stocks are now considered by regulators to be overfished. Sadly, this is more evidence that past efforts to repair salmon populations have failed all of us – fishermen, the farmers who have faced water supply cuts, and the taxpayers who, in large part, foot the bill for the work of state and federal fishery agencies.

At the same time, farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta received a meager five percent water allocation in 2016. In 2014 and 2015 it was zero. But even with those water restrictions salmon populations are down 97 percent from their most recent peak of 12.9 million pounds in 2013. It cannot be more clearly stated that water is not the solution to restoring salmon numbers.

Efforts like the Nigiri Project that help improve salmon habitat and health while they’re young and make them stronger to survive their migration to the ocean may be the answer to the salmon dilemma. They’re showing progress where other efforts have failed.

The System is Broken

February 22, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Fisheries, Water Supply

Over the past 25 years there has been considerable controversy over allocation of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project (CVP) water supplies. Allocation amounts vary wildly with one routinely getting 100% while others receive dramatically less. Water project opponents say that’s the result of our water rights system but those rights haven’t changed and the water service contractors are worse off than they have ever been.

Going back to 1994 South of Delta water service contractors received, on average, a 43 percent initial water allocation. But if you specifically compare years similar to 2018, where we have in excess of 4.8 million acre-feet of water stored in Shasta, Folsom and the federal share of San Luis Reservoir, the story is much different. In years like 2018 the initial allocation was on average 60 percent, not the 20 percent announced by Reclamation on February 20. On the Eastside, Friant Class I allocations are just 30 percent. Upon learning of the meager allocations Westlands Water District board member Todd Neves questioned how farmers can possibly plan based on such a paltry initial allocation.

So, what’s going on? Reclamation says its conservative allocation announcement is due to uncertainty on how much cold water will be available in Shasta this year for salmon in the Sacramento River. The CVP was designed and built in large part for the purpose of supplying water to farmland but it is now being managed first and foremost for the benefit of fish. That would be fine if these management decisions, mostly driven by the National Marine Fisheries Service, resulted in more fish but that’s not the case. Salmon populations have plummeted along with the reliability of the CVP to deliver water to Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley farms.

What’s the solution? Invest more in the science and the kinds of projects that ARE having a positive impact on salmon populations. The Nigiri Project, a public/private partnership, is showing that flooded rice fields can work for both fish and agricultural water users. Smart predator control and improved salmon habitat in the Delta can help baby salmon make it safely to the ocean where they can grow and return to spawn as adults. The Bureau of Reclamation must consider its obligation under the WIIN Act, which requires the agency to use a science-based approach instead of intuition with regard to water management. Building more water storage projects to help meet California’s future water needs is critical in light of the volume of existing storage that has been lost to serve new demands that were not part of the plan when the CVP was envisioned and built. And encouraging project operators to use the tools and legislation created for flexibility in ensuring that all areas of water management include a balanced approach. After all, water is the foundation for safe, clean and a healthy food production of our nation’s best food and fiber products.

Nutria- Another danger to California’s water

February 16, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta

Nutria are back in California

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Nutria, an introduced rodent once thought eliminated from California, is the latest of a string of dangerous invasive species wreaking havoc in California’s critically-important Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The nutria, like many other destructive non-native species (large-mouth and striped bass, Asian clam, Chinese Mitten crab, Quagga mussels and Nerodia water snakes, among others) not only threaten the critical infrastructure that provides water, protects our communities, and creates jobs, but they also carry disease, and disrupt natural ecosystems that  threatened and endangered native species rely on.

Acting quickly can help prevent these invasive pests from gaining a foothold.

Why are nutria such an urgent challenge for California?

Infrastructure damage – Nutria excavate burrows in California’s aging levee system, degrading the integrity of the levees and putting farms, communities, and cities in danger.

Ecosystem Destruction/Competition – Nutria consume approximately 25% of their weight daily, burrowing through and destroying the vegetation of wetlands and estuaries as they seek roots, plant stems, and rhizomes to eat. They compete with native species for ecosystem resources, while spreading parasites and pathogens that affect native life.

Water Quality Degradation – In addition to excavating burrows, and eating plant stems and roots, nutria often disturb the ground cover that protects waterways from silt and debris during the winter.

Public Health Threat – Nutria are known to carry pathogens and parasites that can infect not only local Delta wildlife, livestock, and pets- but also humans.  Nutria can carry bacteria that cause tuberculosis and septicemia, as well as blood flukes, tapeworms, liver flukes


What is a nutria?

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The nutria, called a coypu outside of North America, is a semi-aquatic rodent of unusual size- particularly large for a rodent, they are typically about 12 pounds, but can grow to be between 15 and 20 pounds. They are native to South America.

The nutria reproduces year-round, and reach maturity quickly. While each mature female can carry up to three litters per year, each litter has on average 5 young, with as many as 13 not being uncommon.

Originally introduced to California in the late 19th century as a non-native species to support the fur industry, nutria were reintroduced periodically up until the collapse of the fur industry in the 1940s.

Nutria, like other non-native species, are a critical threat to the riparian ecosystems needed to promote recovery of endangered and threatened species in California.


If you see a nutria, report it to the State of California online at:



For more information on Nutria:


For more information on other non-native species in California:





Water: Time for a Fresh Look at What Works, What Doesn’t and What to Do About It

February 2, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Federal Legislation, Regulations, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Salmon, Water Allocations, Water Management, Water Storage, Water Supply

Water: Time for a Fresh Look at What Works, What Doesn’t and What to Do About It

Water: Time for a Fresh Look at What Works, What Doesn’t and What to Do About It

For decades, California has been stuck in a Groundhog-Day-like water debate that pits fish and the environment against humans, farms and other water needs. Presented as a zero-sum game, we are told it is necessary for one set of water-users to lose in order for another to win. As the argument goes, if farms and cities are getting the water promised to them, fish and the environment must suffer.

Having long rejected the winners and losers approach to water we applaud the current effort by the Bureau of Reclamation to review why, when, and where California’s two main water delivery systems – the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP) – allocate our water.

We already know that over the last two decades, the cutbacks in promised water deliveries by the Central Valley Project, as well as the instability of those deliveries, has taken an undeniable human and economic toll on farms and the communities that depend on them for survival. We also know that water diverted for the purpose of supporting struggling fish populations has totally failed to impact fish decline after 20-plus years of this failed approach. In summary, the one thing we know for sure is that the current system is not working for anyone.

The good news is that science has not been sitting still even if the policy has.

Multiple studies and projects show us that fish are struggling for a multitude of reasons, many of which are correctable. Reducing the impact of non-native predators, improving habitat, access to food and other measures, are helping us find solutions that work for water supply, farms and the environment. One project underway with partners that span an area from the northern Sacramento Valley south through the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California is reconnecting the fish-food-rich floodplains with rivers, creating a win-win situation for fish, farms and people. Numerous additional projects on smaller scales are underway across the state. Collaborating on even more efforts will help us make even greater strides.

Another flaw in the current policy is that it has long ignored the environmental benefits of delivering allocated CVP water. The San Joaquin Valley is home to the largest contiguous freshwater wetlands remaining in California and the second largest contiguous wetlands in the Continental United States. These wetlands are home to millions of waterfowl, Tule elk, turtles, cranes, deer, and other species that cannot survive without CVP water.

The water we need for healthy communities, farms and the environment is there, it’s the system that is broken. For example, in 2016 Reclamation announced a five percent allocation for South of Delta CVP Water Service Contractors despite a near normal water year. In addition to a dismal five percent allocation these water users were not provided access to their water until far too late in the season for it to be of any benefit for the 2016 growing season.

It is our hope that this long overdue review process will help us more effectively meet our environmental goals and at the same time improve the supply and reliability of the CVP’s contracted water supply.

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No Chicken Little, the Sky is Not Falling

January 30, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Fisheries

No Chicken Little, the Sky is Not Falling

A quick scan of California news over the last few weeks could lead the casual reader to conclude that smelt, salmon and other species are days from extinction and the only thing that will save them is taking water from people, farms and other environmental uses and pumping it to sea as the lone savior of these struggling fish populations. This myopic view helps no one, including fish. That’s why a new plan to review Central Valley Project operations can provide multiple benefits for farms, municipal and industrial users, and iconic fish species, including the Chinook salmon.

While we can all agree the rules governing water use in California are not working for any of us – urban, farm or environmental users – we believe the best path towards balanced policy that benefits all is a calm examination of current scientific research pointing to exciting new possibilities.

Once case in point is Winter-run Chinook salmon. These wily salmon have proved themselves smarter than all of us.

While many observers have hysterically pronounced the salmon had disappeared and immediately started pointing fingers at other water users, scientists at UC Davis were busy making an exciting discovery. In order to adapt to warmer water and some man-made flood control measures that helped make their path to the ocean more difficult, they took matters into their own fins and have been make stops in safer estuaries along the journey. In other words, they couldn’t be found because we weren’t looking in the right places. Providing safer habitat is one thing current science tells us can help increase their numbers.

Another thing to keep in mind is this: When you withhold water from the Central Valley you not only jeopardize healthy food production and urban uses, you hurt the environment as well. Few people realize that federal, state and private lands in the Central Valley together make up the largest contiguous freshwater wetlands remaining in California and the second largest contiguous wetlands in the Continental United States. These wildlife refuges are home to birds, animals, plants and fish that depend on this water to survive. “Environmental” use of water in California is much broader than some would lead you to believe and all environmental uses need a voice at the table. If we make policy based on outdated information we may end up only marginally helping fish and doing serious damage to other endangered species as well as farms and people.

We support the current environmental review governing use of Central Valley Project water and believe that current science and calm logic can lead us to water policy that benefits all California water users. There’s more than one way to grow a fish.

Smart Policy- Real Solutions

January 16, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Groundwater, Water Management, Water Storage, Water Supply
California’s way of life is sustained by our flowing water. From farm fields and grocery store shelves, to city streets- moving water affects us all. Modern water management in the State focuses on two principles- moving water from places and times of abundance to places and times of need efficiently, and balancing the needs of all beneficial water uses. 
California’s water managers are looking for ways to meet all of those needs responsibly. California can have both a healthy environment, and vibrant farms and communities. They are not only looking at ways to capture new surface water, to expand conservation and efficiency, or to safely move existing excess surface water to the places and people in need- but also how to achieve those goals holistically. 
For example, in the San Joaquin Valley, opportunities exist to turn floodwaters into drought supply, to recharge groundwater, and to meet the needs of all users- human and environmental. It will take upgrading not only infrastructure, but also policy, but the alternative is a poor option for the local communities and for California.
Check out this recent Fact Sheet from Friant Water Authority, explaining the options confronting their community.
Our state’s future depends on sound policies that allow us to move water in smart ways. Responsible policies that protect California’s communities and economy, that preserve and recharge water supplies, and hold all water users accountable for efficient management and beneficial use.