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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Releases and Statements

CFWC Statement on Oroville Dam Operations

February 14, 2017 in CFWC Blog, Releases

“This winter’s record-breaking storms have tested our state and its infrastructure in ways no one could have predicted.

The past week has been particularly frightening for people in and around the City of Oroville. We’d first like to say how glad we are that hundreds of thousands of people were able to safely evacuate and that the emergency spillway helped provide the necessary time to do so.

Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway

There has been a lot of finger-pointing and talk about whether the structure should have been made even stronger.

Unfortunately, facts sometimes get lost in a crisis. As was pointed out by Jeffrey Mount of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, the Oroville structures had successfully handled the big flood of 1997. The emergency spillway as well as the dam itself were re-checked and re-licensed a decade ago, and deemed safe and capable of handling what at the time, experts believed would be the worst-case scenario.

It’s also important to point out that the spillway in question was an extra precaution taken in addition to the regular overflow mechanisms. The licensing agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), even noted that in an extreme event, some erosion of the emergency spillway would be likely. In other words, it performed as expected.

California is facing an unprecedented amount of rain and snowfall this year, well above the wettest year in the state’s recorded history. Precipitation in the Northern Sierra this year is 221% above average.

We applaud the swift work of government officials, are delighted to hear the evacuees are now returning home and look forward to rolling up our sleeves and working with all involved toward an even more secure water future.”

Response to the State Water Control Board’s Water Quality Control Plan

September 15, 2016 in CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Fisheries, Regulations, Releases, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Water Management, Water Rights, Water Supply

The State Water Resources Control Board has released its Water Quality Control Plan which, if implemented, will cause significant harm to California residents without quantifying any specific environmental benefits.waterboards_logo_high_res

In taking this step, Felicia Marcus, the Board’s Chairwoman noted that San Joaquin River flows have not been updated since 1995. We fully agree it’s time that state policy be aligned with current science which is why we find this proposal so wrongheaded. Science clearly shows that decades of releasing water to the ocean has failed to halt the decline of Chinook salmon and Delta smelt. 

And yet, the Board proposes to flush out to sea enough water to serve the domestic needs of 2 million Californians or produce almost 5.8 billion salads. If we know twenty years of failed efforts won’t do the job, why not try some of the proposed alternatives first? 

Chairwoman Marcus goes on to say that “The issue is not about choosing one over the other. It is about sharing the river because Californians need and want healthy communities, healthy agriculture and a healthy natural environment.” We couldn’t agree more. The only way farmers survive is by being good stewards of the land, and we’re not alone. We hope that the Board will listen to the voices of education officials, health departments, farmers, Latinos, cities, economic development officials and more who have all spoken out about the need to find a solution that works for all instead of continuing to rely on failed strategies. It’s time we moved on to solutions that science tells us will help.

Below, some of the people that will be impacted by this new plan give their thoughts:

Drinking Water Quality and Availability Will Be Negatively Impacted

“Let us be clear. The detrimental impacts of the Board’s plan will be felt strongly by the children that we serve. . . it is unclear why you have not taken the time to study the financial implications to school districts that would be forced to provide bottled water and portable toilets, or relocate schools entirely, as wells go dry. . . Access to drinking water and water for sanitation is a basic requirement for us to fulfill our mandate to provide quality education to the children of our districts.”

Steven Gomes, Merced County Superintendent of Schools
Tom Changnon, Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools

“Many communities in the Merced area are already experiencing well production problems and drinking water quality issues . . . Over 800,000 people live in the two counties [Stanislaus and Merced]. Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water for the majority of the local population. The plan sorely understates the devastation this recommendation will cause. As an Interim Director of Environmental Health, I am required to ensure that safe, adequate, and dependable water supplies are available for domestic use.”

Vicki Jones, Interim Director of Environmental Health
Merced County Department of Public Health

Jobs and the Economy Will Suffer

“Over 55% of the residents of Stanislaus County are members of minority communities, with a majority of those residents being Latinos. As you know, our economy is largely driven by the agricultural sector, of which Latino workers play a vital role. Our unemployment rates in Stanislaus County are already consistently higher than the state and national averages. There is no doubt that your plan will have devastating economic consequences to an already disadvantaged region.”

Maggie Mejia, President
Latino Community Roundtable

“I am all for protecting the environment to the best of our ability, but not at the expense of our farmers, businesses and citizens. . . When farmers are forced to fallow more land, our food prices go up and the poor in our communities suffer the greatest. This proposal will raise the cost of water and electricity, as well.”

Pamela LaChapell
Modesto

“As the Director of Environmental Resources for the County, I am responsible for the administration and oversight of over 200 public water systems, approximately 2,000 retail food facilities and countless other businesses. This would be devastating to the local economy.”

Jami Aggers, Director of Environmental Resources
Stanislaus County

“We grew up in Stanislaus County and our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents were all farmers. . . We also are grateful that our children were raised here and their children will be raised here . . .Without water there will be many of us who will not be able to farm and those that work the fields and canneries during the harvest will be unemployed and unable to feed their families, buy clothing and supplies in our local stores. Our electricity costs will increase and our ground water will be depleted . . . we implore you to reconsider.”

George and Annemarie Espinola
Hughson

“Food production is a multi-billion dollar industry in our county and adds tremendous value to the State of California. . . Tens of thousands of people are dependent on jobs in agriculture, food processing, and its related industries. Our businesses pay millions of dollars in taxes each year to sustain our state government . . . We ask that you please consider our needs in the Central Valley with others’ needs and wants.”

David White, Chief Executive Officer
Stanislaus Business Alliance

And yet the Board wants to keep doing more of the same even though it has been proven ineffective  

“Simply flushing water down the river in the spring and fall does not work – a fact supported by more than two decades of proven science.”

Robbie Lake
French Camp

“I’ve lived on the Stanislaus for 40 years. Salmon are declining and the striped bass are increasing. What the state is doing is creating the opposite effect of what it says it wants.”

Jeff McPhee
Oakdale

“[The proposed regulation] is yet another demonstration of the complete disregard you hold for the people you are supposed to be serving. . . I encourage you to reduce your personal water use by 35% and pour that extra water into the street and watch it flow away. That is what you would be doing to the people you serve.”

Roxanne Garbez
Oakdale

People Are Asking for Common Sense, Balance and an End to Tactics That Just Make a Bad Situation Worse

“We need a common sense approach to how this water is used. . . In your efforts to help, you are creating a bigger problem than we had before.”

Nancy Petersen
Hughson

“We have worked hard to be good citizens and lower our water usage in the face of this drought. In fact, the Central Valley has led the state in water conservation efforts . . . We implore you to send staff to meet with us and come up with a common sense approach to this situation.”

David White, Chief Executive Officer
Stanislaus Business Alliance

“Why add water to the ocean? Does it need more?”

Suzy Fivecoat
Waterford

“It is time we manage our water resource in a way that is fair to everyone and strikes a balance between water supply and the environment.”

Roseanna Swanberg
Modesto

Amount of idled farmland is five times greater than report states

September 8, 2016 in CFWC Blog, Drought, Mike Wade, Releases, Water Supply

UC Davis drought report

On August 15 the Center for Watershed Sciences released a UC Davis drought report titled “Economic Analysis of the 2016 California Drought on Agriculture.” The report was a follow-on to reports commissioned by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and released previously in 2014 and 2015.

california droughtOf note in the 2016 report was a statement that approximately 77,000 acres were fallowed this year, which raised questions among many agricultural industry leaders who were aware of fallowing estimates in the range of several hundred thousand acres. CFWC checked with CDFA as well as with researchers at UC Davis to express concerns over the seemingly low fallowing estimates. That communication resulted in the production of an update clarifying the numbers reported in the August 15 report.

Drought accounts for just 21% of expected fallowing

By September 30 according to the update, Central Valley land fallowing is expected to be approximately 370,000 acres, of which 77,000 acres can be attributed to the drought. The remaining 293,000 would be from other factors, including the regulatory restrictions that have delivered a 5 percent water supply to South of Delta CVP contractors and put tremendous pressure on other CVP and State Water Project contractors.

Update clarifies “drought” fallowing

The update, released September 1 and titled, “Estimates of Irrigated Cropland Idled due to the 2016 California Drought: Clarifications and Supplemental Information,” discussed the differences between drought-related land fallowing and the much greater numbers of fallowed acreage due to other factors, including ESA-related regulatory restrictions on water supplies.

From the report: “… our estimates specifically and solely relate to what was caused by the lack of normal precipitation and other climatic events in 2016, building on conditions as we entered the 2016 production season. Crop rotation needs, market conditions, regulatory cutbacks to protect fish and habitat all affect land idling in addition to impacts of water scarcity due to drought.

Most fallowing caused by factors other than drought

It went on to say, “Pumping restrictions in the Delta to prevent reverse flows and operations of the San Luis Reservoir have also affected quantity and timing of water to agricultural users south of the Delta. The combination of these effects contributed to the additional fallowing on top of drought related fallowing. Thus a number of regulatory issues, not directly related to the drought of 2016, have contributed to idled land observed in the Central Valley in 2016.”

Statement by Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition on the UC Davis Drought Report

“A recent report by UC Davis dramatically understates the amount of California farm land taken out of production this year. Their study only measures the impact of the actual drought – not other factors.

“While roughly 77,000 acres remain idle due to the drought an additional 293,000 acres are fallowed due to rigid bureaucratic reliance on water management practices that we know for a fact have failed to produce their intended results.

“Most of California’s major reservoirs are relatively full this year, but the government agencies that control them stubbornly refuse to release much of that water to cities and farms. Instead, they insist on flushing it out to sea. Decades of this practice have completely failed to save the Delta smelt or winter run Chinook salmon. And yet, this year alone, California has flushed over 1 million acre-feet of water to the ocean, enough to provide 6 million domestic users with water for a year or grow almost 17 billion salads.

“We can survive the drought, but can we survive government agencies that stubbornly ignore good science and common sense?”

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Mike Wade • 916-391-5030 (office) • mwade@farmwater.org