Today’s announcement of a 5 percent allocation for Central Valley Project water users south of the Delta is another blow to farmers, rural communities and consumers who buy California farm products.
If last year is any indication a number of specialty crops grown on the San Joaquin Valley’s Westside will once again be on the chopping block. In 2015 Westside acreage planted to tomatoes and garlic fell 9 percent and 17 percent, respectively. The combined spring and fall season lettuce acreage was hit even harder with a 53 percent decrease because of water shortages. This year’s dismal water allocation, despite near normal rain and snowfall, is an indication of how inefficiently the federal fishery agencies are managing segments of California’s water system.
“If federal water allocations continue at these disastrous levels, more of the food that consumers buy will be grown on foreign soil that does not have the food safety and security requirements of California-grown food,” said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.
Eastside farmers in the Central Valley Project’s Friant system are receiving just 30 percent of their water this year. A portion of the Friant supply is being used to fulfill other contract obligations that the federal government is unable to meet because of restrictive water management decisions. In the last two years an estimated 25,000 acres of mature citrus trees, or almost 10 percent of the state’s production area, were removed in response to water shortages. California produces 85 percent of the nation’s fresh citrus.
Federal fishery agencies are restricting water deliveries to large swaths of California farmland and urban communities under the guise of protecting threatened and endangered Delta smelt and Chinook salmon. Despite 20 years of the same kind of pumping restrictions, fish populations are continuing to decline and the agencies have been unable to point to any hard science that justifies those decisions.
Above normal winter rains in Northern California have helped fill the state’s largest reservoirs, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, to above 85 percent of capacity and over 100 percent of year-to-date average. Urban communities are now making decisions to relax watering restrictions that were put in place during the drought.
In contrast to today’s disappointing federal announcement, California’s State Water project is expected to deliver 45 percent of requested water allocations. The much lower federal allocation flies in the face of the fact that the federal project’s Lake Shasta currently holds 31 percent more water, or a million acre-feet more than the State project’s Lake Oroville.
Poll affirms Americans’ support for farm water
Americans have confirmed their support for farmers’ use of water to produce food and fiber during times of scarcity in a recent poll by AP-GfK.
The drought now affecting California and other Western states has captured the public’s attention, with the majority of those polled (56 percent) noting that they are following news about the drought somewhat, or extremely/very closely. With the eyes of the nation on California’s problems, the public recognizes that our states’ farms are being threatened-with 74 percent believing that water for agriculture should be a priority, more than any other water use.
This renewed focus provides a unique opportunity to share the care and effort taken by farmers in growing our farm products. California’s farmers are committed to producing food and fiber in ecologically-sensitive ways, investing heavily in improvements in water use efficiency systems like soil moisture sensors, irrigation scheduling and automation, and precision drip irrigation.
Farmers recognize that water is precious, and recycle and reuse water whenever possible. For decades farmers in California have captured unused water from one field for reuse on nearby fields. As technologies improve, other emerging opportunities for water recycling also show promise. Farmers are already using purified urban runoff and wastewater that has been treated to remove impurities to supplement fresh water, and expanding use of solar stills to desalinate water and remove other troublesome minerals is already in the works.
Recent criticism of consumers’ food choices has argued that growing food in California using these and other sophisticated agronomic practices demands vast sums of water to be grown in California, but the truth is, for many crops, California is exactly the right place.
California is unique in our ability to grow more than 400 different types of food and other farm products. This variety comes courtesy of California’s sheer size: Roughly 800 miles north to south, California is home to a diverse range of growing conditions. Making sweeping generalizations about California’s suitability for agriculture ignores just how diverse the state really is.
The years of water supply instability prior to the drought challenged farmers’ ability to produce our food Overcoming the challenges of nature require us to identify solutions that benefit us all. Right now, however, we are struggling against bureaucracies and regulations that are contrary to the will of the people.
Over 41 percent of California’s irrigated farmland will lose 80 percent or more of its normal surface water allocation this year, according to a new survey by the California Farm Water Coalition.
The survey of agricultural water suppliers conducted the first week of April shows that 3.1 million acres, or 41.6 percent of California’s irrigated farmland, is expecting deep cuts to the water delivered in a normal year. That is an area 10 times the size of Los Angeles.
The survey also revealed that almost 30 percent of the irrigated farmland in the state, 2.2 million acres, will get no surface water deliveries this year.
Because of significant agricultural water supply cuts that have happened over the past two years, large amounts of land going unplanted will occur in 2015. According to the survey, approximately 620,000 acres are estimated to be fallowed this year. Associated job losses could reach 23,000 with an economic hit to the state’s economy exceeding $5.7 billion.
California farms have taken a severe hit to water supplies for two years in a row. Researchers at the University of California issued a report last year based on computer modeling that estimated the Central Valley’s surface water supply diminished by about one-third, or 6.6 million acre-feet with 410,000 acres estimated to be fallowed.
Some farmers last year received no surface water deliveries at all and turned to groundwater pumping to offset the losses. Recent levels of groundwater pumping are expensive and not sustainable.
SWRCB staff rejects urgent request for water
Despite concurrence among five State and federal agencies, a single State employee reversed a plan that would have delivered desperately needed water to most of drought-parched California. The decision is currently costing California water users about 2,000 acre-feet of water per day.
A decision yesterday afternoon by State Water Resources Control Board Executive Director Tom Howard is already causing a loss of precious water supplies to two-thirds of California’s population and seven of the top 10 agricultural producing counties. Howard rejected a plan by the State Department of Water Resources and United States Bureau of Reclamation that would have allowed limited increases in export pumping under certain flow conditions in the Delta. The State Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service all agreed that the additional pumping did not pose an unreasonable risk to threatened or endangered salmon and Delta smelt.
Increased water called “tradeoffs”
In his rejection Howard said, “…there is not currently adequate information to indicate that this export level is reasonable given the current status of species and their distribution in the Delta…” He further stated that, “…water supply tradeoffs are not clear given the unknown water contract allocations that will occur this year.”
Translated: Not interested in helping Californians south of Delta, whether they be farmers or urban water users because State and federal agencies have not made their full allocation announcements yet. Or, since the projects might get more water allocated in the future, I can prevent them from getting any more now and it will all work out.
More accurately, Mr. Howard is playing chicken with water supplies for a south of Delta agricultural sector that verges on being a grotesque play on the cartoon character Wimpy: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday, for the water I take from you today.”
Alas, under the current weather pattern California is suffering under, Tuesday may never come.
State and federal fishery agencies approved of increased pumping
DWR and USBR agreed on a water supply plan for the conditions that exist right now. The water supply for the remainder of the year is contingent on weather, which is uncertain at the very least. Ultimately pumping reductions under this order will affect south of Delta wildlife refuges, urban users, including many disadvantaged communities, and farmers and could be about 2,000 acre-feet of lost water per day.
It is outrageous that one person with no special expertise in science or project operations can ignore the collective decision of FIVE State and federal agencies that have responsibilities for managing ecosystem resources.
Potential loss of $38 million in water supply
Howard said the issue would be open for discussion at the SWRCB’s workshop on February 18, which is 14 days from now. Depending on the weather, about 38,000 acre-feet, or $38 million worth of water could be lost forever.
What will 38,000 acre-feet of water grow? Any of the following: (click to enlarge)
Reduced Pumping Now May Protect Future Supplies
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are experimenting with pumping reductions for several days to prevent a “turbidity bridge” from occurring in the central and south Delta. Delta smelt are attracted to turbid, or cloudy, water because it provides shelter from potential predators, such as non-native bass. According to a statement today by DWR, “Foregoing the capture of tens of thousands of acre-feet of water over the next several days may allow water project operators to avoid the loss of hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water supply later in the winter.”
Turbidity Reduced Pumping in 2012
In December 2012, a plume of turbidity that extended into the central Delta helped to create the situation in which water project operators severely curtailed pumping storm runoff in order to avoid harm to smelt. As a result, hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water were not moved into reservoir storage.
Will the Risk Pay Off?
Clearly there is risk associated with a decision like this. We hope the risk pays off.
Mismanaging Floods in a Drought (12-12-2014)
While this week’s big storm dropped significant amounts of rain and snow in California, many water users worry that we are on track to repeat the disaster of last year. Hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water were in the system and Delta pumps were almost completely shut down. It surprises many that we are mismanaging floods in a drought. As it turned out, last year’s wasted water resulted in most South of Delta water users getting a zero allocation and the state suffering significant economic and social damage with no measurable environmental benefits.
As this really big storm brings its bounty of water we are situated just like we were 12 months ago except that now the State’s reservoirs and its groundwater are substantially more depleted than they were exactly one year ago.
Pumping plants are running at reduced levels
Last week, the C.W. “Bill” Jones Pumping Plant at Tracy was running at a pathetic 19.7% of capacity. This week it is running at 60% capacity, or 2,600 cubic feet per second (cfs) out of a permitted level of 4,300 cfs. Delta outflows, in comparison, are six to over 30 times the permitted export level.
Delta inflows are rising dramatically and with very high outflow, perhaps exceeding 100,000 cfs, a significant amount of water is available for export to put into storage for next year’s crop season. Many agencies will be in flood control management mode. Nonetheless, with the state in a historic drought, pumping is likely to be sharply curtailed due to the possibility that smelt are cloaked in the turbid water stirred up by storm flows. Except for a marginal theoretic benefit to Delta smelt, the entire southern half of the state would be able to access this precious resource, which instead will be turned to salt in the Pacific Ocean.
This is just the kind of Kafkaesque nightmare the Emergency Drought Legislation sought to relieve… at least around the margins.
Perhaps the crystal ball is wrong. If not, let’s hope this year we are better prepared to make the case that such behavior is blatantly contrary to the public interest.
Opposition to H.R. 5781 is Misleading
H.R. 5781, Congressman David Valadao’s drought relief bill requires water exports to stay within the existing salmon and Delta smelt biological opinions.
Concerns raised by NRDC’s Doug Obegi are a red herring to thwart progress on providing water to a parched Central Valley. Exports may increase, as Obegi says, but they would be at a time when salmon and Delta smelt aren’t at risk.
Agricultural losses this year exceed the value of California’s entire 1.8 billion salmon industry
It’s also funny that Obegi is so concerned about fishing jobs and economics at a time when harm to the economy and job losses in agriculture are much worse. A university study this year reported that there were 17,100 farm-related job losses in California in 2014 and a $2.2 billion hit to the farm economy, eclipsing the state’s entire salmon industry, valued at $1.8 billion, according to fish and wildlife economics and statistics consultant Southwick and Associates.
17,100 farm-related job losses in California in 2014 and a $2.2 billion hit to the farm economy
The burdensome regulations that have withered Central Valley food production are the work of Obegi and NRDC in the courtroom. Of course he doesn’t want anything to change.
Any potential land fallowing in the Sacramento Valley would be done on a voluntary basis, as it is today.
Any potential land fallowing in the Sacramento Valley would be done on a voluntary basis, as it is today and water use decisions there are properly managed to protect the mosaic of abundant Sacramento Valley agricultural and wildlife resources. Delfino’s concern is nonsensical that the Sacramento Valley would be making decisions that benefit others while at the same time hurting themselves.
There is a positive relationship between Northern California and other parts of the state. It’s doubtful that they will do anything to diminish that. Maybe that’s really what worries Delfino.
Water Allocation is Good News, But Doesn’t End Drought
The following is a statement by Executive Director Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition in response to the DWR announcement of 10 percent water allocation from the State Water Project.)
“Today’s announcement that the State Water Project will deliver an initial allocation of 10 percent of contracted amounts to its contractors is good news, but it does not signal an end to the drought or environmental regulations that have resulted in low deliveries to farms, homes and businesses. As indicated by DWR Director Mark Cowin, that number could fluctuate depending on the months ahead and how much rain and snow fall in our state.
“The State Water Project delivers water to nearly 1 million acres of farmland. Another 2 million acres is serviced by the federal Central Valley Project, which delivered zero percent of contracted amounts in 2014. Farmers receiving water from the CVP must wait until early next year to learn if the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will deliver any water.
“Farms, homes and businesses have experienced water cutbacks for 20 years because environmental regulations have prevented water from being delivered. Yet, no studies have provided proof that water directed for these environmental purposes has provided any benefits. It is time to rework these onerous regulations that are harming our citizens.”
On the Abandonment of Federal Drought Legislation
“California’s Central Valley has shouldered more than its share of the pain brought on by reduced water deliveries and the drought. For more than 20 years, misguided environmental policies have drained California of over 20 million acre-feet of water – water that was originally intended to grow food. These regulations have flushed enough water out of the system to fill Lake Shasta five times.
That might make sense if dumping massive amounts of water was actually helping the ecosystem but it’s not. Threatened and endangered fish continue to languish. The supporters of those failed policies continue to press our elected leaders to do nothing rather than find a balanced solution that serves people at the same level that we serve the environment.
It’s these regulations that Senator Feinstein was attempting to modify; To deliver more water to our communities without harming the protections in the Endangered Species Act. But that didn’t happen.
When we look around the Valley we see unemployment, long lines at food banks, failed businesses, portable showers for people without water and almost half a million acres of fallowed farmland. It’s reliable water that enables that land to produce the food that fills grocery shelves across the state and around the world. We are eroding our ability to feed ourselves and employ our people.
Without needed reform there are two certainties we can count on: The situation for Valley residents isn’t going to improve and neither will the situation for the environment.”