One of the most essential and valuable CAWG member benefits is ADVOCACY. CAWG is the only statewide organization dedicated exclusively to protecting and promoting your interests before the state legislature, Congress, and regulators. This representation allows CAWG members to focus on what they do best – manage their vineyards and winegrape business.
Water Board Proposes Drastic Reduction in Ag Water
The State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) is proposing the Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary – A Flow Criteria proposal that would reduce surface water diversions in the three affected watersheds by an average of 180,000 to 490,000 acre-feet a year, and up to 900,000 acre-feet in dry years.
Recognizing that this would result in an incredible loss of water for agriculture, growers are very concerned. Some estimate as much as 25% of farmland in the San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced area could be fallowed. If the Water Board adopts this Flow Criteria proposal it would be catastrophic for agriculture all over California because it would serve as a template for waterways throughout the state.
Ag groups (including CAWG) and individual growers are very engaged on this issue. On Monday August 21, more than 1,300 people participated in a rally on the steps of the state capitol to fight the water grab. Thank you to all who came to Sacramento to have their voices heard in opposition to this draconian proposal.
On August 22 and 23, the Water Board heard public comment on the issue. Below are the brief highlights from the hearing which included hundreds of frustrated people:
- Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Ceres) said that the Board is being run by the staff (not the Board Members) and it operates in an “all take and no give” fashion. Gray threatened to exercise legislative oversight of the Water Board and to pursue legislation to move the board in a different direction.
- Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olson (former Republican leader of the Assembly) said that the Board has no credibility and has not cooperated. She testified that the Board has a “sinister, arrogant and closed approach.”.
- Member DeeDee D’Adamo was very critical of Board staff. In response, staff said that more research would be done “during the implementation phase.” Those in attendance were appalled.
- The Department of Fish & Wildlife indicated that there may be sufficient voluntary flow management agreements to address the problem. However, there is reason for great skepticism as this is a huge undertaking and Modesto Irrigation District believes “it is not a genuine process.”
- It is unclear what the Board will do next on this issue. But they have indicated that they may take it up for a vote as early as November.
- Those who testified in opposition seemed resigned to the fact that if the Board goes forward with this proposal, it will be litigated for several years.
Keep in mind that growers are already facing reduced water supplies as local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies are crafting plans to enforce the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Part of those plans involve using rights to waterways to reduce the demand on groundwater. However, if the Water Board requires that the river flow freely out to the Pacific, there won’t be reliable water alternatives available for growers.
The basis for the Flow Criteria proposal is an effort to restore the salmon population. However, there is no guarantee or solid science to support the presumption that increased flows will bring back the salmon. Opponents to the Flow Criteria proposal, including CAWG, argue that habitat restoration and addressing predatory fish issues could be much more productive without putting ag out of business.
The Merced Irrigation District estimates impacts in the range of $751 million to $1.3 billion annually. Similarly, in the South San Joaquin and Oakdale irrigation district service areas on the Stanislaus River, permanent average annual regional economic losses have been estimated at $250 million a year.
The Flow Criteria proposal could result in significant losses for growers relating to long-term investments in trees, vines, and farm equipment; loan carryovers, debt repayment and default issues; the devaluation of land and other real property; and the stranding of significant infrastructure capacity. If this unimpeded flows approach is later taken for the Sacramento River and other waterways, every water district in California and every California grower could experience similar devastating economic impacts.
The Water Board views these as “unavoidable” losses.
Ag is united in our message to the Water Board that until every opportunity has been exhausted for creative conservation and collaboration among stakeholders, the Flow Criteria proposal should be avoided at all costs.
CAWG will continue to keep you updated as things progress.