Many farmers and cities learned just yesterday how much water they could expect from the Federal Government’s Central Valley Project, (one of the state’s big infrastructure projects that delivers water to communities, farms, and wetlands in the Central Valley; and San Benito and Santa Clara Counties). The number they finally heard is most disappointing.
This year is the wettest on record for California- with a 200% of normal precipitation and reservoirs that are so full they are dumping water. And it’s been this way for months. While the drought remains fresh in everyone’s minds, one would think a record breaking 2017 should result in abundant supplies for Californians to grow food, recharge groundwater, and take regular showers again.
That’s why yesterday’s delayed announcement by the Federal government of a mere 65% supply has so many people stunned and concerned about the ability of California’s water system to provide for the future.
For farmers, the news is even more disappointing. The first few months of the year are critical. February and March are the ultimate crunch time for people that produce our food. The decisions being made today to plant crops and hire workers translate to the price and types of locally grown produce available in your grocery store. But none of that can happen when farmers, and the people that rely upon them, don’t know how much water is available.
“Without a timely water allocation, crucial decisions can’t be made on the farm – our water supply drives our ability to grow crops, provide employment, and satisfy the food supply chain that stretches from our farms to the kitchen table,” says Cannon Michael, of Bowles Farms.
“That water flowing into the ocean could be used to meet so many greater needs: recharge and improve groundwater, grow fresh vegetables and fruit, put people back to work, and get communities back on their feet,” Michael continued.
Nonetheless, we must stay focused on addressing the many challenges ahead. California has an abundance of water this year, so what’s keeping us from finally solving the water management challenges we all faced throughout the drought?
“The reality is a quarter century of decisions intended to protect certain endangered species has broken California’s water supply system. The cumulative effect of the policy choices made to implement the ESA has stranded thousands of acre-feet of water carefully conserved by San Joaquin Valley farmers. The federal government used this water to help protect temperature for salmon and to meet other obligations. To turn around and claim that the farmers who made this water available are now at fault for creating their own water supply shortage is just so sad. All Californians should be concerned with the costs our society is bearing for a failed regulatory system that has done nothing tangible to protect endangered fish,” notes Jason Peltier, Executive Director of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority.
The policies in place aren’t just hurting people, they’re bad for all water uses, including managing native species.
“The policies they’ve implemented are not good for farms, they’re not good for cities, and they’re not good for the environment. If government cannot ensure a 100% supply in the wettest year on record, what does it mean for an average year? What does it mean for those disadvantaged communities throughout the Central Valley dependent upon agriculture for their livelihood and future? What does it mean for those that value food safety, worker safety, and local access to food grown by some of the most technologically advanced and conscientious farmers in the world?” Peltier asks.
Government can do more to improve our broken policies and modernize the infrastructure that makes California what it is. Improving storage in smart ways is one step we can take now to restore reliability and stability for future generations managing California’s wet and dry cycles. Fixing our broken system is the only thing that will provide true drought relief and long-term water security for all Californians.
“The Authority and our member agencies are fully engaged in the multiple regulatory and planning efforts aimed at meeting the statutory goals of a more reliable water system and improved ecosystems in our state. We do our best to be constructively engaged and continue to commit significant resources to achieve the goals of our customers and the people of California,” concluded Peltier.