irrigation water flowing from pipe to canal
(Photo: Piyaset / Shutterstock)

By Jamie Johansson
President, California Farm Bureau Federation

Reprinted with Permission from the California Farm Bureau Federation

Jamie Johansson
Jamie Johansson, President, California Farm Bureau Federation

Six years ago this week, by a 2-to-1 margin, Californians voted in favor of Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion water bond—showing decisively that our state’s voters understand the need to expand and improve water supplies for people, food production and the environment.

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization became the latest forecasting group to report the presence of La Niña conditions in the eastern Pacific Ocean. That could presage a second straight dry winter in California, on the heels of a 2019 water year featuring a series of atmospheric-river storms that ballooned that year’s key April 1 snowpack measurement to 175% of average.

Storage projects partially funded by Proposition 1 should help the state balance the swings in precipitation that characterize the California climate, and that scientists say could become more severe due to global climate change.

Yet, six years after the bond’s passage, the water storage projects that will benefit from Proposition 1 likely remain at least a decade away from becoming operational. That may be frustrating to farmers, ranchers and other Californians who voted for the bond during a debilitating drought.

It should not take this long to build infrastructure projects in California, especially ones so critical to the well-being of Californians. These delays aren’t resulting in better projects—they are just the result of entrenched opposition.

We need our political leaders to show courage in the face of that resistance, and build the projects voters voted for and water users are paying for. They are unlikely to do so, though, unless we remain steadfast in our determination that the state government and the local and regional agencies sponsoring the projects continue to push them through to operation.

California must complete the remaining steps to develop the storage options identified by Proposition 1, as part of an “all of the above” approach to water that includes water recycling, conveyance, greater efficiency, desalination and storage, both aboveground and underground.

For farmers and ranchers, the challenges are clear—and mounting.

Just a few weeks before voters passed Proposition 1, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, beginning a 20-year process through which local agencies must create plans to manage high- and medium-priority basins to assure sustainable yield. Local agencies in high-priority basins have submitted their groundwater sustainability plans to the state, with farmers in many regions likely to face restrictions on their access to underground water.

Two years after SGMA was signed, the State Water Resources Control Board proposed “unimpaired flow” standards for San Joaquin River tributaries that would reallocate water for the supposed benefit of fish. That led to attempts to negotiate voluntary agreements among state agencies and water users that would achieve better results with less water. But agreements have proven elusive—and the water board has yet to release the second phase of its plan, which would affect Sacramento River tributaries.

Our state government likes to think big, for example with sweeping and often controversial plans to address climate change, but water represents a crucial resource that may be significantly disrupted by predicted changes in climate patterns.

Current and future disruptions in water supply threaten another global resource: California agriculture. Our state has the most diverse, productive farms and ranches found anywhere on the planet. Because a growing global population needs ever-more food, undermining agriculture here will push it to other parts of the world that likely won’t be able to produce as much food per unit of land or water, or as responsibly, as we do here.

Has anyone ever studied how many acres of rainforest might have to be removed to replace the agricultural production from one acre of California farmland?

This summer, state agencies released a California Water Resilience Portfolio, with 142 actions intended to build a climate-resilient water system for the state. Many of those actions—such as fast-tracking construction of Sites Reservoir north of Sacramento and efforts to boost groundwater recharge—hold promise. But many past plans sit on shelves, and the agencies also warned budget shortages could slow implementation of its current plan.

Six years after passage of Proposition 1, the deliberate pace of water infrastructure projects shows we can’t afford to waver from our determination to take every step necessary to address California’s water shortages.

The day after Proposition 1 passed, my predecessor as CFBF president, Paul Wenger, promised Farm Bureau would be diligent in making sure the bond fulfills its promise. We have been both diligent and patient, and we will continue to press the state and its leaders to maintain unwavering attention to California’s water future.

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