Ponds and marshes in Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. (photo Adobe Stock / Sundry Photography)

By Scott Hamilton, President, Hamilton Resources Economics

As 2023 sets in, farmers face ongoing questions regarding their water supplies.

Challenges to long-standing methods of allocating Kern River water continue.

The harsh realities of the implementation of the Groundwater Sustainability Act continue to be felt by many growers in the Valley as the ability to pump groundwater diminishes and significant new fees are being assessed to develop water projects to achieve groundwater sustainability. The Friant Water Authority continues its needed quest to restore capacity in the Friant Kern Canal – a critical need for CVP contractors in Kern County. Westlands Water District will see a new board with a new general manager. And the need for substantial improvements in water supply continues to gather attention.

The Family Farm Alliance, whose purpose is to ensure the availability of reliable, affordable irrigation water supplies to Western farmers and ranchers is gearing up for its annual conference in Reno, on February 23rd and 24th. The conference title is “A wake up call for America – why farms, water and food matter”.

Another group comprised primarily of water districts is calling for action. Solve the Water Crisis recognizes that California is in the midst of a water supply crisis that is already impacting the economy, every region across the state, jobs, critical industries, and all Californians. The organization wants California’s policymakers to understand and immediately address the harsh realities of today’s water supply crisis.

As mentioned in last month’s Valley Ag Voice, the California Farm Water Coalition continues to advocate for water for farms and to educate an increasingly urban population.

Quench California, an effort sponsored by the Association of California Water Agencies, is focused on improving water infrastructure. They say that California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack is predicted to decline by 25-40% by 2050, thereby significantly reducing what has historically been the state’s most reliable water source. They highlight the need for increased infrastructure to capture, move and store all the available water supplies.

And 2023 will be a critical year for the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley as they endeavor to implement early phases of projects to improve water deliveries from the Delta to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

The Association of California Water Agencies held its Fall Conference in Indian Wells at the end of November. One of the panels, focusing on California’s water supply strategy, was comprised of Nancy Vogel, Water Deputy for the California Natural Resources Agency, Joaquin Esquivel, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, and Ellen Hanak, Vice President of the Public Policy Institute of California. All speakers recognized the seriousness of the systemic nature of the current water supply situation – that it is not merely a consequence of the current drought. Vogel is a water leader within the state administration and a strong advocate for the governor’s water strategy. She is working closely with DWR to ensure available funds are distributed quickly to water projects in the State. The State Water Resources Control Board has invested heavily in meeting drinking water requirements for rural communities. Additionally, they are responsible for administering water rights and approving new applications. That responsibility has been challenging requiring them to allocate water to senior water rights holders to meet other essential needs. All speakers noted the problems with funding and permit applications and processing and are seeking ways to improve the processes.

2022, with its surface and groundwater shortages, increasing regulations, and increasing production costs, is a year many farmers are glad to have behind them. Likely though, things will get worse before they get better. Many organizations, including local water districts, are seeking long-term improvements in the water supply. They are going to need the moral and financial support of the agricultural community to be successful.

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