snow on mountains
(Photo credit: Adobe Stock)
Patty Poire President, Kern County Farm Bureau
Patty Poire, President, Kern County Farm Bureau

Let me begin this article with an update on State Water Project (SWP) water allocations. When I was writing my February article (note that it was written in January), the SWP allocation was at 5%, and there had been at least nine atmospheric river events with more forecasted. The state had just completed its first snowpack survey at Phillips Station, reflecting 177 percent of the average had already fallen with more predicted. Since then, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) conducted its second snowpack survey on February 1st, which recorded 85.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 33.5 inches, which is 193 percent of the average for the Phillips Station location. By the way, DWR conducts five media-oriented snow surveys at Phillips Station each winter near the first of each month, January through April, and, if necessary, May. So, when you are reading this, there was a snow survey conducted on March 1st, and the Kern County Farm Bureau e-blasts out the information to keep you in the know. However, before the snow survey conducted on February 1st, DWR came out on January 26th to announce an increase in the allocation to 30% or 1.27 million acre-feet of water to be delivered to 29 public water agencies that serve not only agriculture but 27 million Californians. DWR went on to say that the increased allocation is the direct result of nine atmospheric river events that occurred in early January, but unfortunately, working under the old biological opinions and having to do “the first flush,” more than one million acre-feet went out to the ocean. If considering the new biological opinions (which actually started under the Obama administration), how much more water could have been stored? These are the answers that the agricultural industry should be asking, and why aren’t those biological opinions being considered? Is it because the biological opinions were completed under the Trump administration? Also, note that the staff Obama put together to do the work on the biological opinions stayed the same, meaning the idea of not using those opinions should not be because of a political party. There is no place for political games when it comes down to feeding the nation and having jobs for people. Food scarcity doesn’t know political choices; it goes after everyone. 

Today is February 13th, and the current reservoir conditions here reflect most reservoirs are at historic levels. 

The snowpack and snow water content show the state at 196% normal.

Statewide Snow Water Content as of February 10, 2023 provided by the California Cooperative Snow Surveys. (Graphic: DWR)

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) held several media briefings, and a continued statement was “we are still in a drought.” I have also watched several State Water Board meetings, and they also use the same statement, “we are still in a drought.” If the concept is to state that we are still in a drought, then they can manage water like we are still in a drought. Still trying to figure out how having that mindset would assist them in considering having a goal of trying to send 100% of allocations. 2006 was the last time 100% allocation was achieved, and in 2017, one of the wettest years on record, the allocation was 85%. Based on that is 100% allocation no longer being considered or even a goal to achieve? This idea of not considering 100% allocations has just made the sustainable groundwater management act (SGMA) more complicated, and the need to consider reducing the demand for water means less agricultural activities. By the way to add to the idea that we are still in a drought, the Governor today signed another Executive Order extending the emergency drought orders. 

Speaking of SGMA, in March, the Department of Water Resources will be releasing its decision on the groundwater sustainable plans (GSPs) for the Kern Subbasin. As soon as it is released, the Kern County Farm Bureau will e-blast it out, and as I always say, if you are not at the table, you are on the menu! Be engaged. 

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