By William Bourdeau, California Water Alliance

Benjamin Franklin once commented that, “when the well is dry, they know the worth of water.” But Californians have long contradicted our founding father’s wise words; we always recognize the importance of water and have fought over it for decades. Occasionally these water wars become enflamed as a result of drought, but just as often they erupt because of differences over public policy. Time and time again the same tired rhetoric between farmers and environmentalists is deployed leaving the public confused, the lawyers rich, and policymakers perplexed. Enough is enough!

Significant progress has been made in the form of Voluntary Agreements. These arrangements seek to advance environmental protections through investment by large and small water users. Effectively, water users agree to tax themselves and direct those funds to projects that improve the environment. We all hope that Voluntary Agreements are the first step in a new journey of collaboration between those that share an interest in the responsible management of our natural resources. 

Beyond Voluntary Agreements, additional efforts are being deployed to bridge the gap between farmers and environmentalists. Those frustrated with the unending battles have sought to open a dialogue, facilitating meetings and social gatherings between agriculture and environmental leaders. For example, groups such as National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund and the The Nature Conservancy have taken unprecedented steps to align the interests of their members and environmental progress.

It is also imperative that we all consider the real world impacts of new or changing environmental regulations. As advocates debate the impact of water policy, farm workers and family farmers will feel the effects. It is crucial that those directly impacted be invited to the table and that their perspective be considered. 

As widely reported, the Trump Administration will soon introduce updated Biological Opinions necessary to establish the scientific framework that define environmental regulations. This exercise represents a thorough review process by countless experts and scientists. The current Biological Opinions are nearly a decade old and in dire need of improvement.  

Updated Biological Opinions provide a unique and exciting opportunity to build on the good will that has blossomed out of Voluntary Agreements. Ideally, interested stakeholders can celebrate the adoption of updated scientific analysis when considering the impacts of environmental policy. California has an opportunity to set an example for the rest of the country. The partnership of environmentalists and farmers in consultation with community leaders can lead to untold progress towards protecting habitat and ensuring the prosperity of all Californians.

William Bourdeau serves as Chairman of the California Water Alliance. The California Water Alliance is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that advocates for an increase in water supply for municipal, agricultural and environmental needs.

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