Helen Madere Memorial Bridge over the Sacramento River at Rio Vista, CA. photo By Timothy Boomer
Helen Madere Memorial Bridge over the Sacramento River at Rio Vista, CA. Photo by Timothy Boomer (Shutterstock

By Valley Ag Voice Staff

Every drop of water carries a story with it. That story’s length is determined by many factors, including chance and various sets of regulation. California has a habit of lengthening that drop’s journey from stream to field—if it gets there at all. Ultimately, much of its journey is destined to add more water to the Pacific. That knowledge begs the question of whether our drought-prone state that feeds millions or the ocean needs more water.

Newsom and his administration are bestowed the honor of representing California and responsible for ensuring proper stewardship of its vital resources. That most certainly includes its farmers—not just fish. 

Amongst the likely towering stack of letters to the California Governor sits a coalition letter dated March 30th, from several water districts (Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District, Kettleman City Community Services District, Alpaugh Community Services District, Empire-Westside Irrigation District, Dudley Ridge Water District, Berrenda Mesa Water District, Belridge Water Storage District, Lost Hills Water District, Henry Miller Water District, Kern Delta Water District, Home Garden Community Services District, and Kings County Water District), Kings County, and Kings County Farm Bureau. Their intended outcome is to allocate an increase to 35 percent with the goal to reduce unemployment and increase food production. 

The following day, the state released a new regulation through the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. This 144 page “Incidental Take Permit for Long-Term Operation of the State Water Project” has since been met with opposition on all encompassing sides. The Kern County Farm Bureau released a statement on April 2 stating, “In response to federal biological opinions, the State of California has presented the agricultural community, it’s employees, and it’s consumers with a proposal that directly conflicts with the ability to provide water to our farms, ranches, and rural communities. The State’s rules conflict with recent science and are extremely disappointing in a time where our capacity to provide a stable and reliable food supply needs to be strengthened rather than diminished.”

Adding to that stack of letters to Newsom included one signed by Representatives Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), Devin Nunes (CA-22), Ken Calvert (CA-42), Tom McClintock (CA-04), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), and Paul Cook (CA-08). Some highlights included: “This unprecedented action threatens to send the operations of the State Water Project (SWP) and the Federal Central Valley Project (CVP) into a downward spiral of conflict, confusion, and litigation. It also virtually eliminates the possibility of finding a lasting peace to California’s never-ending water wars and effectively kills negotiations on Voluntary Agreements. […] We need cooperative and coordinated operations of the SWP and CVP to ensure that the cities, communities, and farms that depend on a reliable water supply receive the water they need and can grow the food that feeds our nation and the world. […] Given the serious health, safety, and economic concerns our constituents are facing due to the pandemic, and the fact that the 2019 Federal Biological Opinions were developed using the best available science and latest data to ensure both the CVP and SWP could be adaptively managed to meet the needs of people and the environment, the timing and judgment of the State’s decision on the new ITP is even more baffling. […]”

The letter concluded by requesting the governor drop the lawsuit against the BiOps and “issue a consistency determination under the California Endangered Species Act so the SWP and CVP can operate in a coordinated manner, as they have for decades.”

As of April 15th, the governor has yet to respond, but an additional letter was produced by Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Democratic Representatives Jim Costa (CA-16), Josh Harder (CA-10), TJ Cox (CA-21), and John Garamendi (CA-3). Their joint letter pointed out the need for cooperation, and that this new regulation is not the solution: “This conflict [between the BiOps and the new ITP] will not only reduce water deliveries just as drought may be returning to California, but also block the successful negotiation of voluntary agreements to meet Delta water quality requirements[…].” This group also sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to reiterate the necessity to maintain coordination of operations between the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Yet, this letter was only preaching to the choir as Bernhardt is known for complete support of the two projects working in coordination. 

The lack of quick response from the state could be chalked up to the pandemic, but this request goes hand-in-hand to aid California’s critical response to the crisis. Regulatory specialist of the Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District, Justin Mendes, explained: “The State Water Project is losing 3,000 acre-feet per day right now because of the ITP.” Mendes continued to put that number into perspective: “That amount of water would supply Kettleman City for 10 years, and it is going out to the ocean every day. It’s also worth noting that increasing the allocation would make available an extra 840,000 acre-foot, even if the ITP took 200,000 of it, SWP would net 640,000 acre-feet increasing to 35 percent.” As stated previously, that 35 percent is the goal Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District and many others are aiming towards. 

Regarding the new ITP, the governor’s silence grows even more deafening as this spotlight is brightly shinning on him. Amid this unprecedented crisis, in which the governor has been eager to utilize federal resources, his unwillingness to work within the parameters previously set through the CVP and the SWP is increasingly highlighted. Only time will tell if the governor’s focus is centered on aiding our farmers, and thus our economy, rather than disregarding cooperative efforts from both established state and federal projects.

To read the letters cited within this article, you can visit our website at ValleyAgVoice.com. June’s edition will contain a follow-up on these matters, as we are hopeful our community will receive the water it needs.