By Christine Souza, Assistant Editor, Ag Alert
Reprinted with Permission from California Farm Bureau Federation
The California State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday unanimously adopted emergency curtailments and reporting regulations for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed due to severe drought conditions.
The board’s adoption on the actions affect almost all appropriative and riparian water rights holders in the Delta watershed. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent emergency drought declaration triggered the board’s involvement.
Diane Riddle, of the board’s Division of Water Rights, said during a workshop last week that the actions were intended to establish “water right priority looking at available supplies and available demands.”
“The purpose of this regulation is very simply an attempt to implement the water right priority system, inform users when water is not available at their priority of right and doing that in a conservative way to not to over-curtail users or identify when water is not available and when it may be,” Riddle said.
However, she said, the board isn’t looking to establish “minimum water levels for fishery flows.”
California Farm Bureau led a coalition of agricultural and water groups that urged caution on the matter. In a letter to the state water board prior to Tuesday’s adoption, the coalition implored board members to “act in a deliberate and measured manner that does the least regulatory harm to water users who are already operating under circumstances of reduced water allocations and overlapping constraints on water.”
Justin Fredrickson, environmental policy analyst for the California Farm Bureau said at the workshop that many farmers are already operating with reduced water availability and overlapping constraints. In a particularly difficult year, some farmers are receiving little to no surface water supply.
“A couple million acres of farmland have been impacted because of water supply cutbacks to the state and federal water projects,” Fredrickson said. “In terms of these curtailments of the more senior diverters, giving the timing, most folks will make it through the season and harvest intact, but as we move into next year, things are going to change and if it’s a dry year, the implications could be unprecedented.”
The state water board’s emergency regulation for the Delta authorizes orders to cease diversions. It requires that users diverting more than 1,000 acre-feet to furnish additional information to the board if requesting minimum health and safety exceptions from the board’s order.
Unless the state’s drought declaration is lifted, the regulations remain in place into the next water year, which begins Oct. 1. After that, ongoing supply-demand projections could again require curtailments next summer in order of seniority, in event there is again insufficient water supply, Fredrickson explained.
As part of the draft water diversion reporting, Association of California Water Agencies regulatory relations manager Chelsey Haines at the workshop urged the Board, “I want to make sure that we are balancing this additional information request with information that is going to be useful and is necessary to managing conditions, recognizing that this will place an additional burden on water right holders.” Haines also asked for increased clarification on enforcement.
San Joaquin County Farm Bureau Federation executive director Bruce Blodgett anticipated that the state water board would approve the draft order with curtailment orders sent to affected water rights holders soon after. As this is happening, he said harvest of some crops still need to happen in San Joaquin County, adding, “Farmers are trying to finish out crops as quick as possible.”
Blodgett added, “We’ve had two horrible droughts here in a short period of time and we have to realize they are unprecedented, and we need projects to help address groundwater, but we also need projects to help address surface water. We’ve done none of that.”
Steve Koretoff, a farmer of organic almonds in Kerman, speaking on behalf of the Almond Alliance of California, told the board at the workshop that curtailments will dramatically impact agriculture.
“Agriculture is the lifeblood of California’s Central Valley and the base of the economy providing significant employment. The California almond community delivers economic value to the state supporting 110,000 jobs and contributing $9.2 billion to California’s GDP,” Koretoff said.
Koretoff added that the state’s almond growers have reduced the amount of water used to grow the crop by one-third since the 1990s, with improved production practices and micro-irrigation technology and monitoring.
“The San Joaquin Valley is one of the most efficient places to grow food anywhere in the world. We can grow more food with less water than anywhere else on the planet,” Koretoff said in his public comments. “The board must be careful not to make any decisions or curtailments that can cause irrefutable harm to family farms and disadvantaged rural communities that depend on agriculture for jobs and water.”
The adoption of emergency curtailment and reporting regulations for the Delta comes as the state board has increased restrictions on water use in recent weeks, issuing stop-diversion notices in June to junior water rights holders in the Delta, Russian River and Scott River watersheds and expanding curtailments in the Scott and Shasta river watersheds in mid-July.
Montague rancher Ryan Walker, president of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, said farmers have banded together in recent weeks to voluntarily curtail water.
“When we heard these rights were coming out we got a pretty big group together to put some voluntary curtailments in place. Quite a few alfalfa guys were willing to commit to shutting off Aug. 15 or at least Aug. 31, and pasture guys were willing to commit to a Sept. 15 cutoff instead of going all the way to Oct. 1,” Walker said. “A lot of irrigators have already been shut down because of the drought.”
The water board asks that Delta water users subscribe to the Delta Drought list or to frequently visit the Board’s Delta Watershed Drought Information page at WaterBoards.CA.gov/Drought/Delta.