By Scott Hamilton, President, Hamilton Resource Economics
Fights over water have played an important part in the history of California. And today it continues with many groups fighting over a resource that at times is very scarce. It is therefore unusual when entities, who are accustomed to fighting with one another, decide they might be able to achieve more by working together. Such was the motivation for the formation of the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley a few years ago. Many believe the Water Blueprint is the last best hope to develop and implement major water supply improvements in the San Joaquin Valley to address critical water shortages resulting from drought, government regulations, climate change, and subsidence. This year, the Water Blueprint has seen significant reorganization and a renewed focus.
To begin, the organization has evolved by transitioning from an executive committee, to a larger and more representative board comprising a cross section of Valley Water Interests. Members of the board, led by President Ian Lemay of the California Fresh Fruit Association, Vice President Eddie Ocampo from Self-Help Enterprises, and Executive Director Austin Ewell, including other industry representatives, water district leaders, local, county government, and white area representatives (lands not in a water district). The remainder of the board consists of Casey Creamer, CA Citrus Mutual; Geoff Vanden Heuvel, Dairy Industry; Scott Petersen, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority; Jason Phillips, Friant Water Authority; Kassy Chauhan, Fresno Irrigation District; Steve Chedester, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority; Johnny Gailey, Delta View Water Association; Jack Rice, Western Resource Strategies; Deanna Jackson, Tri-County Water Authority; Augustine Ramirez, Fresno County; Stephanie Anagnoson, Madera County; Paul Boyer, Farmersville; Sarah Woolf, Water Wise; Austin Ewell, Ewell Group; Christina Beckstead, Madera County Farm Bureau; Vince Lucchesi, Patterson Irrigation District; Scott Hamilton, South Valley Water Resources Authority, and Chairman of the Technical Committee; and Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition, and Chairman of the Communications Committee. South Valley Water Resources Authority is a coalition of 12, predominantly Kern Co, water districts.
With the new board, it was necessary to ensure everyone was on the same page and that there was agreement on direction of the organization. Out of that process came a revised mission statement: “Unifying the San Joaquin Valley’s voice to advance an accessible, reliable solution for a balanced water future for all” and a new vision statement: “The Water Blueprint serves as the united voice to champion water resource policies and projects to maximize accessible, affordable, and reliable supplies for sustainable and productive farms and ranches, healthy communities, and thriving ecosystems in the San Joaquin Valley.”
The valuable part of that process was the discussions that led to the statements—the debate, back and forwards, of what was important. Out of that fermentation, several important concepts arose: the Water Blueprint should be a forum to resolve differences, and that forum might enable the Valley to speak with a unified voice on water issues; the water battle should be for more water, not a fight over remaining scraps; and that the scope of the Blueprint’s efforts needs to be diverse—to consider the people and communities in the Valley, and its legacy—a future for generations yet to come.
Given the emerging consensus, the board turned its attention to near-term goals and objectives, which fell into several categories. The water supply goal encompasses working with others to develop and implement a plan to maximize water supplies for the Valley. The Board recognized that SGMA was intended as a locally driven and controlled effort, but the Blueprint had a critical role to play in working to develop interregional projects to enhance water supplies and enable local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to achieve their goals.
Regarding advocacy and communication, the board recognized the need for a common message to make unified, prioritized requests to legislators and policy makers and the need to develop and execute a targeted outreach program and build the coalition.
Ensuring safe, reliable, and affordable supplies for rural communities is a basic tenant of the Blueprint. The State Water Resources Control Board and Regional Water Quality Control Boards have numerous programs and funding to assist communities with inadequate or vulnerable systems. The role of the Blueprint is to identify unmet needs and engage with community leaders to resolve issues.
SGMA will inevitably bring some land use changes because there is simply not enough water to go around. The goal of the Water Blueprint is to work with others to ensure land use changes are strategic, such as preventing subsidence or working towards a larger environmental vision for the Valley. Retirement of agricultural land also needs to be voluntary and streamlined—land purchases only from willing sellers with minimal delay and red tape.
These goals were still a work in progress at the time of writing. More information can be obtained from the Water Blueprint website: WaterBlueprintCA.com.