Individual farmers and ranchers farming food and fiber during California’s drought crisis understand the real economic impact of the last three years of minute precipitation on the state’s $42 billion food, fiber, and fuel industry (gross receipts).
This year, producers have experienced evaporating watering holes, witnessed the removal of highly productive citrus trees yanked from the drought-cracked soil, made tough fallowed land decisions for annual crops, and seen nut trees which have weathered better years, water wise.
I recently sat face-to-face with a California farmer on his turf who shared that 17 of his 60 farm wells went dry this spring. In addition, he hasn’t had nary a drop of surface water for irrigation in three years.
Without good rains and snows this fall and winter, and in subsequent years, fallowed row crop fields are likely for the farmer. Available moisture would irrigate his new permanent crop plantings.
The prolonged California drought and the need for long-term solutions for Golden State water management is the gist of Proposition (Prop) 1 which will appear on the State of California’s General Election ballot Nov. 4.
Prop 1 would enact the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014. In part, the $7.5 billion bond measure would provide financial funding to improve state water supply infrastructure projects, including surface and groundwater storage as public water system improvements, surface and groundwater storage, drinking water protection, drought relief, plus ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration.
Supporters of the statewide ballot measure include the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Fresno Irrigation District, and Friant Water Authority.
Over the last few months, several agricultural groups and individuals have contributed large sums to the pass Prop 1 campaign. These include the Western Growers Service Corporation and the California Farm Bureau Federation ($250,000 each); California Cotton Alliance ($200,000); plus Stewart A. Resnick of Paramount citrus and pistachio fame and California Citrus Mutual ($150,000 each).
Western Farm Press supports the passage of Prop 1, despite the proposal’s ambiguous language and how, if passed, implementation language by non-aggies could create some headaches for growers rather than solutions.
Overall, Farm Press believes Prop 1 could deliver more postives than negatives.
Speaking of which, perhaps the most unexpected support for Prop 1 comes from the liberal environmental group, Natural Resources Defense Council. Blogger Annie Notthof ties NRDC support to funds from Prop 1 passage to help finance the diversification of the California water supply system and promote local reliability.
As a farm journalist, words including water diversification make me suspicious. If voters pass Prop 1, agricultural leaders need to keep an eagle eye on the interpretation of the act and how the funds could be spent.