California State Water Project Todd Fitchette

The California Aqueduct is part of the State Water Project. 

Without farm water, CDFA's 'agricultural vision' is meaningless

California's agricultural vision makes the need for ample and ready supplies of irrigation water self-evident

The board for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) enlisted the assistance of a San Diego-based public relations firm to help set a course of action and establish its California Agricultural Vision. Within this “vision” includes several strategic priorities: Water, regulatory environment, labor and human capital, resource preservation and stewardship, and outreach and communications.

Let’s look at the one thing that will drive whether this entire effort is one of futility or one with purpose.

Water tops the list of strategic priorities, as it should. Without ample and ready supplies of irrigation water – surface and groundwater – any such vision for California agriculture is meaningless.

In the coming years tenets of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) will come to fruition, restricting the amount of groundwater that can be pumped. Here’s a golden opportunity for the CDFA board to take a leadership role and point out that sustainable groundwater supplies and a thriving agricultural economy can only happen if surface water supplies are readily available to farmers.

It’s under that idea the CDFA board should to step up and lead policy to craft measurable goals of building more surface storage to ensure California farmers never again suffer the draconian water cutbacks and curtailments experienced during the past several years.

It should be personally and professionally embarrassing in a state that prides itself on innovation and loves food that we cannot sustainably deliver water necessary to keep farmers in business to grow the food consumer’s demand. Inasmuch as the current state agriculture secretary often talks about “foodies” and their desire for tasty, local food, it seems logical that ample supplies of quality irrigation water are self-evident in this discussion.

The report also recommends “an alternate path to regulatory compliance.” Perhaps the issue isn’t marking a different road to walk off the cliff, but doing away with the constraints that put California farmers at a competitive disadvantage in global agricultural markets and further drive local farms out of business.

Rather than simply ask agriculture to quantify and defend its right to exist, maybe we need to ask regulators and the environmental community to quantify and defend their stated good-intentions to protect fish and wildlife as one can legitimately argue that all the environmental regulations and changes of the past 20 years aimed at helping certain species thrive do not appear to be working.

After all, it’s those environmental regulations that continue to handcuff farmers’ ability to produce the kinds of crops California is globally recognized for producing.

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