Irrigation water in a California canal

Irrigation water in a California canal

Newspapers challenge California to see need for water

Two editorials from different California newspapers within the past several days paint a rather dire picture for California farmers as they plan their 2015 water needs.

Add to that the appearance that 2015 could be the fourth consecutive year of drought conditions in America’s most prolific agricultural state and consumers may want to brace for even fewer choices and higher prices at the grocery store.

For those hoping to promote a brighter future for agriculture, it means there is much more work to be done.

The Chico Enterprise Record recently wrote about how the California Water Commission may wait until 2016 to decide on projects to fund from the California Water Bond and the $2.7 billion voters approved for water storage.

Shortly after that editorial appeared the Modesto Bee wrote about plans by the California Water Board (this is a different body than the California Water Commission) could order increased flows along several key watersheds that would effectively reduce irrigation supplies to farmers on some of America’s richest farmland.

I encourage you to read both editorials because they paint a clear picture of how California regulators are working against the best interest of agriculture and the people who live here.

It’s fair to point out that the Chico newspaper was one of a minority of news outlets that came out against the water bond in the last election. Most everyone else, including Western Farm Press, came out in favor of the bond because of California’s understated need for additional water storage and improvements to the state’s water infrastructure.

Still, the Chico E-R has some valid points given what we know about California politics. In the ramp-up to the election Chico’s editorial board seemed most concerned about stringing taxpayers along by promising much and delivering little-to-nothing. That’s a valid concern in California.

Meanwhile, the Bee’s editorial board seems much more outraged over a state decision to continually ramp up flows along the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers, which will effectively reduce irrigation flows to districts like Oakdale, Modesto and Turlock.

Knowing what I do about the region, the Bee’s editorial does an effective job of highlighting the egregious ideas of the California State Water Board.

While the Bee carefully lays out numbers to illustrate the detrimental impacts to the economies of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties because of proposed state action, I learned last year that the economy and human impacts are not legal considerations when it comes to court battles. Retired Federal Judge Oliver Wanger said as much during a water symposium at last year’s World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.

Therein lays the problem. The needs of human beings to have jobs and eat are irrelevant as Federal Law makes it clear the only thing important here are fish.

Getting back to the California Water Commission’s apparent decision not to decide for now on water storage just kicks the same can down the dry road. If the State Water Board is merely following federal law then what happens when they’ve exhausted the reservoirs that provide these ramped-up river flows? How far will salt water creep into the Delta when there’s no river flows at all in the late summer months and how will that impact the cities that currently pump water from the Delta for urban use?

Stay tuned: I’ll finish this thought in my next blog.



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