Resource issues dominate annual CFBF conference


Issue Date: March 20, 2019
By Christine Souza
Farmer Mike Vereschagin of Orland, a California Farm Bureau Federation board member, asks a question of state water board member Dorene D’Adamo during the CFBF Leaders Conference.
Photo/Ching Lee

Addressing concerns that include floods, droughts, wildfires and state regulations on river flow, two state officials advised farmers and ranchers to remain engaged in those and other natural-resources issues.

At the California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference in Sacramento last week, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot said his top priorities include water and wildfire protection.

"From our perspective, it's getting worse and we need to prepare California for more variable hydrology—drier periods are drier and wetter periods becoming wetter—and what that means for our communities, forests and woodlands in terms of danger," Crowfoot said. "At the Resources Agency, we have to help state government help local communities become more resilient."

The agency Crowfoot administers oversees Cal Fire plus the state departments of Water Resources, Fish and Wildlife, Parks and Recreation, and Conservation.

"The Camp Fire and the tragedy that unfolded in Paradise, I think, was a game changer for the state in terms of realizing the urgent focus that we need to provide on communities that are most vulnerable to wildfire," he said.

Related to securing water supplies, Crowfoot said the state needs greater investments, policies and programs. He noted that funds from Proposition 1, the water bond passed by voters in 2014, have been allocated to eight projects, and added that Gov. Gavin Newsom has outlined a portfolio of water priorities, including modernizing conveyance through the delta with a single-tunnel option.

To address water supply concerns, especially as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act takes effect, there is much focus on moving excess water, such as floodwater in wet years, to replenish groundwater basins, he said. Though state government has historically separated flood management from water management, Crowfoot said, "The 'ah-ha' moment for the state, although locals have known this for a long time, is our floodwaters are a liability, but also a solution."

Glenn County farmer Mike Vereschagin, a CFBF board member, told Crowfoot farmers "are facing extreme costs with SGMA, not just in the management, but in the potential loss of being able to use our groundwater to grow good and fiber," adding that defining groundwater recharge as a beneficial use would aid water management.

Putting added strain on the water supply is the State Water Resources Control Board Water Quality Control Plan for the Bay-Delta. The first phase of the plan affects San Joaquin River tributaries—the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. Adopted last December, the plan calls for redirecting 30 to 50 percent of "unimpaired flows" in the rivers, in the name of increasing fish populations.

State water board member Dorene D'Adamo, the only board member who voted against the plan's adoption, updated the conference about the bay-delta plan and the status of voluntary agreements intended to replace the board's order.

"We're going to have water districts making very tough decisions," D'Adamo said, adding that based on what she has seen so far, the voluntary agreements represent "a good deal, much better than prolonged fighting and uncertainty."

"I think that these agreements will be very positive for the agricultural community in terms of certainty going forward," D'Adamo said.

Farmer Joe Scoto, a past president of the Merced County Farm Bureau, noted that the Merced Irrigation District produced a plan for the Merced River to provide certainty for the environment and the local water supply, but the plan was rejected. Now, the irrigation district is among a variety of entities—including CFBF—that have filed suit to block the board plan.

"These voluntary agreements that you are putting out, if your staff does not compromise like we're trying to compromise, it's not going to work," Scoto said. "We're going to all end up in court and we're going that way."

"We need to be flexible and we need to figure out a way to make this work," D'Adamo said.

Noting that voluntary agreements would require significant investment from water districts, Vereschagin asked, "What assurances do we have, after all of this money is spent, if we find it is not doing what we planned and there are less fish than we hoped for, will the state come back and say, 'We need more money?'"

D'Adamo said, "There is a possibility that more could be asked of agriculture at a future point, which is why we have to be really serious when we put these agreements together."

She noted that Gov. Newsom is directing the state to work on voluntary agreements, even though lawsuits have already been filed. By entering into voluntary agreements, D'Adamo said, projects that could be helpful for fish could be implemented right away, as opposed to litigation that would likely take years.

The water board must work on the plan's implementation, which could include a water-rights proceeding or adjudication or other options she said would be very controversial.

D'Adamo also discussed the board's plan to develop a revised state definition of wetlands, and procedures to protect them from dredge-and-fill activities.

CFBF Manager of Governmental Affairs and Legal Services Jim Houston described the Leaders Conference as "the only time all year that farmers and ranchers from all across the state gather in one room and talk with the people whose decisions directly impact their families, businesses, communities and ultimately, consumers."

"These conversations are critical, as SGMA, the bay-delta flows amendment and the state wetlands policy have the potential to devastate a farm economy that supports towns and cities up and down California and reduce the amount of food produced," Houston said.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

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