CFBF leaders seek water solutions in Washington


Issue Date: March 17, 2010
Kate Campbell

While farmers wait for federal officials to update water allocations from the Central Valley Project and for a preliminary evaluation from a National Academy of Sciences committee of stresses facing delta fish, California Farm Bureau Federation leaders visited the nation's capital to discuss these issues and many others with elected representatives and administration officials.

Both the updated CVP water allocation and the NAS report are expected to be made public this week, but had not been announced by the Ag Alert deadline.

In its initial allocation announcement last month, the CVP warned that farm customers both north and south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta could see allocations as low as 5 percent, but that water deliveries could reach as high as 30 percent south of the delta and 100 percent to the north, if precipitation remains at least average this winter.

Water deliveries have been constricted by delta pumping restrictions intended to benefit protected fish. The National Academy of Sciences agreed to review conflicting protections for salmon and delta smelt, study other factors affecting the fish and review alternatives to merely shutting down the water transfer pumps.

The report due this week would be the first of two from the NAS. The reports came at the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., at the urging of California agricultural leaders who questioned the adequacy of current scientific data on delta species protections and water operations.

Farm Bureau leaders held face-to-face meetings Monday with senior staff at the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. The delegation was also scheduled to participate in a water briefing this week, to include U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor and four members of Congress representing the San Joaquin Valley: Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced; Jim Costa, D-Fresno; Devin Nunes, R-Tulare; and George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.

CFBF leaders said they would tell officials that the current water supply and delivery challenges facing California prove that the status quo isn't working.

"We need improved infrastructure to store, transfer and deliver water where it's needed, when it's needed throughout the state," CFBF President Paul Wenger said. "We also need a balanced approach to the Endangered Species Act."

A Stanislaus County walnut and almond grower, Wenger said the regulatory drought in the Central Valley shows why the ESA is unsustainable. The species-specific approach of the law often works to the detriment of ecosystem-wide conservation, he said.

"In the case of the delta, the salmon and smelt biological opinions need to be reconsulted and considered in light of one another," Wenger stressed.

Prior to the arrival of the CFBF delegation, Rep. Costa met with President Obama at the White House last week, to seek the president's commitment to help resolve the state's water crisis.

"The administration can and must provide relief to the people who are suffering under the effects of a drought and years of misguided water regulations," Costa said after meeting with the president. "The economic viability and well-being of our country is directly tied to a healthy valley economy. A failure to increase the valley's water supply will limit our region's ability to put food on our nation's dinner tables and hire workers."

Costa said President Obama assured him jobs and business opportunities are top priorities.

After issuing the initial CVP water allocation, the Interior Department said it will seek to obtain an additional 8 percent to 10 percent of the water allocation for customers through various actions that have yet to be taken.

"Farmers need to make planting decisions today, not in May or June," Cardoza said. "They cannot take 5 percent to the bank and expect to receive financing to plant their crops. The department believes their hands are tied. As we have long said, that is what happens when biological opinions are not based on sound science and are instead based on laws that put fish above farmers and farmworkers."

With passage last week of the "American Workers, State and Business Relief Act" in the Senate, Feinstein noted that the bill contained $150 million in emergency financial assistance for specialty crop farmers, regardless of whether their crops were devastated by flood or drought.

"This will be helpful to California farmers, where three years of drought cost nearly $600 million in lost crops last year and resulted in the fallowing of more than 400,000 acres of farmland," Feinstein said.

She noted that last year, 24 California counties were declared drought disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and said the aid contained in the bill would help farmers in those counties "prepare for the coming harvest cycle."

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.