Water-reduction order spreads drought impact


Issue Date: April 8, 2015
By Dave Kranz

The impact of severe drought has become more explicit for millions of additional Californians, in the wake of the executive order by Gov. Jerry Brown requiring 25 percent reductions in water use by cities and towns statewide.

Brown issued the order last week, on the same day the state Department of Water Resources surveyed the Sierra snowpack and found it at only 5 percent of the April 1 average—the lowest ever recorded.

The water-reduction order, which the governor called "unprecedented," affects only municipal and industrial water uses, which drew criticism from some circles for not ordering additional cuts in farm water supplies.

The governor's office noted that agricultural water users have already "borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off."

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger noted that agricultural water supplies have already been cut severely, with farmers in many parts of the state facing mandatory reductions in surface water supplies of 60 percent, 80 percent and, in the case of water contractors purchasing water from the federal Central Valley Project, 100 percent.

"These cuts in farm water supplies didn't start this year," Wenger noted. "This is the fourth year of drought and the second year of severe cuts in agricultural water supplies. Farmers and ranchers have been feeling the pain of drought for some time."

Among the 31 directives included in the executive order, several aim at ensuring efficient and appropriate use of agricultural water supplies.

The governor ordered the State Water Resources Control Board to require "frequent reporting of water diversion and use" by water right holders, and to conduct inspections and bring enforcement actions in order to prevent illegal diversions or the "wasteful and unreasonable" use of water.

Chris Scheuring, CFBF managing counsel, noted that the existing water rights system was established to help California cope with shortages such as those the state is experiencing now.

"We support appropriate enforcement of water rights, so long as basic fairness and due process are observed for everyone involved," Scheuring said.

In another directive in the executive order, agricultural water suppliers that supply water to more than 25,000 acres must include detailed drought-management plans in their required 2015 Agricultural Water Management Plans. The governor's order said those plans should quantify water supplies and demands for 2013, 2014 and 2015. Smaller agricultural districts—those serving between 10,000 and 25,000 acres—will now be required to develop Agricultural Water Management Plans by July 1, 2016.

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, said roughly two-thirds of farm water suppliers are already meeting the previous reporting requirements, and that the governor's order "adds to the number of districts that will be submitting water management plans."

Among its other directives, the governor's executive order requires:

  • Local water agencies in high- and medium-priority groundwater basins to implement immediately all requirements of the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring Program, which the governor's office said would require those agencies to share data on their groundwater supplies;
  • The state Department of Water Resources to consider immediately "voluntary, crop-idling water transfer and water exchange proposals" of one year or less that have been initiated by local public agencies;
  • The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to launch a public information campaign regarding actions people can take to prevent wildfires, including proper treatment of dead and dying trees.

The provisions specifically aimed at urban and suburban water uses include a statewide initiative to replace 50 million square feet of lawns and ornamental turf with drought-tolerant landscapes. The governor also ordered the state water board to impose restrictions to reduce use of potable water on commercial, industrial and institutional properties, such as campuses, golf courses and cemeteries; prohibit use of potable water to irrigate street medians; and prohibit all but drip or micro-irrigation systems for landscaping of new homes and buildings.

CFBF President Wenger said he knows the restrictions could be difficult for some Californians to accept.

"We don't wish water shortages on anyone," he said. "Because farmers and ranchers feel the impacts of drought first and most severely, we understand the impact that water shortages have."

Wenger said Farm Bureau will work for an "enhanced, more flexible water system" that can better withstand dry years and avoid or minimize future shortages.

"That's why farmers supported the Proposition 1 water bond last fall," he said, adding that Farm Bureau is "determined to make sure bond money for water storage is put to that use as soon as possible."

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

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