Water tops list of environmental issues


Issue Date: June 3, 2015
By Christine Souza
Speaking to a group of state Farm Bureau professionals who specialize in environmental issues, Jon Munger, right center, vice president of operations for Montna Farms in Sutter County and president of the Yuba-Sutter Farm Bureau, discusses water, wildlife and regulatory issues that affect California rice growers.
Photo/Christine Souza
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger describes the California drought and related regulatory issues to a group of state Farm Bureau staff members during the American Farm Bureau Federation Environmental Issues Conference in Sacramento.
Photo/Christine Souza

Concerns about current and future water supplies were a unifying theme as Farm Bureau staff members from across the nation gathered in Sacramento last week to discuss environmental issues affecting American farmers and ranchers.

The American Farm Bureau Federation Environmental Issues Conference brought representatives from at least 20 states together, to discuss a range of topics including water quality, air quality, endangered-species rules and other regulations affecting family farmers and ranchers. But with the conference setting in California's capital, discussion of water supplies often rose to the fore.

In welcoming the group to Sacramento, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger provided an update about the state's already stretched water supply and the regulatory and legislative impacts that have resulted from the drought.

"There is a mindset in California that we can conserve our way out of this. There is no way that I've ever seen that you can divvy up a dollar and make two dollars. You have to go bring in more water," Wenger said. "Three years ago, in May of 2012, all of our reservoirs were full to the brim. We should not be where we are today. The challenges are real, they are drastic, but we have to adapt to the challenges that we have."

CFBF Administrator Rich Matteis discussed how the state Legislature and voters responded to the drought last year, including by adopting statewide groundwater legislation and passing a bond measure that would set aside $2.7 billion to construct additional water storage. This year, he said, Gov. Brown's order for mandatory cuts in urban water use resulted in a renewed focus on agricultural water.

"Certainly, the drought has caused a lot of attention to what we do and how we do it," he said, noting that Farm Bureau has responded through both one-on-one interactions with elected officials and regulators, and through the news media.

Joe Cain, commodity division director for the Kentucky Farm Bureau, reported that water issues are becoming more of a factor in his state.

"Kentucky is getting very engaged in water issues. We don't have water (supply) problems, but we want to be proactive," Cain said, adding that Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney established a Water Management Working Group that is meeting to develop a strategy on dealing with water.

Kentucky receives about 45 inches of rainfall annually and has several aquifers that feed into the state, which provide plenty of surface water, Cain said, but the Farm Bureau has taken a renewed interest in water issues, as many farmers make a transition from on-farm water sources to municipal water.

"We feel like if there is a drought, we will have some issues. We are working on a more effective drought mitigation plan and have some strategies that will be announced this fall," Cain said.

Cain's Farm Bureau neighbor to the east, Wilmer Stoneman, who handles government regulations at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, reported the organization is also looking into water as the state studies groundwater and "drastically low" aquifers.

During the conference, the CFBF team of environmental attorneys briefed fellow state Farm Bureau representatives on issues related to land use and property rights, the California water rights system, water quality regulation and the regulation of irrigated agriculture.

In talking about the future of farming in California, CFBF environmental attorney Chris Scheuring said, "In California, our protection of land through voluntary, incentive-based means for the most part is going to be successful, but land is only half of the equation. The other half of the equation is water."

As part of the conference, CFBF environmental policy analyst Justin Fredrickson led a tour for Farm Bureau staff members that included the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation C.W. "Bill" Jones Pumping Plant in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the nearby Tracy Fish Collection Facility, which intercepts migrating fish before they enter the delta water pumps.

The group also visited Montna Farms in Sutter County, to see how California rice fields provide habitat for at least 230 different species of birds each year.

The AFBF Environmental Issues Conference attracted Farm Bureau staff members from as far away as New Jersey, Kentucky and Florida, and from states as diverse as Michigan, Texas and Wyoming.

"It really is a way for our professional regulatory staffers to get together and learn from one another, to put best practices into place and to gain information from one another that allows us to do our jobs better," said Don Parrish, AFBF senior director of regulatory relations. "And when we do our jobs better, our members benefit."

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

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