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CFBF president's message: Farm Bureau will be actively engaged as new groundwater laws take effect

Issue Date: September 24, 2014
Paul Wenger, CFBF president

The groundwater bills that passed in the final hours of the two-year legislative session have now been signed into law by Gov. Brown (see story). For a few weeks, the deliberations around Assembly Bill 1739 and Senate Bills 1168 and 1319 became the focus of our entire state, as we dealt with a severe drought year on the heels of two below-normal rainfall years.

The passage of the groundwater bills came just 16 days after the Legislature adopted a revised water bond for the November ballot. While the Legislature is to be applauded for finally recognizing the water challenges facing California, by putting the bond before voters with near-unanimous, bipartisan support, the expedited development of overreaching and counterproductive groundwater legislation could result in a significant loss of water for farming, long before a successful bond can deliver one drop of additional water.

As a third-generation farmer, I witnessed firsthand the challenges of the first two generations to develop our family farm into a successful business and to provide a legacy to be carried on for those wanting to continue to farm. I am, for the first time, truly worried about the future opportunity for family farming businesses that have been the foundation of California's dynamic agriculture, which has become a national and world leader in food and fiber production. Many of these family operations have expanded to become major food processors in their own right. Together, California farmers and ranchers, from large to small, have been the envy of the rest of the world for our productive capabilities as well as the quality and safety of the commodities produced.

Water has been the foundation of the growth and prosperity of our state, more than any other natural resource. Unfortunately, water has become the linchpin of political and regional conflict. As greater restrictions have been placed on surface water supplies and the reliability of those supplies has become more circumscribed, cities, rural residents and farms have become more dependent on groundwater. No one can defend the continued overreliance on groundwater, but neither can any reasonable person argue that we can continue to grow in population and industry without addressing our overall water supply needs.

Farmers of all sizes and of all commodities, in all regions of our state, have seen their water supplies reduced well beyond the natural effects of climate or weather. Political and regulatory fiat has caused many of the groundwater issues we are experiencing today, resulting in overdrafted basins in some areas. While the groundwater legislation attempts to address the symptoms of our groundwater issues, it falls well short of recognizing the foundational problems that cause those issues, and will do nothing to solve any water supply concerns.

Now, it's up to us to pay careful attention to how these new laws are implemented. They will require action to manage groundwater at the local level—and that's where Farm Bureau's strength lies. Few other organizations have the grassroots structure that Farm Bureau has. Our volunteers and dedicated staff throughout California will be actively engaged as local entities undertake groundwater management.

You can be certain that Farm Bureau will aggressively monitor the implementation of the groundwater bills, to be sure that the "unintended consequences" are kept to a minimum and that due process is followed by those in the government who will almost certainly want to expand their authority and influence.

At the same time, passage of the groundwater bills sends a message to those of us in agriculture, that we must remain unified in the face of continued attacks. Production of food, fiber and flowers depends on water, stored in the ground or above it in reservoirs. Our state's entire population also depends on that water, and on the food and farm products we farmers produce.

Farmers and ranchers from throughout the state must put our regional and commodity differences aside. We must work in favor of the water bond; we must work together to pursue more new storage and better management of existing storage; we must work together on the implementation of the new groundwater laws; we must work together to pursue every reasonable alternative to solve our state's ongoing water crisis.

The only thing that will secure our state's future water needs is for farmers and ranchers—and those allied businesses upon which we rely and which rely on us—to finally mount a unified effort to develop and flex the political muscle to counter those who have put our state in this untenable situation.

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

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