Food Grows Where Water Flows

For more than 25 years, the California Farm Water Coalition has been working with our members to share information about farm water issues, and reminding Californians that "Food Grows Where Water Flows."

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CFWC Blog

Smart Policy- Real Solutions

January 16, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Groundwater, Water Management, Water Storage, Water Supply
California’s way of life is sustained by our flowing water. From farm fields and grocery store shelves, to city streets- moving water affects us all. Modern water management in the State focuses on two principles- moving water from places and times of abundance to places and times of need efficiently, and balancing the needs of all beneficial water uses. 
 
California’s water managers are looking for ways to meet all of those needs responsibly. California can have both a healthy environment, and vibrant farms and communities. They are not only looking at ways to capture new surface water, to expand conservation and efficiency, or to safely move existing excess surface water to the places and people in need- but also how to achieve those goals holistically. 
 
For example, in the San Joaquin Valley, opportunities exist to turn floodwaters into drought supply, to recharge groundwater, and to meet the needs of all users- human and environmental. It will take upgrading not only infrastructure, but also policy, but the alternative is a poor option for the local communities and for California.
 
Check out this recent Fact Sheet from Friant Water Authority, explaining the options confronting their community.
 
Our state’s future depends on sound policies that allow us to move water in smart ways. Responsible policies that protect California’s communities and economy, that preserve and recharge water supplies, and hold all water users accountable for efficient management and beneficial use.

A deep dive into the shallow end

January 4, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Topics, Water Management

California Magazine, the publication of the UC Berkeley Alumni Association, recently published an article by Glen Martin on California water issues. Titled, A Deep Dive Into California’s Recurring Drought Problem, the article contains a number of recommendations that, if implemented, would devastate large parts of California’s economy, without a significant improvement in California’s available water supply. A generously quoted individual, Dr. Richard Walker, suggests a few things that may make sense in macro economics but fail to address the consequences of large-scale farmland retirement.

Walker may be an expert in geology, according to the article, but he seems to know little about agriculture and even less about the impacts of retiring vast swaths of productive farmland. He is quoted as saying that 9 million acres of impaired farmland are cultivated on the Westside. There aren’t 9 million acres currently irrigated in all of California. Furthermore, his glib assertion that retiring this supposedly “crappy” farmland would solve California’s water problems is not only ridiculous it fails to look at the costs of such a move. This so-called “crappy” land is the home of people who have farmed it for generations, growing the products that we all depend on. The Westside produces billions in food and fiber crops annually and much more in farm-related economic activity supporting local communities. Drought fallowing temporarily increased unemployment. Retiring farmland would have the same effect and it would be permanent. Rural counties depend on farm tax revenue for social services, law enforcement, and fire protection. Who pays for that when the farms are gone? And California’s Westside is an important source for winter vegetables that don’t grow in other parts of the country.  The ripple effect of Walker’s irresponsible claims would also affect consumers who buy those fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. When we don’t grow something in California it might be grown overseas, often under working conditions or with chemicals that are illegal here.

Reducing people to just numbers on a spreadsheet is dangerous business. Before we jump on Walker’s bandwagon let’s make sure we have our facts straight and are willing to accept the consequences of these simplistic solutions to California’s water supply challenges.

GUEST BLOG: Australia’s Water Management Controversy

December 13, 2017 in CFWC Blog, Regulations, Water Allocations

By STEFANIE SCHULTE
Water Policy Manager
New South Wales Irrigators’ Council

The old adage “when it rains, it pours” seems quite apt in the context of Australia’s recent water woes.

What started with a mainstream news report aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in late July about alleged water theft of Federal environmental water in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin and purported maladministration by State Governments, soon forced both the Federal and State Governments to initiate a raft of inquiries and reviews into legislative, policy and practical implementation of compliance in water management across the Murray-Darling Basin.

None of the reports so far have been able to provide conclusive evidence of any water theft by irrigators anywhere within the Murray-Darling Basin, however the report highlights how the Australian water management and compliance system are not beyond reproach.

What the reports so far have shown is that there are some key shortfalls in the State Government’s administration of water resources:

  • The State Government has mismanaged fees paid by irrigators that were intended to support water delivery oversight, which in turn undermined the public’s confidence in the water management system.
  • The State Government has failed to conduct meter readings and repairs despite ongoing calls for action from irrigators and other water licence holders in the state.
  • The State Government has chosen to restructure the state water department at a critical point in the Basin Plan implementation without providing sufficient support and leadership to guide the transition.
  • The State Government has chosen to authorise the State water utility to conduct meter reading and compliance activities despite the conflict of interest due to the utility’s dual water supply and water compliance functions. It is clearly a case of judge, jury and executioner all being lumped into one office.

Irrigators across the state have called on the State Government to immediately fulfil its obligations to improve its management of the established compliance measures and reset the state water extraction compliance system in order to re-establish confidence in the system – by both irrigators and the general public.

The fact is that the original news report certainly (unfairly) damaged the reputation of the Australian irrigation industry and has provided greater leverage for the environmental lobby to demand a greater share of Australia’s water resources and more environmental friendly water management regulation. However, despite this very obvious agenda and the ongoing attacks on the irrigation industry, it is clear that failings at the State Government have led to unfair public criticism of irrigators who, through no fault of their own, were blamed for illegal water diversions that remain unproven.

Rising water prices hurt our farms and communities

November 20, 2017 in CFWC Blog

When people talk about the effects of water shortage on the farms and communities of California, they can be tempted to say that rising statewide sales receipts prove that no harm has been done. If only that were true. Unfortunately, the reality is- harm has been done, and overall farm crop sales just aren’t a good indicator of the damage caused to local economies, or the devastating impact that water shortages and rising costs have on our communities.

California’s family farmers are adaptive and innovative, but farmers across the state have been forced to fallow cropland, while rural communities lose critical businesses, services, and infrastructure due to farm water costs and shortages. Recently, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences reported net farm profits were down 11% due to higher overall costs on farms, despite rising overall farm income. The farms that stay in business are increasingly pressured toward crops that can support high water costs, reducing the diversity of crops being grown in every region of the state.

California must invest in smart water management- improving the flexibility and resiliency of diverse beneficial water uses, expanding water storage, and embracing results-oriented, adaptive river management to prepare for an uncertain future.

Salmon can thrive without State’s unimpaired flow plan

November 17, 2017 in CFWC Blog, Fisheries, Regulations, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Salmon

Peter Fimrite’s story in the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/2AOyfBh) brings a positive message about higher numbers of this year’s Fall run Chinook salmon on the Mokelumne River. According to Fimrite, near record numbers of fish have returned, thanks to efforts behind stream bed and habitat improvements.

Mokelumne River

Interestingly, this success has been achieved without a massive increase in flows on the river, such as the plan proposed by the State Water Resources Control Board for the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced and Sacramento rivers. Can there be any better evidence that habitat improvements are a better solution than flushing a lot of water down a river under the assumption that more water equals more fish?

The returning salmon are three years old. That means they started their journey as youngsters in 2014, a critically dry year and right in the middle of the driest period in California history. How do you explain the disconnect between big salmon numbers and low river flows? Maybe it’s not the amount of water so much as it is the quality of habitat the salmon have in the river.

Smart Policies- Multiple Benefits in Floodplains

October 11, 2017 in CFWC Blog, Water Management

Securing California’s water future for farms, families and native species is possible. California Rice FieldWhen we pursue smart policies that foster innovative solutions, everyone benefits. One example of these smart policy solutions is the use of strategically expandable floodplains found in the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan.

How can changing how we think about storm flows and floodplains improve water management for all of California? When precipitation is abundant, like this year, water managers are sometimes forced to release water from reservoirs early to be ready for possible future rain, instead of safely storing it and releasing it in ways that provide multiple benefits.

With expanded floodplains, water is allowed to overflow onto farmland that is managed in a way to accommodate higher seasonal flows. Strategically expanding floodplains onto suitable farmland helps protect levees, communities, and farms from potential flood damage. Native species are provided habitat, food, and protection, and opportunities to recharge groundwater aquifers are enhanced.

Smart policies that encourage collaborative approaches to improve how water is managed for everyone can protect communities, nurture the environment, and ensure vibrant local farms.

Learn more about how California’s farmers in the Sacramento Valley are working on innovative ways to improve water management in this Sacramento Bee piece on floodplains.