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

Voluntary Agreements are the Future of California’s Water and Environmental Management

September 19, 2019 in CFWC Blog

Voluntary Agreements are the Future of California’s Water and Environmental Management

Let’s be clear. One of the most significant efforts for environmental protection to emerge in California will come with the completion of the Voluntary Agreements. However, if Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) becomes law, it threatens the Voluntary Agreements and all the hope they bring for new environmental protections and water supply reliability.

SB 1 is legislation that proponents argue would protect California from potential changes in environmental and labor laws at the federal level. Opponents of the bill expressed concern that it would harm efforts to enact a set of Voluntary Agreements designed to improve both water supply reliability and ecosystem resources. The potential destruction of the Voluntary Agreements is at the heart of Governor Newsom’s announced intention to veto SB 1.

These agreements, the result of cooperation between many large and small water users, includes an unprecedented level of environmental funding. For the first time, farms and other large water users are agreeing to tax themselves to provide hundreds of millions in funding to restore water flows and improve ecosystems.

And you don’t have to take our word for it. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Representative Josh Harder, Representative Jim Costa, Representative John Garamendi, and Representative TJ Cox all expressed their support for the Voluntary Agreement approach to solving California’s perennial water battles. Their efforts and those of more than 180 state and local organizations support the Governor’s attempt to move California water and environmental management into the future. It’s time we break away from old ways of doing things that have worked for no one and enter a new era of cooperation.

It is illuminating that the Voluntary Agreement approach received such wide support during the negotiations over the past several months of the legislative session, and indeed, over many years leading us to today.

Some people are saying that water users “threatened” to walk away from the Voluntary Agreements if SB1 passes. The truth is exactly the opposite. It is SB 1 that threatens the Voluntary Agreements. If this law goes into effect it takes away the very flexibility that made the compromises possible. After decades of work, walking away from the VAs is the very last thing we, or many in the state want.

The list of groups opposing SB 1, and supporting the VAs, includes water suppliers that serve most Californians and many local and the statewide organizations, including the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Orange County Business Council, Construction Industry Coalition on Water Quality, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Santa Clara Valley Water District, the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts, and many others. And there’s a reason for that. They believe there is a better way to solve water and environmental management challenges than following a path that will lead us to the courts.

That path is a dead end. What is needed is a generational change toward water and environmental management in California. A new approach that focuses on new science, a dedicated block of water for stream flows, a funding plan, and the habitat restoration projects that will revive the ecosystem in many parts of the state. That is the new approach that Californians want and that is what we will get from the Voluntary Agreements. Let’s work together on a new era of cooperation and move into the future together.

Voluntary Agreements are Part of California’s Progressive Nature

September 10, 2019 in CFWC Blog

Voluntary Agreements are Part of California’s Progressive Nature

In a 2008 speech to Google employees in Mountain View, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newson repeated the axiom, “As goes California, so goes the nation.” He was expressing the progressive nature of The Golden State, which has been a national leader on many fronts since Admission Day on September 9, 1850.

Letter from Congress to Gov. Gavin Newsom

Senate Bill 1 (Atkins, D-San Diego) could reflect California’s independence as a national leader, but unless amended, it will tie us to the past in a way that stymies progressive innovation on environmental projects. SB 1, while championed as a defense for California from potential changes in federal environmental protections, also stands to upend new, unprecedented, Voluntary Agreements (VA). The VAs are bringing warring factions together to improve the ecosystem while at the same time, working toward more water supply reliability for people. The fact that SB1, as written, will destroy the Voluntary Agreements is not disputed. In a recent letter to Governor Newsom, United States Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Jim Costa, Congressman John Garamendi, Congressman Josh Harder and Congressman TJ Cox strongly urged the governor to amend SB1 because it threatens the science-based approach in the VAs for ecosystem and water management in the future.

“We oppose section 3(c) of the bill as drafted as it would prevent the State from incorporating the latest science and other information in permitting decisions.”

The VAs are bringing warring factions together to improve the ecosystem while at the same time, working toward more water supply reliability for people.

But not everyone is in love with the Voluntary Agreements. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) chose not to participate in discussions last year that hammered out the VA framework among public water agencies, farmers, other members of the conservation community, and the leadership from state and federal agencies.

Why is that?

One can speculate that NRDC, which helped lead the legal charge for the 2008 and 2009 Delta smelt and salmon biological opinions (BiOps), is clinging to the past because to do otherwise would be an admission of failure. Look at overall Delta smelt and salmon populations since then. Have they improved under the BiOps? No, and in fact, things have gotten worse.

Fall and Summer Delta smelt population monitoring (Source: California Water Blog)

On the other hand, local projects to improve stream bed spawning grounds, restoration of side channels on the Sacramento, Tuolumne, and other rivers, and the voluntary removal of impediments to salmon migration, show significant promise to fisheries. The science from two or three decades ago told us one thing but we’re learning now that much of it was wrong or marginally effective.

Chinook salmon landing by weight (Source: NMFS)

 

 

 

 

New science is showing us a better path forward, a more progressive way for water users and environmentalists to work together to solve a multitude of problems. Unaltered, SB 1 will chain us to the regulatory shackles of the past.

That may be what NRDC wants for California, but it isn’t a healthy future for California’s environment, quality of life, or the people living here who seek to enjoy it.

 

Guest Blog: The Unintended Consequences of Laws

August 29, 2019 in CFWC Blog

by Don Wright

Laws are imperfect. They are written, passed and enforced on imperfect people by imperfect people. According to the internet should you detonate a nuclear device in Chico you’ll receive a $500 fine. Best not wear cowboy boots in Blythe unless you own at least two cows or you’ll be in violation of the law. And in Fresno, it’s illegal to sell permanent markers within the city limits. I don’t know about Chico or Blythe but I live near Fresno and know the ordinance was part of an effort to reduce graffiti. A worthy goal but unenforceable and ineffective. While Chico hasn’t had a nuclear explosion it’s doubtful the $500 fine has been the true deterrent.

The State of California has had its share of strange laws; some of which apply to agriculture and labor. Thanks to past lawmakers, sheep herders must now be provided two, 15-minute breaks each day. Sheep are usually tended in remote locations without a Starbucks in sight. I suppose a shepherd could turn around and not face the flock twice. Bills written with the best of intentions often carry unintended consequences and that’s why there is an amendment process – to help winnow out as many faults as possible.

Senate Bill 1 is in need of amendments. It was introduced by Senator Toni Atkins, the senate pro tem of San Diego. SB 1 is a powerful bill by a powerful person in a powerful position in a state bent on resisting the current federal administration. The bill’s intent is to protect California from any changes of environmental protections by the federal government. While it doesn’t name President Trump it refers to “Beginning in 2017, a new presidential administration . . .” and directs state agencies to adopt as baseline standards the federal rules in effect on January 17, 2017 the last day President Obama was in office. The problem is the regulations governing how environmental matters are dealt with are best when informed by the best science and science doesn’t care who is or isn’t president.

If the state freezes its standard to January 17th of 2017 it misses out on new developments when trying to improve the environment. In this case the habitat in the Delta, that much talked about key to the water needs of every Californian south of Sacramento.

Based on older scientific information the State Water Resources Control Board thought the ecological health of the Delta would improve if the businesses, communities and people in the San Joaquin Valley who depend on water from tributary rivers of the San Joaquin River would use less water and send more through the Delta and out the Golden Gate into the Pacific Ocean. Former Governor Jerry Brown and then governor-elect Gavin Newsom wrote well publicized letters urging the State Board to instead enter into voluntary agreements with the people on the tributaries. The State Board declined and chose to flush water through the Delta. When Newsom took office there was a shakeup at the State Board which is made of governor appointees. As a result the Voluntary Agreements are now back on the table.

SB 1 could dismantle these agreements by sticking to the older opinions. For instance a few years ago it wasn’t known that the salmon populations were being decimated by non-native species introduced into the Delta as sport fish. Biologists now know 90 percent of juvenile salmon are eaten by striped bass and other non-native predators before they can even migrate through the Delta, let alone reach San Francisco Bay or the ocean. Turning off the water for the communities, farms and families of the San Joaquin Valley (and for that matter the Los Angeles Basin) may not be the best science when trying to save the Delta but you wouldn’t know that unless you continue to incorporate new data when making decisions.

Agriculture is the economic engine of the San Joaquin Valley. Chances are the food and fiber produced there has impacted your life. Most of the ag leaders were surprised by SB 1. Senator Atkins has been considered one of the most reasonable, thoughtful and knowledgeable people about ag in the capitol. And it’s not just the ag industry opposing SB 1. There is a diverse coalition of more than 60 organizations ranging from the California Chamber of Commerce to the African American Farmers of California urging changes to SB 1. There is hope an amended SB 1 doesn’t have so many unintended consequences. Otherwise it will be like the law that prohibits shooting whales from a moving vehicle while on California roads.

Don A. Wright is a freelance journalist from Clovis, California who covers irrigation water in the San Joaquin Valley. You can read his reports at www.WaterWrights.net

 

 

(Photo credit: California Ag Today)

If You’re Concerned about Climate Change and Water Supply, California Farms Can Help Show the Way

August 9, 2019 in CFWC Blog

If You’re Concerned about Climate Change and Water Supply, California Farms Can Help Show the Way

A new UN climate study indicates that climate change will be a bigger problem for farmers and consumers in the future. 

In a 2018 Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) survey, 80 percent of respondents said climate change is a serious threat to California’s future. And 72 percent cited water as a concern, with drought and water supply named most frequently as our biggest environmental issue. If you see yourself in these statistics, you should be cheering the efforts of California farmers.

All Californians have been called upon to conserve. Urban users tripled their water efficiency overall and some regions have done even more. Farms and water districts invested billions in water-saving technology for decades including drip, micro-sprinkler and subsurface irrigation; sensors that monitor water use; recycling irrigation water; lining canals; utilizing technology to prevent leaks, and more.

The impacts have been stunning. San Luis Canal Company in the San Joaquin Valley saves 5 billion gallons of water each year and sees greater savings coming. Cooperation among three neighboring water districts lead to water-savings of 8.1 billion gallons annually. On Los Banos Creek, more than 10 billion gallons of water are being added to water supplies annually through improved conservation practices.

Sarah Woolf explains surface and groundwater issues.

And yet, as effective as conservation is, we also know its limits. Even with unprecedented efforts, our latest drought clearly showed conservation is just one tool in the box, and we not only need every existing tool, we must invent more.

This is particularly true if you are among the Californians concerned about climate change. Some scientists tell us that one of the biggest changes in store for California is to expect more rain in place of our historic winter snowpack.

This year is a good example of what may lie ahead. An estimated 18 trillion gallons of precipitation fell on California in February alone. And yet, with many reservoirs at capacity, California will not be able to save much of that water. If you’re concerned about climate change, then it’s important to recognize that new water storage is the first building block. Additional storage will help capture rain and fast-melting snow, assist in ground water recharge and help avoid flooding. The good news is that several projects that have been studied for decades are ready to go and simply await funding. Californians should whole-heartedly give their support.

To those who say we can’t put all our eggs in the storage basket because it takes time and climate change won’t wait, we say again, farmers are leading the way.

Liz Hudson talks farming.

Farmers have been working with government agencies, community leaders and conservationists to restore and expand floodplains. Providing flood water an alternate path rather than just running out to sea provides habitat for the base of the food chain in addition to contributing to groundwater recharge. The largest public-private floodplain restoration project in the state is at Dos Rios Ranch in Stanislaus County. River Partners, a non-profit that manages the project says, “Our floodplain reforestation projects are biodiversity hotspots and climate-protection powerhouses.”

Restoration, as well as planting cover crops on farms, helps combat climate change in multiple ways. According to a recent state report, farms and forests could absorb as much as 20 percent of California’s current level of carbon emissions. Despite massive benefits, California has been slow to support these efforts at the same level as other strategies. In 2017 California spent more than 20 times on electric car rebates than it did on helping farmers adopt new climate protection technology.

Farmers share California’s passion for our environment. In many cases, the land they’re protecting has been home for generations. So, in preparation for our shared future, it makes sense to look to California farms for a smart, productive roadmap.

CFWC’S 2019 Summer Blogger Tour

July 12, 2019 in CFWC Blog

CFWC’S 2019 Summer Blogger Tour

At the end of June, CFWC invited three bloggers from across California to join us for an in-depth view of a small slice of California agriculture. This has become a tradition of the California Farm Water Coalition. Sharing California agriculture with the public requires bringing the public to view first-hand what makes our farms special- and that’s what we do on our blogger tours.

Getting to take those so in love with the culinary creations they make and showing them how it is grown is the perfect pairing. The bloggers truly enjoy getting the behind the scenes tour and hearing from the heart of the men and women dedicated to farming and agriculture. Sharing their first-hand experiences with the public, bloggers and social media influencers are carrying the reality of farming into our urban communities.

CFWC invited three great bloggers this year to join us for one of our best tours yet! Liren Baker is a food blogger based out of San Francisco. She has always enjoyed food and transformed this affection into her blog Kitchen Confidante. The second is Chelsea Foy of Lovely Indeed based out of Modesto. Her blog, with its expansive following, has blossomed over the years into a full lifestyle theme including motherhood, travel, shopping and of course, food. We were also joined by Evi Aki of Ev’s Eats, a food blogger out of Los Angeles. Evi shares recipes she loves to make, places she loves to eat and a look at her recently released cookbook.

The region we choose to highlight changes with each tour and this time it focused on the Central San Joaquin Valley. Based out of Fresno, we explored the surrounding area to see the wide variety of foods grown here, and the businesses that depend on those farms.

Day One- Getting Underway

Our blogger guests joined us Friday morning and we hit the road for the next two days. We started with the Gibson Farmers Market located at CSU Fresno. This farm stand is an icon in the Central Valley, serving their patrons with fresh produce, meats, nuts, ice cream, wine, and much more, all produced by the students as they learn the sciences and arts of agriculture. Their famous sweet corn is a staple of the summer with many local consumers buying it each morning for their evening meal. After exploring the store, we visited the fields where the produce was grown and harvested just earlier that morning. Beyond enjoying all of the goodies, our bloggers were blown away to learn that a local university is putting so much emphasis on teaching the next generation about growing food while sharing it with the community.

Next we visited Wawona Frozen Foods, where we were given a tour by the father-daughter team of Bill Smittcamp & Blair Smittcamp-Martin, part of the family team that runs the company. They began as a small farm over 50 years ago and since have transformed into one of the only frozen fruit processors remaining in the region. In addition to providing a fresh-tasting product, they also put huge emphasis on food safety and running their operation sustainably. They have partnered with the USDA to create healthy lunches for schools. They are a great partner to the local farmers growing stone fruit. Their fruit is used in a number of products like fruit cups and baked goods. Chances are you have had their fruit before without knowing it – and we bet it was delicious!

Liz Hudson talks farming.

Stop number three of the day was another sweet one! We traveled to Sanger to see Liz Hudson of Hudson Farm Stand. She and her husband have farmed stone fruit for decades, but more recently planted a diversity of fruits and vegetables to sell at their farm stand. You can count on them for fresh fruit, delicious vegetables and great hospitality as many guests from across the world do each summer. We were greeted with her famous peach and blueberry cobbler that rivals any dessert you’ve had. Liz has been a great friend of the California Farm Water Coalition and recently stepped down from our board after being a Board member for nearly 30 years. This stop was a great chance for us all to see what it is like to be a farmer, with our bloggers learning about all the victories and hardships that farmers experience throughout the season.

We ended the day visiting Cruff Farms in Kingsburg where we were hosted by Larry and Sharon Cruff, who grows grapes. Our visit started in the vineyards where their vines are growing the 2019 grape crop that will be dried into your favorite Sun-Maid Raisins. Larry walked us through the process from start to finish and our bloggers learned how the Cruff Farm has become more efficient over the years. Did you know most vineyards that grow grapes for raisins are planted in rows from east to west to aid in drying of the grapes? Not all of us did either until Larry shared his behind-the-scenes knowledge. Larry shared how they use water to grow the fruit and all his efforts to be as sustainable as he can, including a sustainability certification. The visit ended with a generous supply of sweet Sun-Maid raisins in a goodie bag with all the different types of raisins you could imagine, including new tart watermelon-flavored raisin snack (hitting the shelves soon!) (One of our bloggers large raisin supply set off all of the TSA red flags on her way back to the Bay, but it was worth it to enjoy the tasty treat!)

Day Two- The Open Road

Day two started with a drive toward the northwest with a few quick pit stops along the way to learn more about the crops, farms, and growing practices of the area. We explored some of the passing pistachio and pomegranate orchards and were lucky enough to see a cotton field in bloom. We visited Stamoules Produce, where Chuck Dees showed us the different stations in their fresh vegetable chilling facility. Sweet corn that was being harvested that day was packed into boxes in the fields surrounding the facility. Once transported to a central facility, it is chilled and covered with ice to remain fresh before making its way into a truck to be shared with the rest of the nation. Chuck explained a bit about the farm and the needs of the crops as we toured the equipment yard and some of the surrounding acres growing the numerous other crops they produce throughout the year.

Sarah Woolf explains surface and groundwater issues.

Next, we visited with Sarah Woolf in the Red Top region, near Chowchilla. Our bloggers had a chance to learn more about how groundwater and surface water work together to provide a sustainable supply for farms in the region. Sarah has dedicated her life to helping the public understand water efficiency and agriculture, something our bloggers could appreciate. It was great to hear how farmers throughout this region have worked to have access to water for their crops and how they use it efficiently with the help of technological advances, and regional cooperation- especially during the recent drought.

Derek Azevedo of Bowles Farming shares melon fresh-from-the-field.

Derek Azevedo of Bowles Farming shares melon fresh-from-the-field.

We then traveled to Bowles Farming Company, an operation that has called Los Banos home for over six generations. Vice President Derek Azevedo joined us for lunch and shared some of the history of the farm and the surrounding region, along with some great insights into the farm and the consumers who rely on it.

We discussed many of the advancements Bowles Farming has implemented to grow their diverse crops efficiently using less water and resources while maintaining quality and safety. Our bloggers were excited to head out into the fields, where we picked fresh tomatoes and Derek dug up some fresh carrots. Our last field was planted to watermelons where we saw and tasted the difference between female and male watermelons (yes, you read that right).

The last stop for the trip was at Volta Wildlife Area, with Chris White of Central California Irrigation District and Ken Swanson from Grassland Water District.

The two showed us how water management in the region has evolved over the years, with local farm water suppliers and environmental water users cooperating to improve local conditions. It was especially interesting to see the strong partnership between agriculture and environmental lands, including those critical to the needs of migratory waterfowl as they move along the Pacific Flyway. Working together, we are able to efficiently use this resource.

The last night of our tour was capped off with a great dinner with Dan Errotabere, a local grower. He shared a very practical look into what farming looks like on his farm, including how it has changed over the years. Like many farmers, he was raised on their farm and began working there as a young boy helping his father. He then took over the operation and has seen the new advancements that have become available for him to implement to aid in efficiency.

Sharing their Experience

These two days gave our bloggers a great introduction not only to how food is grown but also deeper topics like water efficiency, labor and the challenge of unexpected weather. It started a great conversation about the pride of California’s farmers to grow fresh and safe food that feeds Californians, Americans and even people across the globe.

For the bloggers, this new knowledge will now accompany the incredible dishes they make for their blog using fresh California-grown foods. We are so glad they joined us for the adventure and can’t wait to see where the California Farm Water Coalition Blogger Tour is headed next!

 

Check out the summaries the bloggers posted from the trip:

It’s Saturday, and farmers markets across the country are bustling and bursting with summer’s bounty. For many of us, that might be the closest we get to learning more about the food we eat.  I’m feeling especially blessed this weekend to be spending it in the fertile fields of my beloved California, in the Central Valley, at the heart of harvest season, with my friends at @farmwater. We’re having heart to heart conversations with the farmers who are generously sharing so much of themselves and the work that goes into the summer peaches you bought this morning and the sweet corn you’ll be grilling tonight.  In the many years and farm tours I’ve had the honor of joining in the last nine years, the conversations have changed and now more than ever, water is the precious resource that farmers are working hard to protect with innovation to keep providing our country with healthy food.  For each pistachio I snack on, frozen peach I drop in the smoothie blender, and cup of almond milk I drink, I will think of the water it takes to make each day delicious.  I hope you join me on my #instastories as I share their stories! And the next time you go to the market, talk to your farmers. Get to know them better. Understand your food better.

– Liren Baker | Kitchen Confidante

When you pick up a carrot, or a peach, or a tomato at the grocery store, you’re looking at so much more than just that produce. You’re looking at the farmer who planted it and tended it, the water that grew it, the laborers or the technology that harvested it, the people who packed it, the transportation that got it to you. Traveling my home state with @farmwater and the #cfwcfarmtour this weekend has filled me up more than ever with pride in California, gratefulness for the farmers who grow our food, and appreciation for the fresh, amazing foods we eat. What do you wonder about your food? Do you ever think about where it comes from? If you have a question, leave it in the comments.

– Chelsea Foy | Lovely Indeed

Hope you’ve been enjoying my little farm series! Wanted to share a quote I saw that’s been stuck with me this weekend… “more than a business, the family farm is a lifestyle- its an ideal worth preserving” Where our food comes from, how it’s produced, & manufactured is so important! It’s been nice to see that California farmers take such care in delivering us the best not only in producing our food but preserving & managing water which is literally the key to life. I will definitely think twice about where my food is coming from when I shop now!

– Evi Aki | Ev’s Eats

 

View some of our bloggers’ posts below!

California’s Marathon Trek Towards Smarter Water Policy May be Stopped in Its Tracks by Shortsighted Legislation (SB 1)

June 10, 2019 in CFWC Blog

California’s Marathon Trek Towards Smarter Water Policy May be  Stopped in Its Tracks by Shortsighted Legislation (SB 1)

You’re running a marathon that everyone said you’d never complete. But despite many obstacles, you kept moving forward, and now the finish line is in sight. You’re feeling good that the work is going to pay off. And then, at the last minute, race officials insert themselves and announce that once you finish, it won’t count for anything.

California is at this juncture right now. Following marathon-like efforts and negotiations, Voluntary Agreements on water management are on the verge of completion. However, state officials are now considering legislation, SB1, that would negate all that progress.

Before last December’s meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board both outgoing Governor Jerry Brown as well as incoming Governor Gavin Newsom stated their clear preference for a Voluntary Agreements (VAs) approach toward water management in California. Head of the California Environmental Protection Agency, Jared Blumenfeld and Wade Crowfoot, head of the California Natural Resources Agency are actively involved in moving the VAs over the finish line.

However, SB1, if passed, would lock California into the existing regulatory framework, returning us to an endless cycle of lawsuits and delay. While the legislation gives lip service to supporting the VA process, it clearly states any cooperative agreement would exist separately from the existing regulatory structure, rendering the VAs moot. Scientists, farmers, environmentalists, government agencies and other stakeholders have been working together on the VAs to find a better way. Rather than forcing the state to continue policies that are not securing a reliable water supply, everyone came together to try and chart a course towards smarter, more workable policy that will produce a better result for all Californians and for the environment.

Implementing the VAs provides a wealth of benefits. They require scientific studies and put the new science into practice managing our most precious resource. They provide an agreed upon amount of water for river flows as well as new environmental projects and other improvements, paid for by farmers, water districts and other water users, that will help get maximum benefit from the water. And, they address all the stressors that have put fish populations at risk – loss of habitat, decreased food sources and predation. The VAs take us out of the slow grind of the existing regulatory process and allow us to use scientific adaptive management to address problems as we go. In addition, all users will have a certainty of water flow that is simply not a part of our current system.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) says the VA would, “increase flows in rivers and the Delta and make major investments in habitat. And perhaps most important, create sustainable funding for these efforts (including fees on water diversions), while improving scientific research on and governance of restoration efforts.”

And probably most important, because the VAs are the product of compromise and agreement on the part of all water users, we can move forward today, removing ourselves from the endless cycle of lawsuits that has dominated California water policy. Real results will be felt now, not 10 years from now.

SB1 would result in the collapse of the Newsom Administration’s voluntary approach to updating California water policy. We shouldn’t let the Legislature chain us to the past. We can see the finish line. Let’s cross it together.