Food Grows Where Water Flows

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CFWC Blog

We Need Both Wet Winters and Long-Term Planning to Stay out of Drought

April 3, 2019 in CFWC Blog

We Need Both Wet Winters and Long-Term Planning to Stay out of Drought

Groundwater recharge and storage ponds are part of the solution

An online search of “California drought” literally turns up millions of articles, and some of the headlines appear in conflict. One series says California is “drought-free” and others warn we’re still operating at a water deficit.

What’s the real story? Should California celebrate or is not yet time to stop doing our rain dance?

Both sets of headlines are true. We’ve definitely had a wet winter. As of April 2, the Sierra snowpack was 161% of normal and we’ve also had a lot of rain, with 18 trillion gallons falling in February alone. However, we also have depleted groundwater reserves due to the length and severity of our most recent drought. And most experts predict that California is likely to stay on this “boom” or “bust” water cycle for the foreseeable future.

The good news is there are things that can, and are, being done to equip the state to deal with our water and climate reality so Californians aren’t reduced to simply holding our collective breath each winter, waiting to see what Mother Nature decides to serve us. Water districts, government agencies and farmers have been researching solutions and preparing projects for years.

Large water storage projects are critical to our future. They allow us to save water in the wet years on a sizeable scale. Multiple projects are ready to go, with all the necessary research and studies completed and funding in the works. However, these projects obviously take time to build and we also need additional strategies to help us now.

Local water districts are expanding local and regional solutions to improve water management.

This is where local water districts have been stepping up to provide smaller solutions in the near term. By building infrastructure that captures high water flow when available, these projects help prevent flooding as well as direct that water into groundwater recharge areas. Many of these projects are now becoming operational.

One group of water districts known as the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority are currently expanding a pilot project. With funding assistance from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Exchange Contractors, in partnership with the neighboring Del Puerto Water District, built a 20-acre recharge and recovery pilot project in the Orestimba Creek area. Due to its success, the Authority expanded the project to an 80-acre site with funding assistance from the Office of Emergency Services (OES) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The expanded project, operational this year, will capture flood flows from both the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers as well as Orestimba Creek. It will provide a long-term solution to area flooding, as well as provide storage for that water.

An even larger project on Los Banos Creek, a cooperative effort among various water districts, is almost fully operational. It creates nearly 200 acres of additional recharge and storage ponds, 7 recovery wells and harnesses previously evaporating water.

In another approach, the San Luis Canal Company has invested millions in new technology and upgraded infrastructure. SLCC’s new water-regulating reservoirs and other infrastructure improvements allow for on-demand water deliveries. This makes it possible for individual farmers to install water conservation systems such as drip irrigation. The conserved water that results from these efforts helps take the pressure off our groundwater supplies. Similar projects are underway in other water districts as well.

Together, these and other projects provide multiple benefits. They not only conserve and store water, they take the pressure off the need to pump groundwater, help diminish subsidence, contribute to groundwater recharge, prevent flooding and provide a more consistent water supply to critical wildlife habitat as well as farms and people.

And in the end, we will need it all – wet winters as well as small and large projects, capable of capturing and storing the water that comes to us.

Bold Actions for People, Farms, and the Environment

February 6, 2019 in California Water, CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Focus Areas, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Salmon, Water Management

Bold Actions for People, Farms, and the Environment

The United States Bureau of Reclamation is commencing a process aimed at modernizing the operations of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP).  For decades, the approaches to protecting the fish and wildlife dependent on the Bay-Delta watershed and estuary have been species-by-species and stressor-by stressor.  Those approaches have failed.  The effort by Reclamation responds to a consensus view within the scientific community and policy direction from the State of California – that, to improve protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife, comprehensive approaches are required.

The United States Bureau of Reclamation recently completed an important part of that process and issued what is known as a biological assessment.  In simple terms, a biological assessment evaluates the possible effects that a project or action may have on a species listed as threatened or endangered as well as critical habitat protected by the Endangered Species Act. The assessment leads to a set of rules to help protect threatened or endangered species, in this case, salmon, Delta smelt, and other fish dependent on the Bay-Delta. 

Reclamation’s biological assessment advances a proposed operation that responds to science and policy. It seeks to establish new rules that allow for operation of the CVP and SWP to meet the water supply needs of the people in urban and agricultural communities, within a suite of actions that address directly the many physical, biological, and chemical factors that adversely affect the health of the ecosystem.


This biological assessment process is a critical step in protecting our environment and our water supply.  The biological assessment looks back at what we’ve learned and applies it to future measures. In the case of the Bay-Delta, what we have been doing hasn’t worked as the health of the Bay-Delta continues to decline, with important species, like salmon and smelt continuing their death spiral to a point of near extinction.  Without undertaking this process and without the bold step by Reclamation, we remain mired in mistakes of the past.

Release of the biological assessment is one effort of many required to improve conditions for fish and wildlife and make water supply more reliable.  In December, California’s Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Chuck Bonham, and Director of the Department of Water Resources, Karla Nemeth, laid out another effort, a far-reaching plan that incorporates what we have learned from past errors and current studies and establishes an adaptive management program designed to react to new science for the benefit of the ecosystem as a whole. This comprehensive solution provides stable funding for habitat restoration and a more comprehensive approach to fish protection and enhancement, including efforts to reduce predation, eliminate passage barriers, and increase hatchery production. Now, all parties need to commit to moving beyond incremental change and take bold action by finalizing the voluntary agreements.


Governor Gavin Newson is the right person to lead California into a bold new future for people and the environment. He joined former Governor Brown and Senator Feinstein in supporting a comprehensive solution.  The Farm Water Coalition had the opportunity in the not-too-distant past to host a tour into the heart of the San Joaquin Valley for then-Lieutenant Governor Newsom. We were impressed with his grasp of the issues, not only with respect to agriculture but for rural communities that depend on the farm economy and on the wildlife areas that partner with irrigation districts to improve water supply reliability for everyone.

Governor Newsom has been characterized as someone with big ideas and a willingness to take bold action. That’s what California needs as we look ahead to a new, overarching approach to protecting and enhancing the Bay-Delta and the water supplies of those in urban and agricultural areas as well as the willingness of locals to invest in that future.

CFWC Statement on Voluntary Agreements Presented to the State Water Board on its Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan

December 12, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Farm Water in the News, Releases

CFWC Statement on Voluntary Agreements Presented to the State Water Board on its Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan

“Water users and the State of California have brought to the table almost 1 million acre-feet of water and almost $2 billion in funding to implement an unprecedented set of ecosystem restoration goals. It is a comprehensive, system-wide plan that will start showing progress in 2019 with restored habitat, functional water flows, improved temperature for fish, and floodplain improvements that are proven to grow stronger, healthier salmon on their journey to the ocean. We hope the Water Board will choose this more collaborative approach to its water quality control plan rather than a set of forced rules that will harm communities and the economy and that haven’t worked in similar efforts to help fish populations in the past.”

Learn more about the proposed voluntary agreements at: https://water.ca.gov/-/media/DWR-Website/Web-Pages/Blogs/Voluntary-Settlement-Agreement-Meeting-Materials-Dec-12-2018-DWR-CDFW-CNRA.pdf

Countdown: 1 Day to Drought

November 6, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Fisheries, Food Production, Regulations, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Salmon, Water Management, Water Rights

Countdown: 1 Day to Droughthourglass with dripping water close-up

On Wednesday, the State Water Board will vote to remove enough water from the system to irrigate over 200,000 acres of farmland or meet the domestic needs of 2 million people every year. If approved, this action will lead to one of the most predictable droughts California has ever faced.

Is a Compromise Still Possible?

UPDATE: Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom sent a letter late on November 6th requesting the State Water Board postpone action on the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan until December 12, 2018. View the Letter HERE.

Until the Board votes, it’s not too late.

Farmers, irrigation districts, large cities, small towns, schools, sanitation officials, economic development agencies, large industries, small business owners and millions of Californians who have implored the Board to reconsider are ready to sit down today, as we have been for years, and work out a compromise plan.

And we come armed with up-to-date science, real world data showing demonstrable results and a willingness to work for a sustainable solution that serves all Californians. The alternative serves no one and the devastation it would cause has been well documented – $3.1 billion in lost economic activity, according to local experts, thousands of jobs gone, land fallowed, loss of water to urban and disadvantaged rural communities alike, negative impacts on schools, local sanitation, and more.

Insufficient water means lost crop production.

 It’s also been well documented that decades of following this same water-only policy has had no effect – fish have continued to decline. And now, the benefits of trying another, more holistic approach are also documented.

A California future that includes healthy rivers and fish as well as jobs, fresh local produce and water for schools, businesses and homes is in front of us if the Board will allow it.