Drought Can Be Managed – Lack of Preparation and Common Sense Cannot

November 11, 2021 in CFWC Blog, Drought, Federal Legislation, Food Production, Regulations, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, State Legislation, Topics, Voluntary Agreements, Water Management, Water Rights, Water Supply

So here we are again, California. We’re coming through another dry year and watching the sky, hopeful that Mother Nature will give us a reprieve.

We’ve all had a bad year, but everyone needs to buckle up because some of the biggest consumer impacts are just now showing up. Farmers, many of whom received none of their promised water allotment this year were forced to grow less of the healthy, safe, diverse food supply our families rely on. Just trying to make it through the year, most farmers had to either fallow land, focus only on the highest value crops or a combination of both. Price increases and decreased availability of some foods are hitting the markets now, just as we’re all making shopping lists for all our favorite holiday foods. What will next year bring? There are already rumblings that farms will start the year with a 0% allocation of promised water.

It doesn’t have to be this bad. California has weathered multi-year droughts as far back as data has been recorded and still been able to deliver water to farms, people, and the environment.

What is preventing California from meeting water needs now?

Of course, we’re in a drought, but there is much we could be doing to help mitigate the worst of the drought impacts on people, farms and the environment.

  • Our government has been slow to adjust to climate change

Climate scientists have been telling us for some time that our changed weather pattern is here to stay. We are seeing more precipitation in the form of rain instead of snow in the Sierras, drier dry years and wetter wet years. In order to adjust to these boom-or-bust water years, we must be able to store it when we get it. 

If Sites Reservoir had been built, we’d have nearly one million acre-feet of water available to help reduce the impacts of this year’s drought.

But there is much more we can and should do apart from multi-year projects like Sites. Restoring flood plains and building recharge ponds is critical. It not only captures surface water, but holds it, allowing us to recharge groundwater aquifers, and also helps prevent flooding and rockslides.

We are simply not ready to adequately capture water from big storms such as in 2019 when eighteen trillion gallons of rain fell in California just in the month of February, or the atmospheric river that soaked the state in October of this year.

Making these adjustments could dramatically enhance our ability to meet California’s water needs. We just need the political will to make it happen.

  • State and Federal agencies want to revert to old, outdated operating rules for 2022

Over the past decade, science has taught us that keeping our ecosystem and fish populations healthy requires us to take a holistic approach to water management. Rather than only considering the amount of water in our rivers and streams, we’ve learned that we must also improve habitat, increase food supply and control predators. And in 2019, we finally abandoned decision making based on arbitrary calendar dates and began using real-time monitoring because fish don’t check the date on their iPhones, they respond to real-time changes in the ecosystem that governs their lifecycle.

And to be clear, we discarded the outdated ways of doing things because they weren’t working. Fish continued to decline throughout the decade that the ineffective rules were in place.

We already know that abandoning the holistic approach to managing our environment won’t help fish. Reverting to an outdated system also removes important operational flexibility and delivers even less water to farmers. Proposals from officials at the Bureau of Reclamation and the State of California put food production third or fourth in line for getting water. And what’s even worse, is that farmers wouldn’t know what water they will have to work with until after planting decisions must be made.

All this new plan would do is guarantee decades more conflict and litigation.

  • Voluntary Agreements are currently stalled

Our biggest hope for common sense water regulation remains the Voluntary Agreements. These agreements would allow local stakeholders, through a collaborative process, to decide how to best use the available water in their area and base all decisions on the latest science.

To make these agreements happen, already struggling farmers are willing to give up even more water because the result would be a holistic approach to protecting native species and enhancing fish and wildlife habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta and its tributaries, which would be good for all Californians.

Unfortunately, after years of negotiation and work throughout both the Brown and Newsom administrations, the state has chosen to walk away from talks with five water agencies operating projects on tributaries to the San Joaquin River. We appreciate how complicated the remaining issues are, including how to navigate water rights that precede the State’s oversight versus state and federal control. However, we hope all sides can find a way to work this out. Without the Voluntary Agreements, we will continue to limp along under a top-down regulatory system that cuts the locals out of key decisions and over the last decade has been making things steadily worse for fish, farms and people. Getting the Voluntary Agreements right is a critical step towards a more secure California water future and worth fighting for.

The bottom line is our state and federal governments have not done their jobs. Our infrastructure is old and decaying and outdated notions on how to protect endangered fish have clearly failed. Rather than embrace the future with new science, adaptive management, local decision-making, creating new water supplies and adapting to our new weather patterns they remain locked into old and destructive ways of doing things. Their only solution is to demand more and more from water users, and we simply have no more to give.

If the state and federal governments don’t change their way of doing things now, California farmers simply will not be able to provide the diverse food supply to which we are accustomed.

Maintaining a healthy, safe, local food supply must be a priority for California and the nation

Since 1980 California farmers have reduced water usage by double digits. But installing all the expensive drip irrigation in the world doesn’t help if there’s no water flowing through it.

Cutting farm water supplies too low or increasing the cost to unreasonable levels could cause more problems than it solves. 

If the state continues on its path to abandon California farmers, we will all suffer.

A sad reality of drought, many multigenerational family businesses have closed because they were unable to make ends meet under persisting conditions. A Utah dairy farmer somberly reported, “I’ve sold my dairy animals after five generations of dairying. I’m unable to grow my own feed, super-high feed costs and lowering milk prices forced me out of the business.” Similarly, a California walnut producer wrote, “We sold the family farm due primarily to severe reduction in walnut prices and stress from water issues. My husband was a fourth-generation farmer.”

Source: 2021 American Farm Bureau Federation Survey

Less water means:

  • Higher costs
  • More land fallowing
  • Farms sold off to institutional interests
  • Driving out family-owned operations

All of which is the opposite of what Californians say they want.

Whatever farms remain will have no choice but to plant crops that provide the highest return and those are usually permanent crops. Tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, melons, sweet corn and much of the rest of California’s diverse seasonal produce will decline, leaving consumers holding the bag with higher prices and more imports from countries that don’t have the same food and worker safety laws that we have in California.

“Average yields for the 2021 harvest season are expected to be 42% lower than in 2020”

The farmers who grow our food are our neighbors. As Californians, they care about their communities and the environment.  And the products they grow meet the strictest food and worker safety standards anywhere in the world. Much of the food grown on California farms can’t be replaced by trying to increase production in other areas of the country. Our unique soil and climate make California the most productive farmland in the U.S., and that makes our food production a national security issue. Squeezing out California food production will result in less availability and higher prices at the grocery store and imported food often from countries that have less stringent safety standards than we do here at home.

You cannot just move California food production to other states.

Most other states face more significant weather extremes, higher altitudes, oppressive humidity, and in some cases, too much water, which limits their ability to grow the same kinds of crops in the quantities that come from California.

For example, California grows 30 times more processing tomatoes than the No. 2 state, Indiana, because we’re more efficient food producers. The same is true for many other foods, including those from the No. 2 states in the chart to the left. And chemical inputs are less in California because diseases, mildew, and other pests are less prevalent compared to other states.

Decorative Image. Image is of dead and living orchards adjacent.

Here’s the link to the full AFBF:

Investing in California’s Water Supply Infrastructure

August 12, 2021 in CFWC Blog

CFWC recently released two short videos in a series aimed at educating the public on ways the new bi-partisan infrastructure package is aimed at investing in California’s water supply. The recent drought is showing areas where California’s water supply resilience is failing.

The bi-partisan infrastructure bill gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help promote drought resiliency, adjust to climate change, protect the environment, mitigate wildfires, maintain a safe, healthy, local food supply and ensure communities have the water they need to run their homes and power their businesses.

Watch the videos

Capture water in wet years to use when it’s dry

It will expand our ability to capture both surface and groundwater in wet years for use in dry ones. Climate change is bringing us drier dry years, wetter wet years. We must capture more water during times of excess for use in times of scarcity. Storage projects large and small will improve water supply, expand flood control, improve downstream water quality and provide ecosystem benefits.

The infrastructure package will fix our existing water storage and conveyance which is crumbling and in desperate need of repair. The system of pipes, canals and other infrastructure we rely on to deliver water to our taps is more than 50 years old and failing. Improving our water supply doesn’t help anyone if we can’t deliver it.

Improve forest health and reduce the risk of wildfires

It will help improve forest health and watershed management. Clean, reliable water supplies start with snow and rain in our upper watersheds. Poorly managed forests reduce Mother Nature’s ability to deliver winter storms to rivers, streams, and reservoirs.

Water supply infrastructure for farms, food, and people

It is important to protect the availability of a safe, healthy, local food supply. More than 80% of our domestic fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown west of the Continental Divide. California farmers have decreased water use by double digits since 1980 and still, the state has been forced to completely eliminate water supplies for thousands of family farms this year. If we fail to fix this problem, it will mean less locally grown food in our grocery stores and restaurants and dependence on more imported foods, which are often not grown under the same safety standards as California farm products.

And it will ensure small, rural and disadvantaged communities have access to clean water. In California, nearly one million people lack access to clean drinking water, with most of them living in disadvantaged or underserved communities. When drought hits, they are among the first to lose water.

From Feast to Famine- California’s 2021 Water Supply

August 6, 2021 in CFWC Blog, Drought

Robustly Full to Empty Reservoirs

In two years, California’s State reservoirs have gone from beginning water 2020 “robustly” full, with historic releases of surplus potential supply and the memory of dangerous risks of flooding associated with the same storms that damaged Oroville Dam not far behind us, to devastating curtailments in August of 2021.

Largest surface water cut in California History

On August 3, the State Water Resources Control Board completely eliminated 2021’s surface water supplies for farms in much of the state.

The action affects about 5,700 water rights holders with roughly 12,500 water rights from north of Lake Shasta to Fresno, prohibiting them from diverting surface water for the purpose of farming.Map of California water cuts/curtailments. 2021 Drought

This map shows the historically unprecedented surface water cuts that are affecting California agriculture, and America’s tables this year.

Fewer crops have been planted due to the drought and these additional cuts by the Water Board could affect the upcoming harvest of crops still in the ground. It has been two short years since the state’s reservoirs were largely full, yet supplies today are extremely low.

While criticisms of California’s water rights are common during droughts among those looking to reshuffle the deck, they shouldn’t ignore our state and federal leaders’ failure to meaningfully prepare for this drought. Both history and science tell us that California’s weather patterns inevitably shift from wet to dry, and back again. Scientific experts insist it will become more frequent as a result of our changing climate. Investing in smart, adaptive water management, growing our water supplies, and finding collaborative, science-based approaches are prudent steps as we prepare for California’s future.

Substantial new state and federal investments in our water supply infrastructure are needed to prevent future water shortages.

Statement by the California Farm Water Coalition on Upcoming State Water Board Action That Will Cut Water Supplies to Thousands of Farms

August 2, 2021 in CFWC Blog, Drought, Releases

Statement by the California Farm Water Coalition on Upcoming State Water Board Action That Will Cut Water Supplies to Thousands of Farms

Released: August 2, 2021

“It is unbelievable that just two short years after our reservoirs were largely full, California is so water short that the State Water Resources Control Board is seriously considering completely eliminating water supplies for thousands of family farms throughout the Central Valley. Those families grow the safe, healthy food California families depend upon and these water supply cuts come right before the harvest season.
“Drought conditions are significant this year, however, we can’t ignore our state and federal leaders’ failure to meaningfully prepare for this drought. Science told us this pattern was inevitable, and those same experts insist it will become more frequent as a result of our changing climate. 
“During California’s six-year drought, from 1987 to 1992, farm water allocations never fell below 25 percent. When the next drought came along, from 2012-2016, water supplies were cut to zero for more than a million acres of farmland, starting in just the second year of a five-year drought.
“Our water system is so stressed that the State Water Resources Control Board’s upcoming action on August 3 could completely eliminate surface water supplies for farms in much of the state.
“Drought years like this reveal the weaknesses in our water supply system. California’s climate is now punctuated by wetter wet years and drier dry ones. We’ve known for years that we need to increase our ability to capture water during the wet years so it is available when dry years return, as well as increase recycling, fix our aging infrastructure and provide for habitat restoration.
“Immediate federal and State infrastructure investments are needed to stop California’s continued spiral into perennial water shortages and situations that force Californians to choose water winners and losers.”
Click here to view map as PDF.

Imagine A Day Without Infrastructure

July 14, 2021 in CFWC Blog

The area we know as modern-day California has gone through several significant renaissance periods throughout its history. From the expansion of the Spanish Missions northward in 1769 to the Gold Rush in the 1840s, California’s growth into the Golden State seemed inevitable.

The iconic Hollywood sign

The birth of the Hollywood film industry occurred in 1910 with the production of the film, “In Old California,” and around the same time the state’s aerospace industry took off when the world’s second international aviation meet was held in Los Angeles. A quarter of a million people attended to see the latest in aviation technology, just seven short years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Aviation got a second boost in the years leading up to World War II when countless aircraft emerged from Southern California factories to help fight the war.

Apple Computer store

The tech industry got its start in the 1950s and 1960s as a result of the intersection between the San Francisco Bay Area’s scientific research universities, generous amounts of venture capital, and considerable defense spending by the U.S. government.

And California agriculture grew and evolved from dryland farming following the Gold Rush to become the world’s leading food-producing region, delivering hundreds of commodities to the state’s burgeoning population and beyond.

The thread that links all of this progress is infrastructure.

Oxford defines infrastructure as: the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g., buildings, roads, power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.

What does it mean to imagine a day without infrastructure? First, it’s not like having a bridge disappear from beneath Wile E. Coyote and seeing him plunge into the canyon in his Acme automobile.

‘The Iceman’ by Charles Paul Gruppé

Imagining a day without infrastructure is about pausing to reflect on all of the things that we depend on for a functioning society. We need roads to get to our jobs, to school, to take a vacation, enjoy a drive to the beach or mountains to experience more of what nature has to offer and also to have access to emergency services.

Imagining a day without infrastructure is thinking about the energy infrastructure we need to get by from day-to-day. Infrastructure delivers electricity or natural gas to heat and cool our homes, keep our food fresh and safe to eat, lighting our way in the dark, and facilitating the transition to clean, electric vehicles.

California Aqueduct near Los Banos, CA

Imagining a day without infrastructure is also about considering our need to store and deliver adequate and dependable water supplies. We need clean drinking water. We need supplies for household purposes from washing our clothes and dishes to bathing and watering our yards to sustain a safe and welcoming place for our families and friends. It’s the assurance that when we turn on a tap, water is going to come out. It takes a dedicated effort to build and maintain the infrastructure needed to get it there reliably and affordably.

Infrastructure delivers the water needed to grow, wash, and cook our food

It is also about considering the need to deliver the water that grows the healthy food we depend on to feed our families. When managed effectively, California’s water supply infrastructure keeps our farms productive so most people don’t have to think about where their food comes from. It opens the door for people to pursue other careers, such as those in the medical field, as teachers, engineers, artists, movie-makers, and countless other jobs because they’re not directly engaged in the process of growing their own food.

Today, we benefit from prior State, federal, and local leaders who invested in the roads, bridges, water systems, and power supply needed to make California thrive. Ongoing investments are needed to keep what we already have operating reliably and efficiently. And new infrastructure spending is necessary to provide a foundation for the next generation or two, and to keep California competitive in a global marketplace.

That’s why we need leaders to step up like their predecessors did and make the investments that we all count on. California built transportation, energy and water infrastructure that is envied around the world. Now it’s time to repair what we have and also build new, more efficient and green infrastructure. If our leaders have the vision to fund our future infrastructure, we won’t have to imagine a day without it.

Governor Newsom’s 15% Voluntary Water Use Reduction

July 9, 2021 in CFWC Blog

A mature orchard lies dead west of Firebaugh, California because water supplies had been cutoff due to the drought

Governor Newsom’s call for a 15 percent voluntary water use reduction is one more reminder of what scientists have been telling us – California’s drought is deepening and we need to do more to capture surplus supplies in response to the new normal of wetter wet years and drier dry years. With adequate planning and political will, we can prevent the shortages we’re seeing now, just a few short years after the State almost lost Oroville Dam during an exceptional flood.

It’s also a reminder that more and more of the state is facing the consequences of this year’s water supply shortages.

This tomato field and others in the vicinity of Mendota, California, were left unplanted due to a zero water allocation due to the drought

In February 2019, eighteen trillion gallons, or 55 million acre-feet, of rain and snow fell on California, a full one-third more than the water needed for all farm and domestic purposes for an entire year. Had we been able to capture and store more of that water, we could have mitigated the devastating consequences now facing us. And now that another drought has arrived in full force, we’re lamenting the fact that more wasn’t done to build the kind of smart storage projects we need to capture more water the next time flood stories inundate the news.


Since 1980, California farms have reduced water usage by double digits while at the same time increasing production by 38 percent. Still, many are receiving 0% of their normal water allocation this year, resulting in crops going unplanted and mature orchards being bulldozed.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

What state and federal leaders must do now is fund smart water storage projects, repair aging infrastructure so we can reliably deliver water to farms, homes, and businesses, and fund conservation and watershed

One field survives and another is headed for the chipper when farm water supplies are insufficient to irrigate all of California’s productive farmland

programs that will help build resilience into the water supply system for California’s future generations.

California farmers are committed to supplying the safe, healthy, locally grown food supply we all count on. However, just as homeowners and businesses need water to function, so do farmers. Everything we do takes water, and our leaders need to step up and take the necessary actions to mitigate future shortages.