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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6 Things You Should Know About the Recent Presidential Order Streamlining Water Delivery

October 23, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Farm Water in the News, Federal Legislation, Fisheries, Groundwater, Water Allocations, Water Supply

6 Things You Should Know About the Recent Presidential Order Streamlining Water Delivery

On Friday, October 19, President Trump signed an order streamlining the federal process that governs much of California’s water-delivery system.

While this is definitely great news for California farmers, it’s also good news for all California water users. Let’s look at a few of the things Californians should know about this order.

  1. Breaking the bureaucratic logjam governing water policy is good for California folks, farms and fish.

For decades, multiple federal agencies have exercised control over California water policy leading to conflicting regulations and uncoordinated regulatory actions which all lead to delay and increased costs. During his tenure, President Obama pointed out the obvious problems with one federal agency having control over salmon in fresh water and another when the fish is in salt water.

The President’s order directs the agencies involved to streamline the process and remove unnecessary burdens. Ending this bureaucratic chokehold will make water delivery more reliable for all Californians.

Read more.

  1. Mandating that policy decisions be based on current science is just common sense

Science helps us understand how our ecosystems function and how to best balance the needs of all. It’s just common sense to make decisions impacting all California water users on the best, most current, science. In 2010 a federal judge noted that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was using “sloppy science and unidirectional prescriptions that ignore California’s water needs.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals largely concurred.

Las week’s presidential order mandates that the agencies involved base decisions on the most current science, again benefiting all water users.

Read more.

  1. Reaffirming our commitment to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and providing more water to wildlife provides important environmental benefits.

Many people are not aware that California’s San Joaquin Valley is rich with birds, plants, animals, fish and insects. Its rivers, streams and wildlife sanctuaries host millions of waterfowl, Tule elk, turtles, cranes, deer and many other species that call the San Joaquin Valley home. Much of California’s richest farmland also hosts important wildlife refuges.

The president’s order specifically reaffirms the importance of the ESA in developing policy and sets timelines for environmental reviews. In addition, by freeing up water for the Central Valley it will bring water to wildlife refuges that are a critical component of the Pacific Flyway and have had insufficient water to meet the needs of millions of ducks, geese, shorebirds, songbirds and endangered animals.

Read more.

  1. Removing barriers to building new storage projects helps all Californians.

No large State or federal water storage projects have been built in California since 1979. Having more ways to store water in wet years for use in the dry ones, just makes sense for all of us.

This order will speed the review process for storage and other important water infrastructure projects, greatly contributing to a secure water future for California.

  1. Preserving California’s ability to grow healthy food benefits us all.

California farmers do a lot with the water they have. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, agricultural water use in the Golden State is down 15 percent since 1980 but production is up more than 60 percent. If we curtail their ability to grow safe, healthy food we’ll have to import more from other places. That’s both a national security issue and a food safety issue. It’s also bad for the environment to outsource our food production – Importing food to replace what we don’t grow at home means more ships, moretrucks, and more pollution.

  1. This order is not about fish vs farms – it’s about making a reliable water supply more accessible to all Californians.

As the California Farm Water Coalition pointed out in its press release, “It’s not about farms vs fish. It’s about making smart decisions, using modern science so we can accommodate all California water uses.”

Watch the video 



A Compromise Plan is Achievable if All Sides Come to the Table

August 27, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Endangered Species, Environment, Fisheries, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Salmon, Water Management, Water Rights

A Compromise Plan is Achievable if All Sides Come to the Table

There are a lot of discussions about what isn’t working for wildlife in California’s waterways? So what COULD work? Improving outcomes for fish species while protecting communities is possible when everyone comes together in good faith to find solutions. Local communities have made great strides, investing in ecosystem and habitat restoration, as well as preparing plans based on real-world, site-specific science that can do even more.

The heat of the Sacramento summer has also seen a lot of heated water debate, topped off by two days of contentious hearings on a proposal by the State Water Resources Board. If implemented, Phase I of this policy, which is aimed at the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, would subtract 350,000 acre-feet of water yearly from the amount available to Californians – that’s enough to irrigate over 100,000 acres of farmland or meet the domestic needs of 2 million people for a year. And that’s just the beginning. Phase II heads north into the Sacramento Valley, expanding the impact of this misguided policy to hundreds of thousands of additional acres and millions of acre-feet of water.

This proposal would have devastating impacts on more than farms and farm workers – the pain would be felt by cities as large as San Francisco and towns as small as Mendota, counties, rural areas, schools, sanitation districts, small businesses, large industries, within and far beyond the immediate areas impacted by the Board’s decision. Hundreds of people representing the broad coalition of those impacted rallied on the Capitol steps, pleading with the Board to consider alternative plans.

As summer gives way to fall, it seems a good time to step back and examine what we’ve learned for all of this. First, all Californians support healthy rivers. Keeping them and the entire ecosystem healthy makes sense for all water users. Second, this issue is not about red vs blue, fish vs farms or north vs south; it’s about all sides working together to find a real solution that is sustainable over time and serves all Californians. The question is, with so much emotion surrounding this issue, how do we get there?

Holistic, comprehensive approaches work best

The troubles in California’s rivers didn’t start yesterday, nor have those impacted been standing idly by. Water districts and farmers working with conservationists, government agencies and others have spent millions in the past decades studying the ecosystems of our rivers and ways to make them healthier. The resulting science has revealed a more complete vision of the problem and a holistic approach to solving it. There is growing agreement among scientists that fish need more than water to survive and thrive. We need to restore habitat, increase food supply and decrease the number of predators.  In addition, we’ve learned that more important than the amount of water in the system is the timing of adding water to the system. These “functional flows” release water when, where and how it makes sense from a biological perspective.

Experts agree

Moving away from exclusively focusing on the amount of water in the river and towards a more comprehensive approach is supported by our state’s most prominent water experts:

 “Frankly, I think we have to get away from this notion of trying to do the math based on this much water for this many fish. That just doesn’t work. . . there is an argument that [more water] won’t make a significant enough difference unless you deal with all the other problems.”

Michael George, Delta Watermaster 


“Is the goal more water or is the goal more fish? If it’s about fish, there are better solutions.”                                                                                

Doug Demko, President of FishBio, environmental consulting firm

Large-scale habitat improvements in the south and central delta are key to improving salmon survival. Higher flows alone won’t be successful.”

Peter Moyle, Professor Emeritus, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology and associate director of the Center for Watershed Sciences, UC Davis 

Simply increasing river flow represents a “sort of a scientific laziness related to the ‘fish-gotta-swim’ theory of environmental flows, like the more water you give them, the more of them there are going to be to swim.”

Jay Lund, Director, Center for Watershed Sciences, UC Davis

Science and progress in the field

But the science has not stopped at the laboratory door. Farmers throughout the state are working with the conservation community, urban and agricultural water suppliers and state and federal agencies to implement the recommendations of these studies and gather real-world data. Just one program that has seen tremendous success is the Butte Creek Salmon Recovery Project which was launched in 1995. Thanks to this project more than 10,000 spring-run salmon return on average to Butte Creek each year, up from fewer than 100 in some years as recent as the mid-1990s.

Many cooperative projects succeed

And Butte Creek is just one example – a few of the many other projects either underway or designed and shovel-ready include:

  • River Garden Farms invested in a multi-year project to create refuge spots for salmon intended to improve upon a barren river bottom where young fish have little if any way of evading hungry predators or taking a break from the pulsating current. The 3-year project is being monitored to see if it can be the catalyst for similar ventures. Sonar imagery has confirmed juvenile fish are using the artificial refuge, but more monitoring needs to be done.
  • The Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District (GCID) staff spent over 500 hours preparing and moving approximately 8,000 cubic yards of gravel to re-open Painters Riffle, a historic salmon spawning channel.
  • In 2012-2014 Oakdale Irrigation District, in a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, restored the Honolulu Bar section of the Stanislaus River. This restoration effort replanted the river’s banks with native vegetation and created two salmon rearing ponds plus enhanced nesting areas for spawning salmon. The project resulted in a rise from 43 to 152 salmon redds (nests) in the Honolulu Bar restoration area from 2012 to 2016. During the same period, the percentage of total redds on the Stanislaus River rose from just 2.3 percent in the Honolulu Bar area to over 11 percent in 2016, a fivefold increase.   
  • The Tuolumne and Modesto Irrigation Districts have put together a $158 million plan that goes beyond flow, habitat and predator improvements to bald eagle and wildlife monitoring as well as protection for endangered species. The scientific modeling done around this plan shows significant improvement for both salmon and trout once implemented.

Why are farmers investing so much in all the research as well as implementation? As Roger Cornwell of River Garden Farms says, “The overall goal is to improve the ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem makes the whole river better for everybody.”

Inclusion and partnerships can lead to future success

A California future that includes healthy rivers and fish is in front of us. Farms and irrigation districts are ready to sit down today 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. But we can’t do it alone – we need all stakeholders to meet us at the table with a serious desire to make this work.

We know that the State Water Board has invested years of time as well as millions of dollars trying to find a path to better policy. But with all due respect, the policy on the table simply isn’t it. The devastation it would cause has been well documented – $3.1 billion in lost economic activity, thousands of jobs gone, land fallowed, loss of water to urban and disadvantaged rural communities alike, negative impacts on schools, local sanitation, and more. 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. This really shouldn’t be a hard choice.

The right choice is sometimes the hard choice

The Board says it doesn’t have authority over anything other than the amount of water in the rivers. But it does have power over all of us and now would be the time to use it. Once the current proposal is approved, it seems likely that negotiations would end, and everyone moves into survival mode, which would be tragic. It takes courage to walk away from what’s always been done and chart a new course. Perhaps the Board using its power to bring all sides to negotiate a smarter path, rather than throwing up its hands, might be the most courageous act of all.


Broad Coalitions Unite for Water Quality Plan Process

August 22, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Fisheries, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Salmon

Hundreds of Californians concerned about the state water board’s Bay-Delta Water Quality Plan assembled Monday in Sacramento to ensure their voices were heard. Coming together from throughout the state, and bridging the political spectrum, they were united by their conviction that the State Water Resources Control Board’s plan is a bad deal for California.

While some continue to try to oversimplify rural Californians’ concerns as part of a tired “farmer versus fish” narrative- the reality is, we all want healthy rivers. Farmers and communities want to see healthy native species, and they support practical, science-based, results-oriented solutions- not lazy “fish gotta swim” policies.

“Some may say this is blue against red, it isn’t. Some may say this is fish against farmers, it isn’t. Some may even say this is the north against the south, this isn’t. This is the State of California trying to fix 50 years of neglect to our statewide water infrastructure.” Mani Grewal, Modesto City Council

After years of effort by State Water Resources Control Board staff, and despite thousands of comments from engineers, biologists, scientists, economists, agricultural experts, water manager, community leaders, and local stakeholders advising them against it, the State Board persists with their ill-conceived plan. Their plan, virtually unchanged despite abundant and persistent criticism, will irrevocably harm our farms, and communities, while squandering precious water resources.

One bright spot during the public hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Chuck Bonham, provided the State Water Board with an alternate solution based on a modified base flow, pulse flows, and functional flows as an alternative to the proposed SWRCB staff plan. Finding a workable, balanced solution that protects the human water supply with the same zeal as environmental flows is essential to a successful outcome.

Monday’s rally drew people from across the state- from the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley- people from farms and cities, business owners, farmers, blue and white collar workers- Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike who see the State Water Resources Control Board Plan as the fundamental threat it is.   The frustration of Monday’s rally participants was palpable, but even as the State Board meets at the CalEPA building in Sacramento to consider comments on Phase One of their Plan, the communities most affected came together and will continue to work together through all Phases of the State’s Bay-Delta Water Quality Plan process.

Salmon need help in California, but what kind?

August 6, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Fisheries, Food Production, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Salmon, Water Management, Water Supply

Salmon need help in California, but what kind?

Salmon need help in California. Unfortunately, L.A. Times opinion writer, Michael Hiltzik, isn’t doing them any favors by furthering the notion that more water in the Delta’s sterile waterways is the solution.

Hiltzik completely ignores the economic consequences that have devastated San Joaquin Valley farms, farmworkers, and communities as a result of water supply cuts that were designed to help endangered salmon and Delta smelt. These practices have failed to achieve their intended benefit- restoring fish populations- and instead have wreaked havoc on a large part of one of California’s prime food-producing regions.

Water doesn’t fix poor ocean conditions, predators or habitat

There is little evidence backing the claim that more water flowing in the river will help restore salmon populations. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the bigger issues have been poor ocean conditions, the loss of salmon rearing habitat, channelized waterways, and non-native predators.

In addition to addressing all of these factors, another strategy that has been proven helpful is the use of “functional flows,” which utilize timing and more moderate amounts of water to meet the specific needs of fish. In the case of the Butte Creek Salmon Recovery project, functional flows plus improvements in habitat and better access to the upper reaches of Butte Creek achieved far more than simply pouring more water down the river. The project effectively increased the number of returning salmon from about 100 spring run Chinook per year in the mid-1990s to as many as 20,000 in just a few short years. And it was done without devastating impacts on farms and communities.

We should all work together on scientific approaches that help fish thrive without devastating farms, farmworkers, and communities

Hiltzik and California’s commercial salmon fleet would do more to help their cause if they supported ongoing, more scientific approaches to salmon restoration. Butte Creek is just one example of successful science-based approaches undertaken by a progressive partnership that included Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley farmers, environmental groups, California urban water agencies, the Department of Interior, and State Department of Fish and Game. Other efforts underway include projects where farmers use harvested fields to mimic flood plains with broad support from researchers, community leaders, farmers, and conservationists. These projects help build the food chain from the bottom up by taking advantage of the natural process that supports the growth of phytoplankton, the foundation of the food web. Salmon that are allowed to linger in managed farm fields grow faster, stronger and are more vigorous than fish left to forage for scant food supplies in the levee-constrained Sacramento River. And these are just a few of the collaborative efforts around that state that are showing us how to help fish thrive.

Sadly, while one-sided advocates like Hiltzik push for the same old failed strategies, salmon, and the commercial fishermen who depend on them for their livelihoods, will fare no better because their supporters are focusing on what experts say is “lazy science” and is an oversimplification of a complex issue.

Solving the many issues affecting the viability of the salmon industry is complex, but doggedly pursuing wasteful water policy won’t fix the plight of commercial salmon fishermen. Merely seeking to shift blame and avoid the hard work of establishing functional flows, habitat restoration, food web development, predation controls, and discharge reduction is a proven path to failure. 

Statement: State Water Resources Control Board adopts wasteful approach in latest water quality plan

July 9, 2018 in CFWC Blog

California’s agricultural industry suffered another blow today when the State Water Resources Control Board released the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan’s Supplemental Environmental Document (SED). Details in the SED confirm that the Water Board’s Plan will leave thousands of acres of farmland with zero surface supply in certain water year types, stripping the Central Valley of over 6,500 jobs and $3.1 billion in economic output.

“Despite dozens of meetings, testimony from experts representing public water agencies, cities, farms, school districts and more, as well as mounting scientific proof that their approach is wrong, the State Water Board has not budged an inch, said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

“The State Water Board’s unimpaired flow strategy does nothing to address major stressors in the system, such as the loss of habitat for native species and overwhelming predators that have gained a problematic foothold on the Delta. What is needed, instead, are functional flows, which can meet multiple needs from farming to habitat protection, recreation, and urban water supply needs.

“This sort of unresponsive bureaucracy is extremely frustrating for people at the local level who are committed to viable environmental restoration activities, said Wade. Simply dumping more water down the river with the hope that it will solve the Delta’s water issues is an incomplete solution to a complex set of problems.”Californians are being asked to make good water management a way of life. We are being asked to be adaptive and seek flexible, creative approaches to how we use water at home, at our jobs, and on our farms. We are being asked to be reasonable with the water we use, to be good stewards, to avoid waste, and to limit our water use to what is reasonably required.

“Californians have risen to those challenges and we should expect no less of California’s State Water Resources Control Board,” he said.

The solution to pollution is not, in fact, dilution.

July 6, 2018 in California Water, CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Water Management, Water Rights, Water Supply

The solution to pollution is not, in fact, dilution.

While a catchy phrase, scientific and other experts generally agree that the “solution to pollution is dilution” approach leaves much to be desired. Relying on dilution to solve the Delta’s water quality problems is at best wasteful of this precious resource, and at worst destructive to the lives of millions of Californians.

Unlike the State Water Board, California’s environmental and water experts are River at sunsetfollowing the science and looking at the bigger picture question: How do we maintain the health of today’s Delta which has obviously changed since the days of the Gold Rush.  Yes, the Delta has been fundamentally altered over the years with the introduction of new species, inevitable population growth and more. But experts note that the Delta as it exists today, may in fact be an ecosystem in balance. Introduced species like bass have adopted specific roles in the ecosystem, while other species have adapted and filled other ecosystem niches as changes to water quality, food webs, and habitat have evolved.

In order to keep today’s Delta healthy, ecosystem experts generally recommend holistic strategies instead of single-tool approaches like flushing the Delta with additional water. These holistic strategies address many factors, like habitat loss, predation, and water quality as delicately balanced parts of an entire working network, instead of simply isolated components.

Californians are being asked to make good water management a way of life. We are being asked to be adaptive and seek flexible, creative approaches to how we use water at home, at our jobs, and on our farms. We are being asked to be reasonable with the water we use, to be good stewards, to avoid waste, and to limit our water use to what is reasonably required.

Californians have risen to those challenges and we should expect no less of California’s State Water Resources Control Board.