State Water Board Action Threatens Jobs, Food Supply

In a stunning move that could wreak havoc on California farms, the broader California economy and our food supply in a time of national crisis, the California State Water Resources Board is trying to use regulatory maneuvers to cut this year’s water supply to California farms.

In February of this year, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the federally-run Central Valley Project would only be able to fulfill 15% of its water commitment to farmers due to a drier than normal year. In May that amount was increased to 20%. Even with this meager allotment, farmers marched forward, made their plans, purchased supplies, planted crops and committed other dollars needed to get through the growing season.

And now, in the middle of the season, the State Board wants to take back the small amount of water already promised. Losing that water now not only throws away all the money farmers have already committed, it does damage to the entire California economy just at time when we’re trying to claw back from the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Job losses in the San Joaquin Valley will be staggering, putting further pressure on our stressed unemployment system. And according to an economic analysis completed earlier this year by University of California, Berkeley, economist Dr. David Sunding, farming job losses don’t stay in the Valley – they quickly spread throughout California to the other industries that service the farm sector.

These moves also decrease tax revenue to already strapped state and local governments. We’re already faced with devastating cuts to education, police, fire, health services and more. Additional loss of revenue will only exacerbate an already critical problem.

Unfortunately, this is not only happening in California. Farmers on the California-Oregon border in the Klamath Basin are facing similar cutbacks of already-promised water as a result of pressure from other federal agencies on the water supplier, the Bureau of Reclamation. A recent protest by Oregon and California farmers and their supporters brought together 2,200 vehicles in a convoy stretching 29 miles through the region.

Our food supply has been one of the few things Americans have been able to count on during the coronavirus shutdown. That’s because farmers put in almost a year of planning, planting and work to keep that supply steady. It is never a good time to renege on a commitment but doing it in the middle of a global pandemic is unconscionable. The State Board needs to work with the federal government to work out any issues and let farmers get back to the job of feeding the state and the nation.

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