State seeks comment on its Water Resilience Portfolio


Issue Date: September 11, 2019
By Christine Souza
Justin Fredrickson of the California Farm Bureau Federation, left, comments before the State Board of Food and Agriculture during its meeting at the Fresno County Farm Bureau. The session was among four the board will hold to discuss the California Water Resilience Portfolio.
Photo/Christine Souza

In a new effort to balance California's water needs, Gov. Gavin Newsom has directed state agencies to prepare a water plan known as the California Water Resilience Portfolio that includes "a comprehensive strategy to build a climate-resilient water system." The portfolio features a broad approach that addresses safe drinking water, flood risks, depleted groundwater aquifers, water supply uncertainty for agriculture, and native fish populations faced with extinction.

State agencies have been taking public comment on the portfolio at meetings around the state. California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross described the portfolio as "a roadmap for the state that lays out our allocation of resources, policy or anything else that may be necessary to create resiliency in a changing climate," and added, "We should be willing to look everywhere and not limit where we look for potential solutions and collaborations."

California Farm Bureau Federation Administrator Jim Houston said CFBF and other farm organizations have been actively engaged in the process, which he described as an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to comment on water planning.

"No other industry and no other communities are more impacted by the decisions that the regulators in Sacramento are making," Houston said. "We need people at the local level to make their voices heard, to get involved, to go to these meetings and let people in Sacramento understand how we as a community can solve these problems if given the tools," which he said include water storage, recharge and conveyance.

As part of the public-input process, Ross and members of the State Board of Food and Agriculture heard from San Joaquin Valley residents during a meeting last week at the Fresno County Farm Bureau. It was the board's third meeting on the portfolio, following meetings held in San Luis Obispo and Redding. A fourth meeting is scheduled Oct. 1 in Imperial.

During the Fresno meeting, Ross said the plan to guide California water must be long-term and address water supply and water quality.

As part of a panel discussion, Jason Phillips, chief executive officer of the Friant Water Authority, which operates and maintains the Friant-Kern Canal, talked about water challenges including bringing groundwater supplies into balance under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

"When you try to figure out how to balance it, which we will have to with SGMA, if we balance it by saying, 'Let's just reduce our water by 2.5 million acre-feet,' then we would probably need to take out 1.2 million acres of currently productive farmland," Phillips said. "We need to get more surface water into the ground to recharge the groundwater."

The Friant authority's recommendations to the state as it develops the water resilience portfolio, Phillips said, include developing a general plan for the valley in partnership with the state; limiting the amount of irrigated land retired to achieve water balance; major conveyance infrastructure in the valley; and a team that helps with land conversion to minimize impacts.

To meet the goals set forth in the portfolio, Sarge Green, project director for the California Water Institute at California State University, Fresno, spoke of the need for investment in technology and innovation education.

"We're seeing all kinds of technology coming through in both water applications and in water treatment," Green said.

"A lot of platforms are about how to do water better and that involves things like integrating satellite data with sensors, wells and pumps. But unfortunately, some of it doesn't talk to each other very well and there's some frustration out there," he said.

David Cory of Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability, known as CV-SALTS, talked about efforts by the nonprofit group, which is an association of agricultural, business and government organizations that joined to fund research and find solutions to salinity and nitrates in the region. He said the State Water Resources Control Board may consider approval of a program by the end of the year.

"It's the pathway to clean drinking water for those who are impacted, but also provides a pathway for compliance for farmers and others. It's a huge investment and cost," Cory said.

During public comments, Justin Fredrickson, CFBF environmental policy analyst, said agencies must be mindful of farmers, ranchers and others who are already overwhelmed with regulatory requirements that pertain solely to water.

"The regulations that we have layered one on top of the other are strangling our farmers, and they are not going to be able to pay for some of these solutions if some of that burden is not lightened," Fredrickson said.

Fresno County dairy farmer Rodney Kamper described the disparity in water supplies between the northern and southern parts of the valley.

"Hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water flow to the ocean instead of being utilized. Some of that aqueduct water has to end up in the valley," Kamper said, adding that water shortages affect not just farmers but also "all of the towns, the employees and the tractor dealer and the supply guy and the seed guy—everybody in the valley, so we all have to work together."

University of California Cooperative Extension Small Farms Advisor for Fresno County Ruth Dahlquist-Willard offered to work with the board on ways to include small farmers in groundwater recharge efforts.

State agencies expect to release a water resilience portfolio draft of recommendations for public review this fall, and submit final recommendations to Gov. Newsom before the end of the year. Ideas on how the state can meet its water needs may be submitted to input@waterresilience.ca.gov.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.