At hearings, farmers express concerns about flood plan


Issue Date: April 11, 2012
By Kate Campbell

A major shift in the way the state's flood management system would be operated has raised serious concerns for famers and ranchers in the Central Valley—questions that farmers urged officials to address during a series of hearings this week and last.

The Central Valley Flood Protection Board held the public hearings in Sacramento, Marysville, Stockton and Woodland.

The meetings focused on a plan that proposes to use about 40,000 acres of farmland, primarily in the Sacramento Valley, to create new "flood space" or system flow capacity. The increased capacity would come from new setback levees and bypass expansions.

The draft flood plan indicates that about 10,000 acres of flood space would become permanent habitat. According to the draft plan, the remaining 30,000 acres would remain farmable, subject to flood easements and seasonal flooding, similar to farming in existing bypasses today.

Tim Miramontes, who farms in the Yolo Bypass, said he has a lot of concerns about the proposal because it will hurt his operation in a number of ways. In addition to the potential for keeping the land he farms underwater for longer periods of time, his equipment and maintenance shop falls within the area currently designated as "flood space" in the state plan, which would mean the loss of this essential farm infrastructure.

"Not providing flood protection in the rural areas, favoring urban areas instead, means we become a holding pond for cities, which is very unfair," Miramontes said. "The plan needs a lot more work."

The state Department of Water Resources developed the plan as required under the Central Valley Flood Protection Act of 2008, which the Legislature adopted in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. The draft plan was presented to the public at a flood protection board meeting in January.

At the hearing in Marysville last week, Sutter County rice farmer Charlie Hoppin reminded the board that habitat expansion and flood control don't necessarily work together for mutual benefit.

Rice farmer Ryan Schohr of Gridley said there are components of the plan he finds troubling, including the potential impact on the Cherokee Canal in Butte County, where a large, new bypass for Feather River floodwater is proposed.

"Our farm is intersected by the canal, which is essential for irrigation deliveries," Schohr said. "The expanse of farmland that would be gobbled up by this proposal also is a grave concern, as well as the amount of habitat that would be created.

"We're very concerned about the forced sale of farms to create habitat," he said. "Whether that would be the case isn't clear, because the draft plan lacks specifics. It's hard to comment when so many of the details haven't been worked out."

If implemented, the final plan would mark a fundamental shift in the future of state flood policy and protection, with significant implications for California agriculture, said Justin Fredrickson, California Farm Bureau Federation natural resources policy analyst. At the same time, however, Fredrickson noted that the state has a legislative deadline to develop a plan that includes certain elements.

"If final adoption of the flood plan cannot be delayed," Fredrickson said, "at minimum, it should include proper consideration and protection of agriculture, upfront funding and appropriate treatment of rural areas, future flexibility, fiscal realism and strong commitment to local involvement in regional planning and plan implementation."

Because of the plan's implications for agriculture, CFBF has added a special "Flood Protection" section to its website at www.cfbf.com/issues/water/flood/.

Written comments concerning the flood plan can be sent through April 20 to cvfppcom@water.ca.gov or to Nancy Moricz, Central Valley Flood Protection Board, 3310 El Camino Ave., Room 151, Sacramento, CA 95821.

In early May, the board will hold public workshops and discussion of public comments on the draft flood plan and proposed plan changes. A board vote on the final plan is expected June 22.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

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