Report predicts how water losses will hit SJ Valley

Issue Date: March 11, 2020
By Christine Souza

San Joaquin Valley farmers say they hope a newly released report will capture the attention of Californians about the potential impact of water shortages in the region.

The report, released last week, said water shortages could cause 1 million acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland to be fallowed and cost as many as 85,000 jobs. The water shortages would result from the state's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires local agencies to bring groundwater supplies into balance by the 2040s, combined with restrictions on surface water supplies.

Written by University of California, Berkeley, economists David Sunding and David Roland-Holst, the report says the 1 million acres of land would be fallowed during a period of two to three decades and would represent about one-fifth of San Joaquin Valley land currently in cultivation.

"The farm revenue loss associated with this fallowing is $7.2 billion per year," the report said, equal to roughly 14% of California's total farm production.

California also stands to lose up to 85,000 full-time jobs and $2.1 billion in employee wages, the study said, adding that tax revenue for local and state government would drop by approximately $535 million per year. Areas most affected by job losses include the state's most underserved communities, the report said.

Tulare County Farm Bureau Executive Director Tricia Stever Blattler called the economic data in the report "alarmingly real."

"It has real impacts that will hurt our farm communities and rural farm employee communities the hardest," she said.

The report was commissioned by the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley, which describes itself as a coalition of water users that seeks to engage local governments, environmental groups, water agencies, academics and others.

A few weeks before the study was released, local groundwater sustainability agencies in high- and medium-priority basins submitted groundwater sustainability plans to the California Department of Water Resources.

Merced County farmer Gino Pedretti III, who serves as an alternate on the Merced GSA board, said the local agencies will now focus on data collection and groundwater recharge as they work to provide more specifics in their plans.

"The final nuts and bolts of what each farmer can pump, depending on what area they are in, is still to be determined," Pedretti said. "The next five years is mostly going to be water monitoring to try to understand our groundwater basin and it may be 2025 when we'll see some tougher restrictions on pumping water."

Pedretti said he hoped the economic report "opens up people's eyes—the general public in the valley and in the state—of the economic impact that SGMA is actually going to have on the valley."

Blattler said local groundwater sustainability agencies in Tulare County have been working to find solutions that improve water supply and minimize fallowing of farmland.

"If farmland goes fallow, the jobs lost and the economic multiplier that ag provides will be permanently damaged in these areas," she said.

Tulare County farmer Zack Stuller, who serves as an agricultural stakeholder on groundwater sustainability agencies for the Greater Kaweah and the East Kings basins, said the fallowing of a million acres of land would represent a "huge" loss to the region.

"If you take the water away, it's not advantageous to be here," Stuller said. "There's no other economic amplifier right now that can sustain cities like Delano, McFarland or Exeter."

Local agencies in Tulare County are also collecting data and monitoring groundwater to learn more about aquifers, a process expected to happen over the next five to 10 years.

"This is a huge, astronomical undertaking and there's a lot of smart and intelligent, hardworking people trying to get it and we're getting it, but it's not going to happen overnight," Stuller said.

California Farm Bureau Federation Senior Counsel Chris Scheuring said the economic report "describes in real bleak detail just how many acres, billions of dollars, number of jobs and the ripple effect on communities—something that we've been saying all along."

Pedretti said he hopes the economic report will be reviewed by members of the Legislature and state water agency leaders.

"If water officials realize what the economic impacts are in our area, maybe the state can work on streamlining the requirements to make it easier to do recharge projects and to get more water storage and help agriculture to mitigate some of the losses we're going to have," he said. "The current permitting process to get stormwater is pretty outrageous; it takes a long time, so we could use some help with that."

To learn more about the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley and read the Blueprint Economic Impact Analysis report, visit waterblueprintca.com/.

Austin Ewell, executive director of the Water Blueprint group, said a second phase of the study, expected to be released later this year, will identify consensus reforms and infrastructure investments required to help lessen community, environmental and industry impacts from water shortages.

(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.




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