Commentary: Board needs to hear about flood plan impact on farms

Issue Date: February 22, 2012
By Justin Fredrickson
This map of the Sacramento Valley shows the footprint and rough locations of proposed setback and bypass expansion features, shown in yellow, contained in a draft flood plan.
Graphic/California Department of Water Resources
Justin Fredrickson

As you have read recently in Ag Alert®, the state of California is poised to adopt a proposed Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, as required under Senate Bill 5, by July 1. A major feature of the long-term flood plan is the creation of a proposed 40,000 acres of new flood space or system capacity, by means of "setback levees" and "bypass expansions" on land that is now mostly farmland.

Of this approximately 40,000-acre footprint, the draft flood plan indicates that 25 percent—about 10,000 acres—would become permanent habitat and no longer be farmed. According to the draft plan, the remaining 75 percent—about 30,000 acres—would remain farmable, subject to flood easements and seasonal flooding, similar to farming in the existing Sutter and Yolo bypasses. Land or "interests" in land, including flood easements, would be obtained from willing sellers, or, failing that, by eminent domain.

This project has the potential to harm Farm Bureau members in a number of counties. To inform our members, we have created a webpage where you can learn more about the draft flood plan and view maps of the proposed setback and bypass expansion areas, to determine whether or not your property is affected. The webpage is available at

Once the plan is adopted, changes to its general architecture may be difficult to achieve. Following the plan's adoption, the law requires local governments to amend their general plans and zoning programs. Yet, ironically, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board has not included local governments in any of the discussions thus far. Needless to say, we believe it is very important for local governments to be consulted on major changes that affect their constituents.

The flood board has scheduled a series of board meetings in February and March, as well as public outreach hearings in April. The deadline for written comments is April 20. This timeline puts farmers and landowners at a disadvantage because of planting cycles and other springtime demands on the farm, but we encourage participation in the following meetings:

  • Sacramento: April 5, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., 1416 Ninth St., California Natural Resource Building auditorium.
  • Marysville: April 6, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Yuba County Government Center, 915 Eighth St.
  • Stockton: April 9, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., San Joaquin County Agriculture Center, 2101 E. Earhart Ave.

In addition to attending meetings when possible, Farm Bureau has been encouraging farmers, landowners, and local interests and representatives to write the Central Valley Flood Protection Board in advance of its Feb. 24 meeting. Personal references and concerns in letters are more genuine and carry greater weigh in the public record. Accordingly, letter writers should include their personal stories and specific, local concerns.

Here are key issues for farmers and agricultural landowners to consider when commenting on the proposed flood plan:

  • The importance of Central Valley agriculture and the potential impacts on the viability of farms and ranches;
  • Private property rights;
  • Impacts on particular parcels, farming operations, reclamation district areas, etc.;
  • Impacts on livelihoods and businesses;
  • Impacts on property values;
  • The potential for eminent domain abuses;
  • The importance of preserving the capacities of the flood bypasses by retaining lands in agriculture;
  • The need for dedicated funding, permitting and legal enforcement to maintain the flood-protection functions of weirs and bypasses;
  • Assurances associated with potential liabilities under the federal and state endangered species acts;
  • Shifting greater burdens, pressures, risks and liabilities onto agricultural and rural areas when compared to urban and urbanizing areas.

For farmers and ranchers in the Central Valley, the impacts of the flood plan will be great and the stakes high. Please speak up now and make the concerns of Central Valley farmers and landowners known.

(Justin Fredrickson is environmental policy analyst for the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted at

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

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