Feb 20, 2023 | Blog

Dams & Hay

Dams & Hay

The recent juxtaposition of a series of “atmospheric rivers” following a prolonged multi-year drought has captured the attention of the public and policy makers in California about the need for new and expanded water storage infrastructure. Meanwhile, hay and forage production in the Colorado River Basin and the West continues to be in the sights of competing water interests.

The Family Farm Alliance remains engaged on both of these important issues.

Momentum for Building New Storage Projects Builds

Members of the California Congressional delegation in January sent a letter to President Biden and Governor Newsom urging them to prioritize and expedite water storage projects that would help the state be better prepared for future storm events. Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month waived state environmental laws to facilitate efforts for state officials to hold more water in reservoirs.

Want to see how properly sited storage can capture potentially devastating flood flows? Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, has experienced a dramatic rise in water levels after a series of atmospheric river storms in January triggered widespread flooding while boosting the Sierra Nevada snowpack and the state’s drought-stricken reservoirs. Check out these photos documenting Lake Oroville’s rise after the storms hit California (courtesy of CNBC).

We need to seriously bulk up our capacity to better handle the periodic abundance of intense rainfall, such as last month’s storms. Updating infrastructure to capture and store excess flows is essential to long-term system resiliency. Our good friend Justin Fredrickson, the water and environmental policy analyst for the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF), penned this excellent recent commentary in CFBF’s Ag AlertPatchwork fixes can’t hold water or serve our state.

At the top of the list for new storage projects in California is Sites Reservoir, a proposed off-stream storage project that has been studied for decades. Ali Forsythe, Environmental Planning and Permitting Manager at Sites Reservoir Project, explains in this blog how the recent near-record storms make the case for Sites Reservoir.

The Bureau of Reclamation recently received new authority in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) to provide funding for surface and groundwater storage projects between 200 and 30,000 acre-feet. The Family Farm Alliance – along with the Association of California Water Agencies, CFBF, National Water Resources Association and Western Growers – helped lead 230+ organizations to advocate in Congress for this program, as well as over $8 billion that were included in the BIL for Reclamation.

Reclamation has planned a webinar beginning at 12:00 p.m. MST, February 22, 2022 to provide an update on the Small Storage Program. Reclamation will discuss program requirements and how projects can become eligible to compete under future funding opportunities for the planning, design, and construction of projects. Please register for the webinar in Microsoft Teams. If you cannot attend, a recording of the event will be available.

Hay! Alfalfa is more than a thirty crop.

The Family Farm Alliance and the California Farm Water Coalition (CFWC) last year issued an “Alfalfa 101” white paper, intended to push back on certain water interests who assume that the drought challenges facing California and the Colorado River Basin states can be solved by eliminating hay and forage production.

Some critics view growing alfalfa as a waste of precious water in a time of drought. Not so. Check out this recent commentary in the Desert Review to learn more about why Alfalfa is more than a thirsty crop.

The situation is bad — very bad — and alfalfa along with pasture and other forage acres are in the crosshairs on the Western water war’s front line. Check out this article from the March 2023 issue of “Hay and Forage Grower” magazine, which covers Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen’s presentation on this topic before the 2022 World Alfalfa Congress convention in San Diego. Many thanks to Mike Rankin, the Managing editor at “Hay and Forage Grower” for permission to share this story.

We will continue to keep you informed on this and other developments impacting Western irrigated agriculture.
If you’re not a member, join us!