The Trump Administration today will release a new plan that will guide the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s management of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) in California. Today’s action builds on President Trump’s campaign commitment to help solve the state’s water supply shortages, as outlined in his Western water executive memo issued last year.
The Family Farm Alliance and its many Central Valley members will review the new operations plan for the CVP and the State Water Project (SWP). Together, these projects provide water for 25 million Californians and millions of acres of some of the most productive farmland in the world. The new plan is intended to provide the foundation for more flexible operations of these projects to achieve multiple goals. It also complements efforts underway by the State of California to finalize voluntary agreements with water users in the operation of entire river systems.
Over the past two decades, water managers have had to decide between supplying water for cities, agriculture, and the environment (such as mandated higher water flows through the San Francisco Bay-San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta). For the past several decades, the growing water demands for water from other sectors have been met at the expense of agricultural supplies.
During 2014 and 2015, California experienced one of the worst droughts in 160 years of record keeping. Reclamation announced a zero water allocation for CVP agricultural water service contractors—with a devastating impact on food producers. Many farmers were forced to fallow their fields because there was not enough water to meet their needs. Thousands of acres of citrus, almonds, and other perennial crops were ripped out due to lack of irrigation water. In other cases, the reduction in irrigation water supply forced farmers to draw on ground water, which is expensive, and in many cases, unsustainable.
Americans currently enjoy a common luxury – that of spending only a small percentage of their disposable income on food. However, a continual trend in taking away water from agriculture may come at the cost of a higher food costs and reduced supply and selection at the grocery store.
A 2015 peer-reviewed report endorsed by the Family Farm Alliance clearly shows that the California food production system is vulnerable to the fallacy of false environmental policies meant to re-manage the Bay-Delta ecosystem to benefit fish. Unfortunately, those policies have failed, so far. We need to improve our management of water – for both food production and the future of fish species in the California Bay-Delta.
The Alliance believes this new plan could finally provide alternative management options to the status quo that might be more effective in helping these struggling fish species without decimating our California agricultural producers. For the past 10 years, approximately $100 million has been invested each year in enhanced monitoring and scientific studies. That investment has resulted in science that supports more refined management of the CVP and SWP.
In a nutshell, the new water plan is intended to safeguard salmon and other imperiled species while providing welcomed flexibility to meet the water needs of farmers who have relied on this water since the early 1950’s. Click here to read the Cal Matters commentary written by the regional directors of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service for more details behind the intent of the new plan.
While the devil will certainly be in the details, we are initially hopeful that the new CVP water plan will take an important first step towards reestablishing the water supply reliability that is an essential cog in California’s – and our Nation’s – critical food production capacity.
Dan Keppen is executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, a non-profit association that advocates for irrigated agriculture in 16 Western states. The formation of Alliance was led over 25 years ago by Central Valley farmers.