There’s a new type of drought

By Jim Ferrari, SJFB President

Well, it seems all of our prayers during the recent drought years have been answered this winter with an abundance of rainfall. The series of storms so far have been sufficiently spaced in time so as to let the ground absorb the rain water with no severe runoff as of yet. Let’s hope that our luck will continue when the snow melt occurs and our river systems are able to retain the water flows within their banks.
The prolonged wet soil conditions have precluded many of us from entering our fields to do much of our winter maintenance chores. Now that spring is around the corner, an overwhelming sense of starting the next growing season behind schedule is starting to sink in. We are all looking forward to getting out to the fields to get our work done.
Despite all of this water surrounding us and concerns of what Spring runoffs may bring, those of us who farm and ranch in the state of California are entering a different type of drought: one of common sense —a new era where the consequences of government and environmentalism provide us a more severe water deficit than that which may be brought on alone by any nature-driven drought cycle.
The newly established requirements handed down by the State Water Resources Control Board require that dam operators on the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and San Joaquin Rivers release 40 to 65 percent of incoming flows down the rivers and out to the Pacific Ocean to facilitate fish habitat. The resulting increase in the number of salmon surviving the path to the ocean is minimal at best: A recent study showed that a release of approximately 40,000 salmon hatchlings upstream noted 80 hatchlings surviving the trip to the San Joaquin River due to predation and not lack of water. How many make it to the ocean? Not many if any made it.
The environmentalists like to dismiss the importance of agricultural water use. They make it seem that we are all wasting foolish amounts of water on non-essential crops. An often-cited statistic is that it take 6 gallons of water to produce an almond. Not only do they fail to recognize that water spent on creating edible nutrition is not wasted water, but they also neglect to tell us is that it may take over 1,000 acre feet of water to produce one hatchling salmon! They also omit the fact that little agricultural water is ever“lost” (unlike when government chooses to pursue their policies of letting it flow into the ocean): much of this ag water re-enters the groundwater basin and is, in fact, recycled.
Another outcome of this water grab by the state would be the potential loss of landowners’ longstanding water rights. This could be one of the most important outcomes if allowed to occur unchallenged. If you think that you are in the clear because you don’t farm near any of these three rivers... guess again. This is only phase one of the Bay-Delta plan: the remaining rivers in the northern San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys are next.
With the loss of a significant amount of surface water availability, growers will be forced to use groundwater as a replacement. While this may be an undesirable result of these new regulations, there is one major impediment to this scenario: it is called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (or “SGMA”). When fully implemented, it will place restrictions on the amount of groundwater that we can use per acre. Wells will be monitored for water output and you can bet that after that happens, efforts will be made to control the types of crops you will be allowed to irrigate; I bet that they will not be the ones you are currently farming.
In the name of groundwater sustainability, we will be required to fallow much of our farmable ground. Right now, there are a number of public comments recommending the fallowing of over 500,000+ acres. Environmentalists see human population as a problem. Their solution is to limit food production, which would naturally result in population control.
We need to fight back and we need to do this now! This is the most crucial fight we will encounter in our lives as agriculturalists. The outcome of this battle will determine the fates of us all and especially our children and grandchildren. California Farm Bureau along with many affected water districts realize the gravity of this situation and have filed separate lawsuits to try to stop these insane regulatory actions.
Your San Joaquin Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors has authorized spending $25,000 initially to join other county Farm Bureaus or other organizations in the fight. We will determine the best use of these funds and we will be in the fight for your ability to use the water God has given us.