Geoff Vanden Heuvel
Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs
The Save Our Communities meeting was held in Visalia this morning, with more than 250 people in attendance. Roger Isom, President & CEO of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, the primary organizer of the event, kicked off the meeting with some historical context. He reminded all of us that when the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) passed during the last major drought that there were three very important efforts underway that looked like they would help to cushion the impacts of SGMA's required regulation of groundwater pumping.
Voters had overwhelmingly passed Proposition 1, which promised significant new state investment in surface and groundwater storage, the twin tunnel effort to address the fish problems in the Delta had strong support from Governor Brown – and looked like it was going to succeed – and at the federal level, the Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation (WIIN) act passed in Congress with bi-partisan support, promising money and regulatory relief for western water supply. Unfortunately, since then, no Prop 1 water storage has been built, the twin tunnels were killed by Governor Newsom and the plan for a Delta fix had to completely start over, and the WIIN act, which did provide some resources and regulatory relief facilitating an updated federal Biological Opinion for the Central Valley Project, was regrettably and immediately sued by the state. Add to this, a drought in its third year and the implementation of Groundwater Sustainability Agency allocation programs, and you have a very dire situation facing our communities.
Attendees at the meeting included State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Porterville) and Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno). California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross was also there. Mayors from the towns of Parlier and Mendota spoke eloquently about how water shortages were impacting their communities. Law enforcement and school administrators also spoke of the community impacts that will result from water scarcity. There was a strong groundswell of support for having all 12 Central Valley legislators work together in a bi-partisan fashion to meet with Governor Newsom and impress upon him the dire situation facing the Valley community due to water shortages.
It is hard to know what efforts will make a difference in our water situation. Only the Lord can bring us rain and snow. History tells us it will rain again and we do need to be ready to capture that water when it comes. It will take significant infrastructure investment to capture enough water to make a difference and since that level of precipitation occurs infrequently, it will require state and federal investments to make those projects financially viable. Today was a step in the right direction, but time is not on our side.