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Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley Builds Momentum

When the state of California began to implement and enforce the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act some nine years ago, it became clear that without change, there will not be enough sustainably available groundwater to support all of the irrigated acres that are currently in production. With that decline in agriculture, the businesses, communities and tax base that depends on those farms would be very negatively impacted as well. This reality prompted a wide variety of interests in the San Joaquin Valley to form a “coalition of the willing” that came to be known as the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley (Blueprint). The dairy industry was one of those interests. Over 90% of California milk production is located in the San Joaquin Valley, much of which is designated by the State as “critically overdrafted.” On behalf of Milk Producers Council, I have been involved with the Blueprint from the beginning. Here is an update on the progress of the Blueprint.


There are four major efforts that the Blueprint is working on. First, the Blueprint has identified that improved conveyance and recharge infrastructure in the Valley could increase the amount of wet year recharge from the local Sierra watershed by over 900,000-acre feet per year. The Blueprint, in combination with the California Water Institute at Fresno State, is developing a Unified Water Plan for the San Joaquin Valley. This effort is leveraging the information developed and projects proposed and planned by various Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, water districts, counties and other local governments into a report that will be delivered to the Bureau of Reclamation and then ultimately to Congress as the foundation for federal infrastructure investments in the Valley. The Bureau of Reclamation has provided a $1 million grant to finance this undertaking.

 

The second major effort of the Blueprint is to evaluate where the broad group of stakeholders that make up the Blueprint can add valuable input into the two regulatory review processes that will impact operations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project (collectively, “Projects”) and associated water supply availability from the Delta. Surface water supplies from Northern California play a significant role in balancing the available water supply and demand in the Valley.

 

That water must pass through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta and right now the federal fishery agencies are reevaluating policies that will impact operations of the Projects for the protection of listed species. At the same time, the California State Water Resources Control Board is considering new water quality standards for the Delta, which will also have operational impacts to the Projects.

 

Our water agencies have invested millions of dollars and years of time in doing scientific studies to inform all of us on how the current policies have performed and to provide recommendations on ways to improve or maintain current levels of species protection while improving operational flexibility of the Projects. The Blueprint supports efforts to achieve regulatory alignment in these processes using the best available science to better balance species protection and water supply. Blueprint has contracted with a consulting firm that has extensive experience in this area to evaluate and recommend where a Blueprint voice might be helpful in influencing how these regulations come out.

 

The third major effort is to focus on what groundwater storage opportunities there might be in the Valley. This effort seeks to identify those locations, what conveyance infrastructure might be needed to move surface water to those locations and who might be interested in partnering with us in the effort. There are a number of urban water agencies who are extremely interested in participating with the Blueprint in this effort. In fact, two weeks ago the Blueprint signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to begin investigating mutually beneficial opportunities to expand water banking storage projects in the Valley. Read more about the MOU signing here.

 


The fourth effort is a Blueprint sponsored Delta/San Joaquin Valley Farmer-to-Farmer Summit process. This effort brought together a dozen farmers, half from the Delta and half from the Valley. Over two, two-day sessions, one in the Delta in November and another one in February in the Valley, these farmers, with the assistance of a facilitator, and some subject matter area experts, discussed the challenges and opportunities in their respective areas. The conversations were very constructive, and some significant common ground was identified. The group met again in May and decided to formalize their effort as an on-going process and work on specific projects and initiatives that are mutually beneficial to both regions.

 

As you can see, the Blueprint has some real momentum. These are long-term initiatives that will require constant and consistent effort and support to produce positive results. I am thankful for these encouraging signs that this “coalition of the willing” can make a real difference in shaping the future of the Valley.


Geoff Vanden Heuvel

Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs

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