Geoff Vanden Heuvel
Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs
There is a lot happening on water right now. What follows is a list of relevant water articles I have read this week. I share them because water availability is a foundational piece of what makes agriculture – and frankly, our whole way of life – in California possible. We are not in a good place. That doesn’t mean there is no hope, but it does mean we need to pay attention and we need some good decisions out of our policy makers.
A Sun Gazette (Exeter, California) article that details some positive news about the Friant-Kern Canal (FKC) water supply. The FKC supplies water to the Southern San Joaquin Valley where we have a lot of dairy. Read here.
A piece by the Northern California Water Association outlining the impact of massive and unprecedented reductions in surface water deliveries to the Sacramento Valley. These reductions were triggered by dry conditions in the Lake Shasta watershed and by the government’s decisions in how to allocate the limited supplies. Read here.
A piece written by Brad Hooker in Agri-Pulse describing a significant error in calculating runoff from last winter’s snowpack. The California State Auditor has launched an investigation into the forecasting mistake which led to state officials releasing hundreds of thousands of acre feet early to the ocean. Read here.
An article in the L.A. Times titled, “Wastewater recycling provided hedge against drought.” This article does a good job of explaining a new path forward for the Southern California water supply. Why should agriculture care about this? Because So Cal is a huge importer of surface water. Southern California was developed on a model that imported water from somewhere else, used it once and then discharged it to the ocean. While significant strides have been made in So Cal water recycling, they are still discharging 1.1-million-acre feet per year to the ocean. This does not include uncaptured storm water, which could add significant additional supplies to So Cal if they build the infrastructure. Read here.
A piece written by Brett Walton of the Circle of Blue titled, “A Colorado River Glossary. Jargon Explained.” The Colorado River is the key to the success of the civilizations in the Southwest for both water and power. The two big lakes of that system, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which were full as recently as 1999, are nearing unprecedented low levels. Things are getting critical on the Colorado River and the impacts to agriculture and the cities of the Southwest will be profound. Read here.
This is actually a Frequently Asked Questions paper on the Colorado River produced by the University of Colorado Law School. It is very readable. It was produced in 2011, but the “Law of the River” has not changed since then. It is in times of shortage that these rules kick in. Read here.
Finally, the Public Policy Institute of California released a poll this month that showed that 68% of Californians say that the supply of water is a big problem in their part of California. Getting and holding the public’s attention on water is what it is going to take to make changes. The challenge for us in agriculture, and in the society at large, is to get a change that values human flourishing. Read here.
I welcome your feedback on this or any other issue. Happy reading!