As Gov. Jerry Brown warned that all Californians will face water restrictions if the drought continues, Western Growers Association president Tom Nassif said it’s time to revive the federal water compromise effort tabled by Sen. Dianne Feinstein in November.
Brown issued the warning March 19 as he pitched new legislation that would speed up $1 billion of spending on water, much of it funded from a $7.5 billion bond approved by voters in November.
“We appreciate the intentions behind the emergency legislation announced today and we are grateful for the aid it might provide to some of the tens of thousands in our communities who are suffering,” Nassif said in a statement. “But real relief can only come from an end to this drought and the regulatory policies that have exacerbated it.”
Nassif said water released to the ocean under policies designed to protect smelt could be stored south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. He urged Feinstein and her Republican colleagues to resume their effort. The California Democrat and others had pushed for water releases that would meet the letter of existing laws whose application, they argued, allows for flexibility. The talks drew opposition from some Democrats and environmentalists.
Restrictions on water would be new to urban consumers, but are already familiar to California growers.
In February, growers in the southern San Joaquin Valley learned they are likely to face an unprecedented second straight year of zero water allocations from the federal Central Valley Project. The state project plans to deliver 20% of requested supply, up from 5% last year.
Western Growers estimates that last year 500,000 acres of farmland were left unplanted, an amount that could increase by 40% this year. The trade group pegs farm job losses at 17,000 last year and more in 2015.
California appears on course for a fourth year of drought.
The bond money should be turned quickly into water projects, according to California Farm Bureau Federation president Paul Wenger, because runoff from rainfall — not snowpack — may be the state’s main resource in the future.
“Several projects have been identified that would allow California to capture runoff from strong storms like those we’ve had this winter, which would make future droughts less punishing,” Wenger said in a news release.