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Water Policy Issues of Critical Concern to Almond Growers [with audio]

One of the priorities developed by the Delta Blue Ribbon
Task Force is to decrease reliance on the San Joaquin-
Sacramento River Delta.
Water remains the lifeblood of California’s almond industry, and because California water policy is incredibly complex, driven by intense competition among very diverse interests, the Almond Board of California has stepped up its efforts to bring clarity to water issues of interest to growers and handlers.

California’s present water resource system was conceived and constructed in the mid 20th Century, and focused almost exclusively on resource extraction for human economic purposes. With a shift of California’s natural resource policies to a focus on sustainability and the restoration or enhancement of the environment, the physical systems that were conceived under extraction policies in the 20th Century are increasingly in conflict with society’s 21st Century environmental and economic goals and/or values.

Recent legislation produced a package of laws called the Delta Reform Act of 2009, which sought to gain “balance” in water resource use throughout the state. The Act focuses heavily on a “coequal” state policy of 1) seeking and achieving water supply reliability and 2) restoring/enhancing ecosystem health.

In 2006, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger formed by executive order the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, which was tasked with producing goals, ideals and a strategic plan by which water resources ought to be viewed, and thus governed. This Task Force identified certain values/principles/priorities by which they believed any decisions on California’s water resources should be predicated on the future.

Among the priorities developed by the Task Force were such things as:

  • Improving local self-sufficiency,
  • Decreased reliance on the Delta,
  • Integration of all water resources within a region and among regions,
  • Sustainable practices,
  • Conservation measures, and
  • Water use/reuse/multiple-use strategies.

More recent considerations have added these priorities:

  • Based on scientifically sound practices and data, and
  • Operated under “adaptive management” approaches utilizing responsive and flexible structures, policies and strategies.

At present, there are many policy-related efforts underway, seeking to address California’s water needs now and into the future. Inherent in all these efforts are upsides and downsides to all interests and constituencies. As projects/strategies are contemplated, the values of balance, beneficial-use determinations and efficiencies will play heavily in the outcome of deliberations. Costs continue to be a crucial factor, not to mention the question of who will pay for improvements.

This article, by Vince Roos, water policy consultant to the Almond Board, is a summary of the first in an occasional series in Western Farm Press magazine designed to lay out the scope of water issues having the most direct impact on the industry, while providing a solid basis for understanding the broad array of solutions being proposed. Read the full article online, or in the October 19 issue of Western Farm Press. You can also listen to author Roos discuss California water policy issues.

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