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Meeting Explores Impact of Drought on Water Supply

Diversions of up to 700,000 acre-feet of water from the
Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta were prevented last
year while smelt were present.
The potential impacts of drought conditions next year on the state’s water supply and agriculture were the focus of a special Sept. 10 joint meeting of the California Water Commission and the California Board of Food and Agriculture.

“What California grows is what the world is looking for,” said Craig McNamara, chair of the State Board of Food and Agriculture, at the meeting. “But if we don’t have water, we can’t continue this tremendous record of achievement.”

Speakers suggested water management improvements ranging from expedited water transfers to improvements in state water conveyance systems. Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) President Randy Record outlined how ACWA and a broad array of water interests are working to craft a Statewide Water Action Plan (SWAP) to prioritize water supply improvements.

Record said SWAP’s goal is to produce a succinct plan with recommendations to Governor Brown for prioritizing specific near-term actions that can be broadly supported by the water community and can serve as a sustainable path forward. The key elements of SWAP’s plan include supporting and providing incentives for local and regional groundwater management, water bond funding for the public benefit of surface and groundwater storage, and streamlining the approval process for water transfers.

Several speakers expressed frustration with fisheries agencies over biological opinions calling for pumping restrictions to help certain fish species. They said some species are still in decline, despite those pumping restrictions and the immense amount of money and time devoted to their protection.

Jeanine Jones of the Department of Water Resources said smaller water systems in the state have been hit harder by the two recent dry years because they tend not to have access to a diversity of water supplies. She said the state reservoirs have helped to offset the lack of rainfall, but cannot continue to do so. She added, “What we have in the checking account [reservoirs] is depleted.”

Karla Nemeth, with the California Natural Resources Agency, gave an extensive report on the progress of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan activity. Nemeth stressed the flexibility the proposed twin diversion tunnels would bring to accomplishing the dual goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem health. Highlighting the projected operations of the twin tunnels in conjunction with the existing through Delta conveyance, Nemeth said in a year such as this year, when there was an abundance of water in the system in November and December, “Had we had the diversion points on the Sacramento River, we would have been able to move approximately 700,000 acre feet of water.” This water could not be pumped at the southern Delta pumps because of the presence of Delta smelt during that time.

Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition discussed how growers have invested heavily in recent years in water use efficiency. But even with those improvements, the impacts of water cutbacks — whether due to drought or pumping restrictions — are severe not just for growers, but for the state’s economy, he noted.

During a report by California Department of Water Resources officials on the progress of discussions concerning the streamlining of water transfer/exchanges, Daniel Dooley, California State Board of 
Food and Agriculture member and a past legal counsel for the San Joaquin River Restoration Agreement, pointedly, but politely, remarked that he has heard the same thing for decades with no significant changes noted to date.

You can read an overview of California’s water issues, written by Almond Board of California Water Issues Consultant Vince Roos and published online by Western Farm Press magazine.

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