State Water Resource Control Board Plans to Cut Back Delta Water for Ag

On March 14, Kings County Farm Bureau (KCFB) sent a letter to Tom Howard, executive director of the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) demanding that he reconsider the board’s proposal to seize century-long water rights from farmers.

“This decision will have grave consequences on Central Valley communities,” reads the letter signed by KCFB President Dino Giacomazzi. “Farmers, farm laborers, rural municipalities and the many industries that depend on them require 100% of federal water deliveries for drinking water and irrigation.

“It is our understanding that the board plans to issue a decision to cut back all Delta water pumping for agriculture, in order to achieve carryover storage. The communities that depend on agriculture and federal water will be the hardest hit by this decision and will shoulder the burden of the entire state. The economic implications will be devastating, increasing unemployment rates from 35-70% in several disadvantaged communities, while hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland lay fallow.

“A cut in water will not only have a disastrous impact on disadvantaged communities, but also the state’s economy. Many jobs depend on agricultural production including processing, transportation, wholesale, retail and shipping through ports, such as Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland. The value of lost economic activity tied to reduce crop production is estimated to reach $5 billion.”

After members of U.S. Congress heard about SWRCB’s proposal, they sent an urgent appeal to Howard and the board, copying Governor Jerry Brown, pleading for a two-week delay in the decision. The letter, signed by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Reps. Jim Costa and John Garamendi, urged the board to defer the decision until at least March 21 to “make sure it is correctly calibrated to minimize the potentially devastating effects on many Californians.”

At the end of January, the California Department of Water Resources announced it would halt water deliveries to Central Valley Project and State Water Project water users. Although such water users have the legal right to pump water, the state board prohibits users from doing so, also requiring users to set aside the water they would use to grow food in 2015. California’s Constitution requires regulatory agencies to issue a notice and hold a public hearing before water use – which has already been authorized for an allowable use – can be restricted.

Farms are the only businesses targeted under this water rights attack. Historic unemployment in rural parts of the Central Valley is higher than 40% when water supplies are low.

Kings County Farm Bureau is a non-profit, advocacy organization that represents approximately 800 members of the agricultural community. The mission of KCFB is to provide education, promotion and representation of agriculture.

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