Flows to increase; water districts cry foul

The Newsom administration has informed regional water districts that it will move forward with a plan to increase flows from San Joaquin River tributaries in an action that may create more water uncertainty for farmers.

A notice from the California Natural Resources Agency and state Environmental Protection Agency represents a departure from the state’s earlier willingness to consider voluntary agreements with water districts, which includes aspects other than just flow increases. That departure means that the regulatory regime, adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board in 2018, will now move forward.

This first phase of the state’s Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan requires districts along the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers to leave 30% to 50% of “unimpaired flows” in the San Joaquin River tributaries in an effort to help fish.

Districts, farmers and residents of the affected region have protested the plan, saying it would do little to restore salmon and other fish populations while cutting water supplies to the northern San Joaquin Valley.

David Van Klaveren of Hollandia Nursery in Modesto receives water from Modesto Irrigation District to irrigate 800 different varieties of plants, trees and shrubs that are sold to garden-center retailers in California and other states.

“Restricting water rights is a big deal, so it’s going to affect our farm ground in this area,” said Van Klaveren, who also grows almonds. “It is going to hurt our production (at the nursery) and production of food.”

California EPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld and state Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot signed an Oct. 20 letter sent to affected water districts. They included MID, Oakdale Irrigation District, Merced Irrigation District, Turlock Irrigation District, San Francisco Public Utilities District and South San Joaquin Irrigation District.

The letter thanked them for engagement over the past few years to develop voluntary agreements to improve conditions for fish and wildlife in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its major rivers.

The agreements were intended to form a framework for funding and managing river flows and habitat protection. But now state agencies said that they are moving forward with the 2018 plan adopted by the state water board.

“At this point,” Blumenfeld and Crowfoot said in their letter, “it is clear that despite considerable efforts, proposed voluntary actions by water agencies on the San Joaquin River tributaries have fallen short of needed flow and habitat improvements, and viable proposals are not being offered at this time.”

The officials said they would ask the state water board “to resume all activities necessary to implement the flow objectives established by the 2018 Bay-Delta Plan for the Lower San Joaquin River and its three major tributaries.”

Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, which jointly operate Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River, protested that state officials were abandoning negotiations.

“After more than two years and countless hours of active participation in voluntary agreement negotiations with the state, MID and TID are extremely disappointed that the Newsom administration has walked away from the table,” said Melissa Williams, Modesto Irrigation District public affairs manager. “It’s apparent that the state wants even more water but hasn’t expressed or justified the amount needed.”

Williams added, “Their framework unfairly shifts responsibility for delta protection to the senior water rights holders on the Tuolumne River and is unlikely to achieve the desired fishery and water quality outcomes, either locally or in the delta.”

MID and TID are among a number of water districts, municipalities and others that have active litigation over the unimpaired flows criteria. A coalition of environmental and fishing groups has also sued, claiming the board should have directed even larger flows toward fish.

California Farm Bureau filed its own lawsuit against the unimpaired-flows plan in February 2019, charging the water board failed to follow the California Environmental Quality Act and underestimated the harm the plan would cause to agricultural resources in the Central Valley.

Chris Scheuring, California Farm Bureau senior counsel, called the agencies’ decision to cease negotiations “unfortunate.”

“As a legal or policy matter, this is a huge water quality overlay in terms of basin planning under the water quality laws that is going to have a systemic conflict with the structure of water rights,” he said. “It would have been good to find collaborative solutions that include fish-friendly practices that maybe don’t impact flows quite so directly.”

Scheuring added, “The hard path of litigation is probably not a good path for anybody. Water users are left with no choice but to follow that litigation forward, and that’s unfortunate.”

As the fight over water continues, Van Klaveren said, “We’re just plowing ahead like we normally do until there are rulings or if somebody comes and chains our gates closed.”

For many years, Van Klaveren said his family has irrigated with a mix of district and groundwater, which is reused and placed in holding ponds.

“We irrigate four days on the wells and three days out of the pond on recaptured water,” Van Klaveren said. “We’re using the best and highest efficiencies that we can because the more efficient you are, the more you’re sustainable, the more (money) you make, and the more you can provide for your family, your neighbor and your community.”

CalEPA and Resources Agency officials noted in the letter to districts that the voluntary agreement from the districts will be submitted to the state water board for a third-party and environmental review, followed by public participation.

Meanwhile, efforts to advance the second phase for of the Bay-Delta plan for the Sacramento River tributaries is ongoing with Sacramento River basin water users and water agencies that contract with the state and federal water projects.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at [email protected].)

7 thoughts on “Flows to increase; water districts cry foul

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  1. This sad and almost laughable culture war propaganda (“regulatory regime” – really?) aside, California Fish and Game 5937 is some of the oldest environmental law in California. These extreme water diversions have already devastated fish populations and it is way overdue for California to make these water welfare whiners live within the law. They already use 80% of developed water and they would love to kill the entire ecosystem just to sell a few more jars of almonds to China.

    • Saul, explain exactly how I and other growers are welfare whiners, when we pay thousands of dollars for water deliveries annually, only for those deliveries to be unsatisfied year after year? Do you pay for thousands of dollars on anything that you never receive? Your comment and attempt in sarcasm illustrates your truly out of touch on this subject matter. I am a small farmer. I have farmed in this valley for thirty years. My fruit stays right here in the Valley and feeds this valley populous. Contrary to your opinion, my “jars of fruit” do not go to China. To educate you, the current decisions being made by this administration will lead to multi-generational small farms and families losing their livelihood. It will also result in small communities being without a serviceable surface water source. All because of direct mismanagement and the multitude of failures of the current and past administrations’. I do not find humor in that, and anyone who does, truly needs to check themselves. Do you find humor in people losing their businesses? Is filing for bankruptcy or selling everything off “Propaganda?” I would suggest that either you educate yourself on the matter, or try to refrain from commenting, because your truly out of touch with the complexity of water in this valley and what is transpriing in agriculture.

      • Your lame recasting of what I posted does not change the simple truth of what I posted. I can only hope that State of California regulators have the stones to properly implement SGMA and the 2018 Bay-Delta flow plan. Healthy ecosystems can coexist with a reasonable amount of farming water diversion from the rivers.

        • And your lame attempt to dodge my questions from my recasting of what you said, illustrates you lack the presence of those stones you speak of. Simply put, your being challenged for spewing fallacious nonsense. I realize your out of your element on this subject, and Wikipedia nor Google possess the answers to my questions. If we dig deep enough, there is no simple truth. Sadly, the government for forty plus years has screwed the pooch on this matter. For the record, I will do one of two things in the coming years, sell my land to one of the large capital hedge fund groups, which by the way service your 401k portfolio and have found ag property to be an extremely popular diversification opportunity, so any policy effecting water, will in some form, effect the majority of the populous with an 401k, or I will just push the carbon sequestering orchard, and put in a beautiful array of solar panels surrounded by the beauty of an fence with razor wire. What is the simple truth, we all lose, including you Saul, your just too blinded by your arrogance to see it. So Godspeed and I wish you luck.

      • You pay for rights if water flows in that area Frank? Don’t like it stop buying! How is this cost so high but farmers still millionaires? Oh yes they use migrants and scream the wall needs to be built. KEEP GROWING CASH CROPS THAT DESTROY THE ENVIRONMENT. KEEP GROWING POMEGRANATES AND ALMONDS PUTTING PROFITS OVER CALIFORNIA WATER!!

        • Chad-Troy-Troll, what is the purpose of the name change again? One minute your the Troll from Handford, then your Troy Kitchen, and now Chad Daxler? Yes, I stand corrected, I pay for the “RIGHTS” to water for my property, then I pay additionally for any water allocation through distribution, not to mention property taxes and all the other taxes that provide inalienable rights. With respect to water availability and my orchard, when I do have water, my agroecological organic garden of an orchard runs harmoniously with nature. My trees provide habitats to more species than your paved streets and houses could ever. Not to mention all the carbon sequestering the trees are performing to remove your vehicles CO2. And yes, they provide my family and I an source of revenue, albeit not anything close to millions.
          Like many other farmers, I have a career outside the farm. You sound like you have some issues Troy-Chad-Troll. You will argue with the fence post for the sake of arguing, your bitterness shines, maybe a little envious towards the people whom feed you and the world because you personally cannot grow your own food, and unlike you, we are environmentalist, we are sustainable, we are regenerative, and we are naturist. Thank you Chad/Troy/Troll for your follow up comment outlining I pay for my “Right” to water, but the state disenfranchises that right! As someone with strong connections to Kings Educational, I am saddened to see you fall from an scholar in high school to a felon. Hope you find your path Chad-Troy-Troll, if that is who you are.

  2. I don’t know who Troy is. You can’t even spell Hanford right. YOU PAY FOR WATER THAT IS ALLOCATED TO YOU THROUGH THE LAW SET BY ELECTED OFFICIALS. YOUR PROPERTY TAXES DOESN’T GRANT YOU ANY WATER YOU CAN’T GET THROUGH A WELL. ALL PROPERTY OWNERS PAY TAXES IS AMERICA! IT DOES NOT GUARANTEE YOU ANY WATER ALLOCATION. YOU ACT LIKE PAYING THE GOVERNMENT WILL PUT YOU BEYOND THE LAW. WATER IS NEEDED TO SAVE THE TREES IN THE FOREST! FARMERS GROWING POMEGRANATES AND ALMONDS ARE TAKING MOST OF THE WATER FOR PROFITS AND NOT FEEDING AMERICA! THANKS FOR BRINGING UP CARBON EMISSIONS. SINCE THE FARMERS WHO ARE MOSTLY REPUBLICAN ARE AGAINST ANYTHING ELECTRIC. THE PRODUCT THOSE TREES PRODUCE NEED HUGE VEHICLES TO HARVEST AND TRANSPORT THE PRODUCT. CALIFORNIA NEEDS TO KILL HALF THE COWS. COWS PRODUCE METHANE THAT CAN NOT BE REMOVED FROM THE SOIL. FARMERS ARE DESTROYING THE ENVIRONMENT! TULARE HAD A HUGE LAKE UNTIL BOSWELL CAME IN AND THE GOVERNMENT CATERED TO THEM BUILDING DAMS AND CANALS. THE US GOVERNMENT HAS CATERED TO FARMERS FOR FAR TOO LONG. THATS WHY CALIFORNIA IS IN EXTREMELY DROUGHT!! THE BARK BEETLE THRIVES IN DROUGHT. GO LOOK IT UP. YOU ANTI SCIENCE SCHMUCK. GUESS WHAT FRANK NO ONE CARES YOUR NAME. KEEP CRYING SNOWFLAKE.

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