Food Grows Where Water Flows

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Releases and Statements

STATEMENT: Voluntary Agreement on Water Represents the Future and Deserves Prop 68 Funding

May 1, 2019 in California Water, CFWC Blog, Endangered Species, Endangered Species, Fisheries, News Archives, Regulations, Releases, Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, Salmon, Water Allocations, Water Rights

STATEMENT: Voluntary Agreement on Water Represents the Future and Deserves Prop 68 Funding

By Mike Wade, Executive Director

California Farm Water Coalition

California has always prided itself on cutting-edge ideas. It is the place others turn to for new solutions to old problems. We are currently faced with a choice to continue that tradition of innovation with a fresh approach to water and environmental management or chain ourselves to outdated practices of the past.

Last fall, in a historic first, competing water interests came together to produce a voluntary agreement (VA) that will govern water use, habitat projects, and implement new science-based management practices. The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) says the VA would, “increase flows in rivers and the Delta and make major investments in habitat. And perhaps most important, create sustainable funding for these efforts (including fees on water diversions), while improving scientific research on and governance of restoration efforts.”

This agreement is the result of years of collaboration between government agencies, water users and environmental interests, conducting scientific studies and projects that put the new science into practice. The VA takes us out of the slow grind of the existing regulatory process and allows us to use scientific structured decision-making to address problems as we go.

The California Legislature is considering a budget this week with funds specifically earmarked for the VA that could provide additional momentum to this progress. Funding from the voter-approved Proposition 68 will help jump start this science-based process. That would mean choosing science-based rules and voluntary, holistic approaches to problems rather than the outdated regulatory status quo. The PPIC says, “What’s clear is that negotiated solutions to water conflicts are fairer and longer-lasting than top-down regulatory solutions or, worse yet, litigated solutions where judges end up trying to manage water.”

And there’s no reason to cling to the past. It’s clear that the current outdated system isn’t working for anyone. Endangered fish populations continue to struggle; farmers face dwindling water supplies; urban users make continuous cutbacks; groundwater supplies are dangerously depleted; and current policy does not address new challenges we face from climate change.

One of the many things this process has revealed is that helping struggling fish populations takes more than water, which is important, but not the only habitat feature fish need. It takes a combination of water at the right time plus attention to habitat, food supply and predator control.

There are other ingredients essential to this agreement. Under the VA, change happens now. Additional water for environmental purposes and habitat restoration begins immediately. That means we reap the benefits today. The regulatory approach could take decades. Plus, in another important first, agricultural water users will pay fees to implement ongoing environmental projects. While there is a need for initial Prop 68 funding, user fees are critical to long-term success because they are an ongoing source of funding.

In a letter to legislators in support of the VA, a group of statewide organizations, including the California Chamber of Commerce and the Bay Area Council, summed it up this way: “The Voluntary Agreements provide a tremendous opportunity to provide more water for fish, wildlife and habitat restoration and a more reliable water supply for a growing state with climate and water supply challenges. The Voluntary Agreement will replace the policy and legal conflicts that have defined the last three decades. Instead, they rely on a collaborative and adaptive management process that will move the state substantially closer to the coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.”

California must choose. The Voluntary Agreement represents the future and a new path away from a failed regulatory approach.

Statement by Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition Executive Director On the Release of New Biological Assessments

February 6, 2019 in News Archives, Releases

Statement by Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition Executive Director On the Release of New Biological Assessments

SACRAMENTO, CA – Recognizing the failure of the existing biological opinions issued a decade ago by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for Delta smelt and by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for salmon, the Bureau of Reclamation released a new biological assessment which serves as the basis for new biological opinions that will be released within 135 days. The Biological Assessment details the manner in which the agencies will operate the project and make operations more effective in preserving fish and delivering water to communities and farms. The Bureau of Reclamation is now taking a common-sense approach and applying scientific principles to water supply and fishery protections.

“The current, outdated biological opinions have been plagued with operational problems that experts determined were largely ineffective at helping the endangered fish they were intended to help,” said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. “In addition, the two outdated biological opinions often worked against one another, such as requiring more upstream storage for salmon to keep temperatures lower and at the same time, requiring more water to be released to the Delta to benefit smelt. These biological opinions have failed all parties – fish and wildlife, communities, and farmers,” he said.

The Bureau’s new Biological Assessment takes into account the failures of the older biological opinions and creates a new process to modernize operations, utilizing science and operational flexibility to improve the operations and efficiency of the Central Valley and State Water projects. The Biological Assessment makes several changes to the operations of the Central Valley Project, based on the experience with the older biological opinions, the drought, and prior policy decisions. This modern Biological Assessment requires science-based operational changes that respond to actual conditions rather than follow a calendar-based approach to species protections. Using a smarter approach encourages adjustments that will allow for better temperature control for salmon while reducing the impacts on the Delta. It bases flow requirements on a variety of factors rather than using flow as the sole determinant for water project management.

The Biological Assessment moves away from the failed presumption that water projects are the only cause of the decline in fish species.

“The new Biological Assessment starts with a “clean slate” and seeks to determine those effects that are unrelated to the projects but are impacting fish populations in order to manage the projects. By focusing on a more integrated and holistic approach, federal and state agencies can utilize science and effective operational measures in the new biological opinions to address all the factors impacting the fish populations, he said.

The operations analyzed in the new Biological Assessment are intended to allow the projects, designed and built to provide water to California communities, to fulfill that obligation and provide critical information to federal and state agencies that will improve the conditions for fish and wildlife and the Delta habitat.

CFWC Statement on Voluntary Agreements Presented to the State Water Board on its Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan

December 12, 2018 in CFWC Blog, Farm Water in the News, Releases

CFWC Statement on Voluntary Agreements Presented to the State Water Board on its Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan

“Water users and the State of California have brought to the table almost 1 million acre-feet of water and almost $2 billion in funding to implement an unprecedented set of ecosystem restoration goals. It is a comprehensive, system-wide plan that will start showing progress in 2019 with restored habitat, functional water flows, improved temperature for fish, and floodplain improvements that are proven to grow stronger, healthier salmon on their journey to the ocean. We hope the Water Board will choose this more collaborative approach to its water quality control plan rather than a set of forced rules that will harm communities and the economy and that haven’t worked in similar efforts to help fish populations in the past.”

Learn more about the proposed voluntary agreements at: https://water.ca.gov/-/media/DWR-Website/Web-Pages/Blogs/Voluntary-Settlement-Agreement-Meeting-Materials-Dec-12-2018-DWR-CDFW-CNRA.pdf