The Start of a New Water Year
October 1 marked the beginning of a new water year and, unfortunately, all signs point to yet another difficult year ahead.
In the 2020-2021 water year, the water year that just ended, Westlands’ water allocation was reduced from 5% to 0% in May 2021. The impact of the zero allocation has reverberated across Westlands with countless jobs lost and fields left fallow. Because of the low carryover levels in reservoirs and concerns for the aquatic environment resulting from the dry conditions the past couple of years, this new water year may well bring another low or 0% allocation for Central Valley Project repayment and water services contractors. The Department of Water Resources has already warned State Water Project contractors, who received a 5% allocation this past year, that, at least initially, they may not receive any allocation.
According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the dry conditions in 2019-2020 alone caused between $515 million and $1.3 billion in economic losses in the Western United States – figures that will only grow as we account for the impacts of conditions in 2020-2021 and if the drought conditions worsen this water year.
Resolutions for the New Water Year
Just as people set resolutions for the start of the calendar year in January, we hope that at this beginning of the water year state policymakers will join us in resolving to negotiate and implement the Voluntary Agreements (VAs). The VAs are a collaborative, modern, and holistic alternative to the State Water Resources Control Board’s Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan update. The VAs are the type of comprehensive, balanced, science-driven approach that will help protect and restore the Bay-Delta ecosystem while improving reliability for the 35 million people, nearly 8 million acres of farmland, and remaining California wetlands dependent on the Sacramento-San Joaquin watershed and its water supply.
Westlands continues to advocate in support of robust infrastructure investments to ensure a more reliable water supply. Unfortunately, State Senator Melissa Hurtado’s Senate Bill 559 – The State Water Resiliency Act of 2021, which would have provided $785 million to repair canals, roads, and bridges that have been damaged by subsidence – was shelved during the final weeks of the legislative session. We hope it can be revived when the state Legislature reconvenes in January.
We continue to stand in strong support of Senator Feinstein’s and Congressman Costa’s Canal Conveyance Capacity Restoration Act, a bill seeking to secure federal infrastructure funding to help repair sections of the Friant-Kern Canal, the Delta-Mendota Canal, the San Luis Canal, and the California Aqueduct, which will not only help provide water to farming communities in the Central Valley, but also to disadvantaged communities across much of the state.
On Friday, the United States Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) announced that, after coordination with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), it has requested re-initiation of consultation on the Long-Term Operation of the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. While the new consultation is occurring, Reclamation indicated it will continue to operate the CVP pursuant to the existing consultation, as analyzed by the 2019 Biological Opinions, and Record of Decision, issued in 2020, as modified by interim measures, if any, required by ongoing drought conditions or ordered in conjunction with any ongoing litigation. On Friday, Reclamation, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, DWR, and CDFW also announced that they would provide sufficient time to allow public water agencies and others to fully discuss the potential for interim measures.
Coordinated operations of the CVP and SWP are critically important to the health of California’s economy and environment, including at-risk species. The stakes are particularly high as California enters potentially another critically dry year. We’re encouraged that the Federal and State agencies are allowing for the time needed to engage the public water agencies and others in the interim measures discussion.
Above all, we hope these efforts will continue upholding the principles of operational flexibility based on real-time species risk, science-based adaptive management to ensure that operations meet water quality and contractual requirements while also protecting at-risk species and allowing for a collaborative watershed-wide management approach. These principles are central to effective operations of both Projects as well as for continued progress toward the Voluntary Agreements. The District looks forward to engaging in these processes in a robust way.
In the District
MEET OUR NEW PUBLIC AFFAIRS REPRESENTATIVE, ELIZABETH JONASSON
We are pleased to introduce Elizabeth Jonasson, who joins Westlands as our new Public Affairs Representative, beginning October 1. Elizabeth most recently served as the Strategy and Communications Officer for the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission; prior to joining the Fresno EOC, she was an information officer for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Elizabeth also currently represents the Roosevelt High region on the Fresno Unified School District Board. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and a Master of Business Administration from California State University, Fresno. We hope many of you will have an opportunity to meet and work with Elizabeth in the coming months.
WATCH: TOM BIRMINGHAM JOINS THE SACRAMENTO PRESS CLUB'S VIRTUAL EVENT: "CALIFORNIA'S FOREVER DROUGHT"
On August 25, Westlands General Manager Tom Birmingham joined California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California General Manager Adel Hagekhalil and State Water Contractors General Manager Jennifer Pierre to discuss the impacts of California's drought and the future of the state's water delivery supply. You can watch the hour-long panel, which was moderated by Los Angeles Times reporter Ian James and Sacramento Bee reporter Dale Kasler, on the Sacramento Press Club’s Facebook page.
READ: “CALIFORNIA’S VITAL CANALS ARE CRUMBLING. A PLAN TO FIX THEM JUST DIED IN THE LEGISLATURE”
Dale Kasler of the Sacramento Bee writes about SB 559: “The major arteries of California’s water-delivery system are crumbling, but a proposal in the state Legislature to spend $785 million fixing them is dead for the year … The failure of SB 559 infuriated farm groups and rural advocates in the San Joaquin Valley, who argue that fixing the canals would help shore up California’s water supply at a time of staggering drought that’s already dramatically reduced water deliveries to most farmers.” Click here to read the full story.
READ: “DROUGHT HAS FARMWORKERS DREAMING OF ESCAPE FROM CALIFORNIA’S BREADBASKET”
Priscilla Vega of the Los Angeles Times writes about the devastating impact drought has had on communities in the Central Valley – and how the state’s ongoing water reliability issues and driving these families out. “For decades, farm labor has kept unincorporated communities alive throughout the Central Valley. But the drought is making it hard to stay. The dearth of essential resources — clean water, adequate housing and fair employment wages — has crippled towns that are easily overlooked and triggered a slow exodus to bigger places.” Click here to read the full story.