in the KNOWN

In the Know Newsletter

February 22, 2014

Gov. Brown Announces Drought Bill


Pictured from L-R: State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Governor Jerry Brown and Assembly Speaker John Perez – Photo by the State of California

On Wednesday this week, Governor Jerry Brown, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez announced a $687.4 million emergency drought bill to address the ongoing water crisis facing many communities in California.

The bill announcement comes amidst a difficult week where the initial federal water supply allocation for Central Valley Project agricultural contractors is now at zero percent of their contract supply, in line with the dismal State Water Project allocation, also at zero.

Regarding the legislation, Governor Brown said, “This is a call to action. We must all do our part to conserve in this drought. The state is doing its part by providing immediate funding for drinking water, food, housing and assistance for water-conserving technologies.”

Existing bonds (Prop 84 and Prop 1E) would fund much of the proposal outlined by the governor with money going toward local and regional projects that are already planned or partially completed to boost water reliability such as water conservation, groundwater recharge and management, recapturing of storm water and the distribution of recycled water.

Among other funds, the Democrat leaders also announced $25.3 million from the state General Fund for food assistance for those impacted by the drought, $21 million in housing assistance from state and federal resources, and $14 million for groundwater management in California, including funds for groundwater contamination.

The measure also implements statutory changes to safeguard the enforcement of current water rights laws and increases penalties for illegal diversions during the drought.

On groundwater, the bill directs the California Department of Public Health to adopt new groundwater regulations by July 1, 2014.  Ag Council is involved in this process and more details are outlined below in the next article.

Governor Brown built parts of the drought proposal into his budget released in January, and the legislation would accelerate his budget effort.

To read the governor’s full statement, click HERE.

The Year of Water

By: Ag Council President Emily Rooney
Printed in Almond Facts, a publication by Blue Diamond Growers

According to the Chinese zodiac calendar, 2014 is the year of the horse.  The horse is energetic and strong, and people born under this sign are often viewed as successful communicators.  In 2014, the horse will gain financial stability, as well.  All of these characteristics are vital when dealing with the upcoming legislative year.

If we had a similar zodiac-like calendar, I suspect that in agriculture — and in Sacramento — 2014 would be the year of water.  There are numerous proposed regulations, layers of potential fees and a pending bond that could be considered on the election ballot.  In the backdrop, we are contending with extreme drought conditions throughout the state.  The Legislature and state agencies will play a role in delivering policies that will shape the future of this state and Ag Council will work to influence that process.

The State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”) recently released a discussion draft of a “Groundwater Workplan Concept Paper” (“workplan”) intended to provide additional tools for regional boards to align existing groundwater protection efforts, and to promote collaboration between local, regional and state agencies with groundwater management responsibilities.  Unfortunately, the workplan goes much further than this underlying intent.

Groundwater quality is important to everyone.  Poor groundwater quality impacts our families, our crops and our livelihoods.  SWRCB should be commended in analyzing the sustainability of our existing groundwater situation, given existing legacy issues and drought conditions.  However, the SWRCB’s proposed workplan does not focus solely on improving groundwater quality.  It increases its existing jurisdiction of groundwater quality management to include managing groundwater quantity and rights.   Additionally, it advises other parts of state government to participate in the process.

For example, it urges the Legislature to expand reporting requirements of groundwater pumping and to require local management agencies to establish thresholds for sustainable groundwater management plans and report their progress.  The workplan also supports the actions of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and University of California Cooperative Extension in establishing a nitrogen management program.  Last, but not least, the workplan recommends that local and regional agencies should assess fees to pay for new programs, when appropriate.

The workplan offers funding from various sources; however, it suggests that fee assessments should be part of the consideration process.

On another water issue, Ag Council has worked with SWRCB in regard to fees for existing water permit programs.  The current process to develop the regulatory fee schedule is broken.  Last year, proposed fee increases by the SWRCB were made publicly available to stakeholders just days before the state budget was approved by the Legislature, leaving virtually no time for stakeholder input.  With the passage of on-time state budgets, we expect this trend to continue into the future.  This lack of process gives little opportunity for stakeholder input, even though the stakeholder group is entirely responsible for funding SWRCB’s programs.  While the SWRCB has committed to refining the public input process, it is premature to rely on the stakeholder community for additional funding for new programs, when the existing situation remains broken.

Furthermore, regulating a diminishing groundwater supply, without the commitment of more storage is meaningless.  California’s water system is severely outdated and increased storage is not only imperative to our industry, but should be vital to the overall well-being of the state.  The size and scope of the current water bond is undergoing review by the Legislature.  Ag Council expects that a revised version of the bond will pass in time for consideration in the 2014 election.  We also anticipate the size of the bond to decrease.

While the final outcome of the bond is still unknown, we are contending with one of the worst droughts on record.  With the Emergency Drought Declaration by the governor, the discussion of water conservation is top of mind at the state level and goes hand-in-hand with storage and groundwater protection.

These evolving issues are only some of the highlights we anticipate unfolding this year.  There are many other water-related matters pending before our state government at this time, and with so much at stake, if there is ever a time to engage, the time is now.

The Chinese zodiac calendar says a lot of things about the year of the horse.  But it does not speak to the type of horse we should expect this year – hopefully it is less of a show horse — because we really need a work horse.

In Case You Missed It

Last week, Ag Council hosted a breakfast for members and friends at the World Ag Expo in Tulare featuring Governor Jerry Brown, High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard and California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross.  The high profile speakers addressed drought and high speed rail, among other issues.

Click HERE to read a detailed wrap-up of the Expo breakfast.

February 14, 2014

Gov. Brown Speaks at Ag Council Breakfast

Gov. Jerry Brown addresses Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast.

Gov. Jerry Brown addresses Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast.

Ag Council hosted a breakfast at the World Ag Expo in Tulare this week featuring Governor Jerry Brown, High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard and California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross.

More than 90 people filled the room to hear the state leaders discuss current issues impacting agriculture in the Central Valley, including the drought and the California High-Speed Rail project that by 2029 is scheduled to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles, and eventually reach as far north as Sacramento.

Governor Brown explored the rail concept during his first term as governor from 1975 to 1983, and with the state’s population predicted to be more than 50 million by 2050, he believes the time is now to make the investment in the future of transportation in the Golden State.

Mandated by legislation passed in 1996, the California High-Speed Rail took on new momentum when in 2008 California voters passed a $10 billion bond measure to support its development.

The proposed route has been a point of controversy for ag interests concerned about the impact on farms and some of the most agriculturally productive areas in the nation.

Governor Brown made a few brief comments reiterating his support of the project and his desire to remain fiscally responsible during his term as governor. “California has a surplus for the first time in ten years,” said Brown, “and I am committed to not spending money in ways our state can’t afford. Unfortunately there are a lot of existing liabilities that we have to continue to fund.”

After opening the floor up to questions from attendees, the topic quickly shifted to the state’s drought situation and measures to address the severe water shortages that California is facing this year. “

There have only been two governors in the state’s history who have done much about water, and their last name was Brown,” said the governor in a nod to his father Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown who often cited the development of the California state water project as one of his most significant legacies.

“We have a very complicated system, but I’m trying to move forward,” said Brown. “We definitely need water storage; however, Californians have a very divided point of view on this issue. But, the drought seems to have been a wake-up to people up regarding how critical water is to our state’s prosperity.”

High Speed Rail Chair Dan Richard speaks with Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast.

High Speed Rail Chair Dan Richard speaks with Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast.

California High-Speed Rail Chairman Dan Richard provided the keynote address during the breakfast, and preceded Governor Brown on the agenda. Richard gave a detailed presentation regarding the future of the California High-Speed Authority and his desire to see the project move ahead as a solution to California’s burgeoning population and transportation challenges.

Admitting that the authority’s early interactions with the agricultural community have not always been good, Richard emphasized that his goal since being appointed as chairman in 2010 is to make sure that the authority accomplishes its mission of providing a long-term solution to California’s transportation issues.

“If we don’t pursue this project, we will need 2,300 more miles of highway lanes and airport expansions, all of which would be extremely difficult and two to three times more expensive than high-speed rail.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s recently released revised business plan estimates that approximately 4,500 acres of agricultural land in the Central Valley will be impacted by the project. Richard contrasted that to the 50,000 acres that have been converted from ag use to urban development by the City of Fresno.

“We recognize that the threats to agriculture are real, but we also want to create a dialogue that helps farmers understand that the impact may not be as significant as has been portrayed, and that we will be mitigating for those losses,” he added. “Farm by farm, business by business, we are trying to avoid the negative impacts of the project where we can. Where we can’t avoid the impacts, we will mitigate.”

Responding to criticisms about the cost, Richard said that once established the California High-Speed Rail is meant to be self-sufficient from its own operating funds and that private sector dollars will be critical to the project’s success. “I feel that I had a decent reputation before I took this appointment, and I have no interest in being credited with a legacy of building a monument to stupidity,” he added.

CDFA Sec. Karen Ross addresses Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast

CDFA Sec. Karen Ross addresses Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast.

The breakfast concluded with remarks from Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross who focused on the drought and emergency measures being put in place to address water shortages as well as related issues, such as the potential of higher unemployment in the state’s agricultural labor force.

“Unfortunately many of the constraints that limit our ability to respond quickly to real-time problems with real-time solutions are due to judicial rulings and court decisions that we must abide by,” Ross said. “Communication has been much better between the divergent interests, and many are recognizing that increased storage capacity helps all of our issues. We have thrived in this valley and in this state because people had a vision. We need to continue to encourage a willingness in our culture to invest in our legacy.”

A special thanks to Ag Council board member, Mike Emigh, who served as emcee during the Expo breakfast.







President Obama Addresses Drought During San Joaquin Valley Visit

With the severe drought in California, President Obama is in the San Joaquin Valley today to announce additional funding for California farmers, ranchers and others affected by the drought.

President Obama is touring a farm and meeting with farmers in the valley accompanied by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno).

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the new drought funds announced by the president include:

  • $100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers for 2014 drought losses, in addition to funds being made available for 2012 and 2013 losses. Sign-ups for applications are expected to begin by April 15th.
  • $5 million for conservation assistance specifically for California, and $10 million for other states, through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
  • $5 million from the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program to protect soils affected by the drought.
  • $3 million in Emergency Water Assistance Grants for rural areas facing extreme water deficiencies, particularly for water quality and quantity issues. Specific communities close to running out of water over the next 60-120 days have already been identified.
  • $60 million for food banks to help California families in drought-stricken areas through the Emergency Food Assistance Program administered by USDA.

To read the entire USDA announcement, click HERE.

Upcoming Drought Info Sessions

Lake Oroville - Jan. 2014 - Photo by the California Department of Water Resources.

Lake Oroville – Jan. 2014 – Photo by the California Department of Water Resources.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will hold drought informational sessions detailing resources for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers. The sessions will be held at five locations throughout California, including Fresno and Redding/Palo Cedro, during the month of February.

The drought sessions will provide information on various state and federal government programs created to assist farmers with water conservation, crop insurance, and other farm management tools. Details regarding farmworker assistance programs will also be available.

For the dates and locations of the drought sessions on the CDFA website, click HERE.