in the KNOW

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.