Since 2000, water cuts instituted by environmental regulation have impacted communities statewide. A report released recently by the Southern California Water Committee and the Committee for Delta reliability reveals the inadvertent consequences of these cuts – showing the hardest hit are those who rely on agriculture to thrive, especially in the San Joaquin Valley.
Water exports from the Delta have been subjected to increasingly stringent water quality and endangered species regulations, reducing water supplies available to urban and agricultural users. Farm laborers and urban water consumers have experienced economic losses in the form of increased shortages and expenditures on water supply alternatives, the report conducted by UC Berkeley Professor and Department of Agriculture & Resources Chair David L. Sundig states.
California is losing an average of 1.3 million acre-feet of water each year thanks to untapped environmental flows, and it is expected that the state will lose more than 21,000 jobs every year over the course of 30 years – with more than 11,000 being farmworker jobs, according to the report.
The Central Valley Project Improvement Act is one such regulation put into place in 1992, and aims to protect natural habitats in the Central Valley and Trinity River Basins while balancing demands for use of Central Valley Project water for wildlife, agriculture, municipal use and industrial and power use. The act requires 800,000 acre-feet of water to be dedicated to fish and wildlife each year, and with the added stress of the state’s drought, some communities have been hit with extreme water cuts in years past.
Del Puerto Water District General Manager Anthea Hansen, whose district receives its irrigation allocation from the Central Valley Project, has seen the effects that the water cuts have had on the area in recent years.
“It’s been really rough,” said Hansen. “A quarter of the district’s irrigatable land has been fallowed.”
Hansen’s district, which serves approximately 45,000 acres between Vernalis and Santa Nella, is one of the many smaller water districts within the drought-stricken valley depending on water from the CVP. Last year, the district saw a 20 percent allocation, and the two previous years were allocated zero percent. The lack of water resulted in 12,000 acres of fallowed ground throughout the district, said Hansen, and had a tremendously negative impact on the surrounding agriculture jobs and overall economy in the area.
“It’s not just labor that’s impacted; there have been impacts to sales of parks, fuel, fertilizer, insurance and all of the related aspects of agriculture,” said Hansen.
Sundig’s report shows that statewide, California’s fertile heartland is shrinking, threatening the future of the state’s food supply. The report states that 55,000 acres of farmland have been fallowed each year since 2000, and that number is expected to increase to 195,000 acres of farmland each year over the course of 30 years.
While the water regulations outlined in the Central Valley Project are designed to protect and restore the state’s fish population, Hansen said she has yet to see improvements in the fish population.
“If the fish population were improving, it would make more sense but conditions don’t seem to be improving – even with cutbacks at the state and federal water projects,” said Hansen. “We need to try something different. There are more knobs to turn than just the pump.”
And, while Governor Jerry Brown recently announced that the drought was over, more trouble could come soon in terms of water cuts as the State Water Resources Control Board proposes to allocate 40 percent of unimpaired flows along the Tuolumne River for the benefit of fish and wildlife.
While the Del Puerto Water District has been returned to a 100 percent allocation, Hansen is working to ensure her district won’t go without water again. The North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project was finalized last year, allowing Turlock to deliver recycled water to the district for agricultural irrigation purposes. The Modesto component of the project is expected to be completed by this year’s end, said Hansen, and the Turlock component will be completed in the following year.
“This project will provide the district with a reliable source of supply that won’t be as affected by drought conditions,” said Hansen. “It could meet up to a third of our annual need, and we’re looking forward to getting back to some kind of normal, stable base we can count on.”