Senator Feinstein Calls for Targeted Strategy to Address Severe Water Crisis for Farms in California’s Central Valley
Apr 16 2009
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today called for the development of a targeted strategy to address the severe water crisis for farms in California’s Central Valley.
Last week, Senator Feinstein convened an emergency meeting to bring together the major stakeholders – including farmers, ranchers, and state and federal water and wildlife officials – to discuss possible solutions for the drought, including the need to move water south of the Delta.
Senator Feinstein today sent a follow up letter Lester Snow, director of the California Department of Water Resources, urging the agency to work with local leaders and other state and federal agencies to explore several actions that could provide significantly more water to the drought-stricken farmers.
“Our state’s water crisis is seriously impacting the San Joaquin Valley and its communities, which depend on agriculture for their economic survival. The lack of water threatens to decimate the Valley economy, and some cities are already struggling with unemployment rates between 25 and 45 percent. We must reverse this trend,” Senator Feinstein said. “This is a crisis that requires action and decisiveness. I am prepared to help wherever I can to see that those decisions are made and solutions presented.”
Following is the text of the letter sent today from Senator Feinstein to Director Lester Snow:
April 16, 2009
Mr. Lester A. Snow
California Department of Water Resources
P.O. Box 942836, Room 1115-1
Sacramento, CA 94236-0001
I appreciate your leadership in our meeting last week in helping to devise strategies to mitigate the water supply crisis for farms in the San Joaquin Valley, which brought together farmers and local leaders from the Valley’s west side, along with Don Glaser and Ron Milligan (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation), Ren Lohoefener (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and Congressmen Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza. During our meeting, you committed to explore several actions that could provide significantly more water to these farmers.
Please let me know the likelihood of success and the potential water supply benefits to farmers from the following efforts:
- I understand that the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has sought "joint point" authority from the State Water Resources Control Board to use the State Water Project Banks Pumping Plant to pump water for the users of the Central Valley Project.
- You indicated at the meeting that within the next week, DWR is likely to seek permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to pump additional water from Banks beyond its permitted capacity of 6680 cubic feet per second, once environmental limitations on Delta pumping cease on June 30. If the San Joaquin Valley farmers know soon that they will be receiving additional water after June 30, they can begin drawing down existing water supplies now and keep additional lands in agricultural production this year.
- The State is seeking voluntary participants from the Sacramento Valley and elsewhere for its Drought Water Bank to seek to transfer 200,000 to 400,000 acre feet of water supplies to San Joaquin Valley agriculture.
- You agreed to ask the state officials tasked with managing the state’s fish and wildlife refuges that rely on water delivered by the Central Valley Water Project whether they could voluntarily transfer all or a significant part of their water supply beyond a 75% allocation of Level 2 water supply. The refuges are now receiving a 100% allocation of Level 2 water supplies while south-of-Delta agricultural users are currently getting a 0% allocation. This discrepancy appears inconsistent with the Central Valley Improvement Act’s requirement that there be “a reasonable balance” between refuge and agricultural water supplies. Agreement by the state refuges to voluntarily transfer a portion of their water supply would go a long way to restoring jobs and maintaining permanent crops in the San Joaquin Valley. I understand that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering making a similar request of the federal refuges.
- Finally, you agreed to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate whether the Endangered Species Act has any additional flexibility beyond what is currently being exercised to address severe impacts on local economies and the health and stability of communities, such as what the San Joaquin Valley is experiencing.
If we are going to make a difference for the San Joaquin Valley’s water supply this year, significant steps also need to be taken by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Westlands Water District, and the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority. I intend to be in touch with key representatives of these federal agencies and local water districts as well.
As we discussed at the meeting, unemployment, crime rates, and general economic impacts in the San Joaquin Valley have risen to a crisis point, and any help that you and the Department of Water Resources can provide would be invaluable.
I greatly appreciate your steady leadership on these issues, and hope to hear from you soon about the likely benefits of these efforts.
United States Senator
cc: Don Glaser, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Ren Lohoefener, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
John Harris, Harris Ranch
Mark Borba, Borba Farms
Tom Birmingham, Westlands Water District
Dan Nelson, San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority