July 24, 2020
Western Growers has announced its support for legislation by California Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein that seeks to address severe subsidence impacts that have substantially reduced the carrying capacity of the state’s water delivery system.
Feinstein's Restoration of Essential Conveyance Act would authorize $800 million in federal funding to repair critical canals in the San Joaquin Valley damaged by land sinking from overpumping of groundwater, known as subsidence, and for environmental restoration.
If the canals are not restored to their original capacity, 20 percent of the farmland – approximately 1 million acres – might have to be retired in a region that produces $36 billion in crops annually, including a third of the nation’s produce, the senator asserts.
“Only a fully capable conveyance system capable of moving excess precipitation runoff to groundwater storage facilities and recharge-capable farmland can provide the resiliency needed to avert an economic and social disaster under SGMA,” Western Growers president and chief executive officer Dave Puglia wrote in a letter to Feinstein.
The bill, S.3811, authorizes $600 million in federal funding for three major water projects – $200 million each for the Friant-Kern Canal and Delta-Mendota Canal, and $100 million each for the San Luis Canal and California Aqueduct, the organization notes.
The legislation provides an additional $200 million for restoration of the San Joaquin River, including environmentally protective infrastructure needed to implement the San Joaquin River Restoration Project.
Protecting 'the water we have'
U.S. Reps. Jim Costa and T.J. Cox, both D-Calif., have introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
“We have to find better ways to use the water we have,” Feinstein said when she introduced the bill in May. “Restoring the San Joaquin Valley’s canals is one of the most efficient ways to improve the sustainability of California’s water supply. It would allow us to capture more winter storm floodwaters and use that extra water to offset necessary reductions in groundwater pumping. This bill would give our farmers a fighting chance.”
Decades of overpumping groundwater has caused land beneath the canals to sink by more than 20 feet in some areas, Feinstein says. Damage caused by this subsidence has caused the valley’s canals to lose up to 60 percent of their capacity.
Without new water sources, farmers could be forced to retire as much as one-sixth of the valley’s farmland to meet reductions in groundwater pumping required by California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. A coalition of water users known as the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley estimates that as many as 85,000 jobs could be lost statewide if that farmland is fallowed.
Restoring canal capacity would allow farmers to offset reductions in groundwater pumping by capturing more water from winter storms and use it for groundwater recharge projects, Feinstein argues.
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