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Farmers predict another year without water could bring catastrophe to California

Parts of California could receive significant amounts of rainfall late this week. Most observers do not see the moisture ending the state’s worst drought in decades, instead teasing them with what might have been if rainfall had been near normal for the winter.

Participants in the World Ag Expo 2014 Water Forum in Tulare, Calif., heard members of two panels discuss the current situation with the drought and the outlook for legislation and regulatory changes to the water delivery system to the nation’s leading agricultural production area.

During the first panel’s discussion, moderator Mario Santoyo, executive director of the California Latino Water Coalition, took the unusual step of asking members of his group what they would ask the federal, state and local officials charged with overseeing water delivery to agricultural, industrial and municipal systems.

Producer questions

The producers on the panel, John Harris, owner of Harris Ranch; Joe Del Bosque, farmer from Los Banos, whose farm was visited by President Obama the day after the Summit on Feb. 13; and Mark Watte, grower from Tulare, Calif., and a member of the World Ag Expo Board, tied some insightful comments into their questions.

“I would ask what we can expect from the rollout of the legislation, primarily the Feinstein-Boxer legislation,” said Harris. “Feinstein-Boxer basically directs the agencies to use the flexibility they have. Will that flexibility enable us to trump the barriers the Endangered Species Act has in place? I suspect the environmental groups will try to litigate it, but we need to know what we can expect from the agencies.”

“What I’m picking up is that in November and December of 2012, we had some wet months,” said Del Bosque. “We had early rains, the rivers were flowing and then the biological opinions began to kick in and shut off the pumps. This is not about hydrology, not about storage, how much is in the reservoirs. This is just a flip of the switch.

“If we go into that next year – we’re at zero now and we’re facing catastrophe and we’re looking at a train wreck. There’s probably going to be a few cars fall off the rails this year, but next year we’re facing a train wreck. What’s going to happen when the biologists say ‘Sorry, Charlie, we’re going to turn off the pumps’ and let that water flow out to the ocean? What are you going to tell the Valley when we’re without water?”

Presidential Tour

Del Bosque, who appeared with the president during a speech that followed a tour of his farm on Feb. 14, asked if the agencies had any special powers that would allow them to address the situation when the Central Valley has no water next year. “What would you say to President Obama or the senators or the governor? What can we do to prevent the catastrophe that we farmers are looking at?”

“You should be picking up on a common theme here, that the environmental restrictions we’re operating under are killing us,” said Watte. “How bad will it be before we say the threat of going back before an environmentally friendly judge is worth the risk of not having a potentially live river that will support many fish species. I think we’ve reached the point where we need to go back and revisit this issue because the path we’re on is not sustainable.”

Watte’s final comment came after Manuel Cunha Jr., president of the Nisei Farmers League, asked if the state legislature was willing to suspend some of the environmental regulations to allow the building of additional water storage capacity?

“They’ll set aside the environmental regulations to build a football stadium in southern California,” said Watte. “How about setting them aside to build a dam?”

To get more information on the drought situation in California, go to


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