Farm groups say they've had positive discussions with Gov. Gavin Newsom's office about California's water future, which became murkier with Thursday's scrapping of the $16 billion WaterFix blueprint.
California Citrus Mutual and other agricultural and water organizations say they have been working with the administration to improve water supply and reliability as local governments implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
CCM reports that the administration has been receptive to grower groups so far. The anticipated new water portfolio "is another good sign that Newsom is serious about addressing the needs of our rural agricultural communities," Citrus Mutual asserts in a news release.
[Related: Newsom officially kills Jerry Brown’s Delta twin tunnels project -- Bay Area News Group]
The citrus organization will continue to engage the administration on the development of the water portfolio to address growers' needs, its leaders say.
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced today it is withdrawing proposed permits for WaterFix and starting a new environmental review and planning process for a smaller, single tunnel that officials say will protect a critical source of water supplies for California.
Newsom's new direction
Thursday’s actions implement Gov. Gavin Newsom’s direction earlier this year to modernize the state’s water delivery infrastructure by pursuing a smaller, single tunnel project through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
As ABC News reports, the move comes after $240 million has already been spent on the project championed by former Gov. Jerry Brown to divert water from the north to the state's southern farms and cities.
[Related: Newsom scraps $16B plan for tunnels to deliver water to Southern California -- Fox News]
The revised project is needed to protect water supplies from sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion into the Delta, as well as earthquake risk, officials say. It will be designed to protect water supply reliability while limiting impacts on local Delta communities and fish.
This action follows the governor’s recent executive order directing state agencies to develop a comprehensive statewide strategy to build a climate-resilient water system.
“A smaller project, coordinated with a wide variety of actions to strengthen existing levee protections, protect Delta water quality, recharge depleted groundwater reserves, and strengthen local water supplies across the state, will build California’s water supply resilience,” said Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot.
DWR Director Karla Nemeth took action to rescind various permitting applications for the WaterFix project, including those in front of the State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and federal agencies responsible for compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Documents related to these actions are available here.
DWR will work with local public water agencies that are partners in the conveyance project to incorporate the latest science and innovation to design the new conveyance project, and work with Delta communities and other stakeholders to limit local impacts of the project.
On April 29th, Newsom issued Executive Order N-10-19, which directs the state's Natural Resources Agency, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Food and Agriculture to develop a water resiliency portfolio. The water portfolio will be designed to reassess the priorities identified in the 2016 California Water Action Plan.
[Related: Gavin Newsom officially kills twin Delta tunnels, eyes downsized CA water project -- Sacramento Bee]
Last week, Citrus Mutual board members and other officials traveled to Sacramento to meet with legislators, regulatory agencies, and the administration on key policy issues impacting the industry. Among their visits, the leaders met with California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross and former CDFA secretary Bill Lyons, who was appointed to the newly created position of agricultural liaison to the governor.
CCM also met with Patrick Pulupa, the executive officer of the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board, and shared their concerns about water quality issues in the Central Valley and the impact to their communities and businesses.
Representatives say Pulupa discussed the board’s efforts in moving ahead with the Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability (CV-SALTS) initiative and the citrus industry’s proactive approach in improving management practices that improve water quality.
Willing 'to work with us'
CCM officials also talked with Sean Maguire, a civil engineer who was appointed to the State Water Resources Control Board in December 2018. CCM discussed the future of water for the Central Valley both in terms of supply and quality.
"Mr. Maguire was very candid in his willingness to work with us as a stakeholder and stressed his understanding of the impacts agriculture is feeling and will feel – both economically and socially," CCM stated in a news release. "We also discussed the need for additional stakeholder involvement when it comes to issues that affect business and livelihoods.
"CCM looks forward to its continued working relationship with Mr. Maguire."