State Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) issued the following statement regarding the California State Board of Food and Agriculture’s meeting with the governor’s Drought Task Force and local leaders to discuss the drought’s impact on agriculture at UC Merced today:
“Our current drought is affecting every part of this region. I am concerned that if we do not act to protect our water, we will be facing repercussions that will last far longer than this current water emergency.
“I am greatly concerned about the issue of usurping the holders of current water rights. For decades, our farming community has relied on those rights to be able to ensure that they can operate even under stressed conditions. Take, for example, the rights of the exchange contractors. In February, the US Bureau of Reclamation announced they would provide 40 percent of their allocation. If the state water board is to prevail over the bureau, the consequences would be devastating not just in the short-term but in the long-term.
“I fully agree with the importance of conserving water for the health and safety of the public if this emergency continues. We must however take into account that exchanges are different than transfers. Water transfers are limited by engineering and physics. An exchange is different as it provides water managers greater flexibility because water can be exchanged for delivery to communities that need it most without the same engineering and physical limitations. If there is no water south of the Delta, these types of exchanges are not possible. If the state eliminates the allocation to the exchange contractors, a valuable tool for water management will be lost.
“The state’s assumption that the exchange contractors can rely upon groundwater is faulty and will deprive many users of their only source of water. 80% of the growers in the region do not have their own wells. Even district owned wells can only deliver up to half an acre-foot per acre in some areas. It must be noted, however, that is spread throughout the entire irrigation season. It also assumes there is surface water flowing in the canals to minimize water loss. This could result in the fallowing of over 200,000 acres in the exchange contractors' service area.
“The economic impacts to their region would be staggering. It was only four years ago when communities reached unemployment rates of over 40%. The state provided emergency food deliveries in Firebaugh, Huron, Mendota, Selma and San Joaquin. 46% of the total employment in the exchange contractors' service area and those communities is related to agriculture. For some communities, this number increases to 84%. Over 4,000 jobs within the area are in jeopardy. In just one year, there would be an over $800 million loss in the region if those acres were to be fallowed.
“When you look at the long-term impacts, they are every bit as devastating. If the state is able to rescind those rights, the precedent will have a domino effect. Those water users rely on their water rights to be able to obtain financing that keep their businesses open. By allowing the state to have unilateral discretion over those rights, there will be major impacts to the yearly operations of the agriculture industry.
“The bottom line is we cannot allow for a zero-allocation for water rights holders such as the exchange contractors. I believe in the health and welfare of the public and fully support actions that will provide water to those that need it during this drought. I do not however believe that this action would support those goals.”