Strategies for Surviving SGMA Workshop Recap

The first workshop of the day at our Annual Citrus Showcase focused on critical water issues where CCM is actively engaged and displayed a strong panel including Friant Water Authority’s CEO Jason Phillips,  Greater Kaweah GSA General Manager Eric Osterling, 4Creeks Principal David DeGroot, and CCM Water Task Force Chairman and Grower Pete Hronis.  The panel was moderated by CCM’s President Casey Creamer.

Phillips started the discussion by giving a thorough update on the subsidence issues that are significantly affecting surface water delivery capacity in the South Valley including Friant’s work on fostering several key partnerships with other public water agencies throughout the Valley to jointly consider infrastructure opportunities that can take advantage of storing, conveying, and recharging water whenever it is available.  Phillips emphasized that these partnerships will be critical to increasing water availability and reducing the amount of land that will need to be permanently retired as a result of SGMA.  Phillips said the San Joaquin Valley will need an additional 2.5 million acre feet of water per year to become sustainable. Even with the addition of Temperance Flat Dam, storage capacity would only increase the Valley’s water supply by 200,000 acre feet which would still put the Valley at a deficit of more than 1 million acre feet per year to sustain its current needs.

Hronis said the primary goal of farmers should be to avoid state intervention by coordinating the GSAs to come up with a plan that works for the greatest number of farmers.  Hronis urged every grower to attend GSA meetings to understand what’s going on with farmers in their area and how their property fits into the plan.  Hronis also challenged farmers not to stop at projects that have already been in motion.  He said plans to increase storage above Fresno won’t have much of an effect on reversing the Valley’s status as an over drafted groundwater basin and warned against pinning hopes on any storage projects as a solution to the problem.  Hronis said that the local GSAs will need to come up with other ways to build more groundwater recharge.

DeGroot said surface water may be the answer for those who have access to it, but many do not. He said the “haves” need to be good stewards of the water they receive to avoid pumping water and drawing from the only supply available to the “have-nots.” David said growers should already know how much water their operation uses during the year, and if they don’t, he suggests spending a lot of time on it for the rest of the year.  DeGroot said farmers had three options:  1) conserve more water; 2) bring in additional surface water; and 3) quit consuming water.  He said farmers, especially citrus growers, have already transitioned to drip irrigation and moved away from flooding for frost protection to conserve water and that all of the available surface water, at least all the system can currently handle, is fully allocated to those with water rights.  That leaves option 3, which means fallowing land.  David said retiring crop yielding acreage may seem like the answer to some, but he said that solution comes with new problems, such as lower property value, which mean lower property taxes for local government – it is also the most controversial and the most difficult.

DeGroot also encouraged farmers to go to the GSA meetings and see what options are available.  Does your GSA offer surface water credits, where farmers who conserve water for most of the year can use extra water during their growing season?  Can these water credits be transferred from land in one GSA to land in another?  Can they be transferred across county lines from one farmer’s property in one area to another?

Finally, Hronis ended the workshop by saying that farmers need to stick together, educate themselves on their water use and stay involved with their GSA.

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