State Assemblyman Adam C. Gray (D-Merced) expressed his outrage in a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board on Thursday over the board’s recent decision to label water used to grow food as a “wasteful and unreasonable use,” and its developing plans to halt flows to farmers throughout the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed.
“The Board’s history of failing to balance the necessary sacrifices required during times of severe drought against the real-life impacts of those sacrifices is well documented,” wrote Gray in the letter to Board Chairman Joaquin Esquivel.
The Water Board will meet Aug. 3-4 and a final decision to further limit surface-water diversions through much of the state is expected on Aug. 17. Even as the board schemes to halt “surface diversions” by roughly 10,000 farmers, there are no mandatory statewide conservation requirements for people living in urban areas. That means people living in largely rural areas – including Gray’s Assembly District 21, which includes Merced County and the western half of Stanislaus County – will bear the overwhelming economic and social burdens created by the drought.
“In no other industry would the destruction of billions of dollars in economic productivity and thousands of jobs by a state regulator be tolerated,” Gray wrote in his letter. “The Board must stop acting as a political entity, intent on promoting the anti-agriculture, anti-growth mentality of special interests, and instead prioritize its limited function as a regulator.”
In the Northern San Joaquin Valley, restrictions on irrigation will result in the loss of thousands of acres of fruit, nut, dairy, and vegetable production. That, in turn, will cost the thousands of jobs in canneries, cheese and ice cream manufacturing, winemaking, and across dozens of related industries.
“To justify its attempt to usurp century-old water rights, the Board is relying on grossly inaccurate water forecasting methods,” said Gray. “This year, state modeling miscalculated the amount of runoff from the Sierra by 800,000 acre-feet – more than enough water to supply every resident of the city of Los Angeles for a year. We’ve seen such gross incompetence and ignorance of actual conditions before in the Board’s demands for higher river flows to save native fish species even as the state’s foremost river scientists agree that flows alone will not solve the problem of diminishing salmon and smelt populations.”
“The Board’s long-term failure to improve egregiously inaccurate predictive tools “has resulted in unnecessary and wasteful reservoir releases which have harmed anadromous fish populations, created regulatory drought, and worsened the real impacts of actual drought,” Gray wrote in his letter.
Instead of allowing the Board to dictate measures that will force many farming families into bankruptcy, Gray believes that those who rely on water stored in dams know best how to conserve that water. While farmers must make significant sacrifices during periods of prolonged drought, Gray believes they should have a say in how those sacrifices are implemented.
Gray also believes any conservation goals imposed on farmers must be matched by comparable requirements for people living in urban areas.
“What’s more important,” Gray asked, “making sure farmers can grow food for your tables or making sure someone’s lawn in Bel Air never turns brown around the edges?” Gray noted that similar Water Board actions during the last drought were overturned in court, and he believes the Board’s recent actions will meet the same fate.
“Despite this demonization of farmers as water wasters, they can and have proven to be some of California’s most effective conservationists – not just during drought, but for the past 140 years,” wrote Gray.