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State lawmakers must boost water storage
Vince Fong
Assemblyman Vince Fong

Californians are facing the most severe drought conditions since 1977. Some communities in the Central Valley lack access to even basic necessities like clean drinking water. Farmers, if they haven’t already, will be forced to abandon portions of their crops, eliminating jobs and income and prompting higher food prices for families across the country. This reality is unfathomable.

Californians need water storage now. 

California’s last significant water infrastructure investment, the State Water Project, was built over 50 years ago when the state’s population was a mere 16 million. Today, California is home to nearly 40 million people and the state’s farmland to produce vital food supplies has increased by 3,140%. It goes without saying – California’s water storage infrastructure needs to increase to meet growing needs. 

With a $38 billion one-time windfall, the Governor and the Legislature has the resources to make needed investments in critical water storage. California voters made it clear that water storage was a top priority by passing Proposition 1 in 2014, but much of the committed $2.7 billion is stuck in a regulatory vortex. 

Last month, state regulators ordered 4,500 farmers, water districts and landowners to stop drawing water from the Sacramento River and San Joaquin River basins. These restrictions represent the most extensive cuts to California’s water rights system to date and are especially crippling for farmers who do not have any other source of water. 

Farmers throughout the state have fallowed their crops, pulled out vines and trees and left land empty. Crops are left withering and food production limited.

One Central Valley farmer, Phil Hansen, was forced to make the difficult decision to fallow 2,000 acres of his family operation in response to the drought. While Hansen described this choice as a devastating economic blow, he is already bracing himself for the compounding impacts next season. A record dry year coupled with inadequate state water storage infrastructure sets farmers like Hansen up for failure in the years to come. 

The reduction of farmland will not only be felt by farmers. Families will face higher prices for food. The affordability crisis in our state will intensify.

Agriculture contributes over $50 billion to California’s economy, and the Central Valley feeds and clothes the world. The livelihood of over 800,000 farmworkers and their families depends on the viability of California farms. Despite such a strong and positive economic impact, the Central Valley continues to bear the brunt of the state’s lack of planning for long-term water storage. 

The state’s budget was signed into law over two months ago, yet there is still no formal commitment for long-term water storage funding. Meanwhile, the state’s conveyance systems are crumbling and Californians face an uncertain water future.

The state’s lack of urgency to build drought resilience through water storage is a direct hit to the Central Valley and underserved communities in desperate need of water.

California must act immediately, and use part of the $38 billion windfall to fund new water storage projects and make repairs on existing water infrastructure. And we have the resources to do it.

Facing a bleak and uncertain future in this historic drought, Californians – especially those in the Central Valley – need the Governor and Legislature to prioritize water storage in this year’s budget.

The prosperity of the state’s agricultural global standing and the lives of nearly 40 million Californians depend on it.

Assemblyman Vince Fong is the Vice Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. He represents the 34th Assembly District, encompassing most of Kern County including the communities of Bakersfield, Bear Valley Springs, China Lake, Frazier Park, Golden Hills, Inyokern, Lebec, Oildale, Ridgecrest, Taft, and Tehachapi.