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My Turn: California's Water Wars

California's Water Wars

By Don Cameron
Helm, Calif.
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Here in the West, California to be specific, farmers are always six months from a possible drought. Due to the re-strictions on water storage and the ability to transfer water to the south half of California, San Joaquin Valley farmers never know from one year to the next what their water supply will be.

Recently, Congressmen Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and Jeff Denham co-authored H.R. 1837, a water bill that would increase deliveries to the Valley’s farmers while throwing aside the 2009 San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act that allocated water
to restore salmon runs in the San Joaquin River system.

The 2009 Act settled an 18-year court battle between environmentalists and farmers in central California and promised a plan to reintroduce salmon and water flows to a river that essentially ran dry 30 miles downstream from the dam used to divert and store its water.

As expected, H.R. 1837 was passed in the House and will most likely be defeated in the Senate. California’s two senators have not supported the bill, and the President opposes and has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

This legislation has focused attention on the water battles that have been ongoing in California for generations. In the past, disagreements were among the various water users. Now it’s among the original water users and those fighting for environmental causes.

California farmers have implemented water- saving techniques, ranging from major investments in underground drip irrigation systems to soil moisture monitoring and irrigation scheduling for virtually all of the crops being grown in these water-starved regions. Every farmer relying on state and federal water in California has become an expert in gaining the most productivity out of every drop of water allocated to his farm. Becoming more “sustainable” with water use may not be possible without leaving acres fallow or pumping groundwater from deep, pressured aquifers.

Unfortunately, water politics are like any politics these days – polarized, uncompromising and self-righteous and lacking the ability to reach solutions for those affected. Court decisions, appeals, new decisions and yet more appeals continue to shape our world.
Although H.R. 1837 may not be the solution to our water problems here in the state, it has awakened our politicians to the plight that California farmers south of the Delta face with unreliable water supplies and the growing frustration faced on a yearly basis.

Hopefully, it will put pressure on both sides to solve our water problems.

There are solutions to this situation:

• Water banking and recharge projects to replenish underground water supplies to get through the dry years.

• Water storage projects and dams in areas where environmental impacts are lessened would go a long way to relieving our plight.

• And, of course, moving water south through or around the Delta, an area that is an engineer’s delight with study after study but nothing decided or built.

Farmers are innovative, creative and resourceful, but without water to irrigate our crops, the most successful and productive farmers and farmland in the world will eventually suffer severe economic losses too great to recover. These losses translate not only to lost farm income, but to the thousands of farm families and workers who depend on the precious supply of water each year.

Just when it seems the drought won’t end, it rains. We are an optimistic bunch. Possibly, our elected officials will come together, and H.R. 1837 or its components can give some relief to the parched San Joaquin Valley of California.

– Don Cameron, Helm, Calif.

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