AJOT Insights

California farmers say drought is over but regulatory constraints remain

Feb 09, 2017

Thanks to record 2016-2017 rainfall, the long California drought is over and California growers are feeling positive about the 2017 outlook.

Nevertheless, the drought has caused the State of California to invoke conservation measures that will have the effect of reducing water supplies to growers and they are not happy.

Mike Wade, executive director California Farm Water Federation, told AJOT: “This year has been exceptionally good so far when it comes to precipitation in California. On January 21, Northern California passed the average precipitation mark for the entire year and we’re currently tracking ahead of 1982-83, the wettest year on record.”

However, Wade is concerned about regulatory constraints: “Agriculture has two primary risk exposures when it comes to water supply- natural precipitation and regulatory constraints. Natural precipitation is clearly positive this year…. We’re remaining optimistic because of a fairly plentiful snowpack and the fact that many of the state’s key reservoirs are above average in storage year-to-date. Farmers I talk to are looking at ways to continue to save water and manage this year’s seemingly abundant supplies, with careful consideration for a possible return to drier conditions next year and the year after that.”

Wade said, “Regulatory constraints are a perennial problem. Water supply restrictions designed to protect endangered species have been significant the past few years and, sadly, have not improved the populations of protected salmon or Delta smelt. We were fortunate that in December federal legislators passed comprehensive drought reform that lessened some of the water supply restrictions that were being instituted by federal fishery biologists. Simply put, federal water supplies must now be delivered to the maximum allowable level under the Endangered Species Act unless it can be shown that those water deliveries will actually harm salmon or Delta smelt.”

Wade concludes, “this year’s wet winter and federal legislative relief have created positive conditions for many agricultural water users. Time will tell how durable this relief is, but for now, the farmers I talk to are encouraged.”

Author Photo
Stas Margaronis
American Journal of Transportation