PLF Board Chair provides important reminder of California's regulatory drought


Author: Brandon Middleton

Although California has received a significant amount of precipitation over the past several months, it is crucial to remember the worrisome long-term prospects for water users throughout the state.  Thanks largely to the Endangered Species Act and the flawed regulatory regime it brings, farmers and municipalities are still unable to receive 100% of their contractual allocation of water.  This is despite all the wet weather we've had in 2011–just think what will happen next year and in later years if Mother Nature is not so cooperative.

John Harris, Chairman of PLF's Board of Trustees and CEO of Harris Farms, addressed this subject in an op-ed in yesterday's Fresno Bee.  John's op-ed is a sobering but needed reminder that California's regulatory drought is far from over.

Here is an excerpt:

[W]hile we are all thrilled by the dramatic turnaround in water supply, there are justified fears about future years. Although the natural drought has ended, we're still faced with harmful regulatory barriers to getting the needed water to those who grow the food and provide the stimulus our economy needs.

Most of the regulatory restrictions are part of a misguided federal scheme to help fish on the Endangered Species Act list. The cutbacks in pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were based on federal "biological opinions" that too often involved junk science, as Fresno-based U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger found.

Not surprisingly, the strategy didn't significantly help the species. But it had one clear effect: putting people out of work and decimating local economies in the Valley.

The cycles of planting and harvesting require planning. Arbitrary, unpredictable government water policies make planning a guessing game — or downright impossible. Even with more water in the system, uncertainties continue to plague water users.

Farmers have been frustrated as we've tried to sort through the vague forecasts about water deliveries. Even in March, when it was clear that reservoirs were almost certain to be full, federal water users were told to expect only a 60% water supply. By May, we were told that supplies are fine — but we needed certainty of that much earlier in the year.

We are delighted to get what we have, but it's still not 100%. Why the shortfall? A May 2 press release from the California Department of Water Resources was candid: It said that a 100% allocation is "difficult to achieve even in wet years due to pumping restrictions" for ESA-protected fish.