The State Board is setting instream flows for the rivers of the northern San Joaquin Valley. Their first estimate is that districts must leave about 40% of the unimpaired flow in the rivers. That would be about 390,000af more water in the rivers than now; with our rule of thumb, we can estimate 130,000 acres of irrigated lands going out of production. The locals are vowing to fight the impending decision. Stockton East has alluded to extortion; I would like to turn that mention of extortion on its head.
Farmers, districts and cities in these riversheds, I bring you a message from the liberal environmentalist dictators. Without any reservation, I speak to you on behalf of all the ignorant and power-hungry regulators. I tell you this: Right now, if you come up with a proposal to retire lands to meet these instream flows, we are extremely willing to be extorted. Put together a proposal; ask for everything you want. We would love to work out a good transition with you.
District managers! Is there a lateral that never worked well for you? A canal that has been losing capacity as subsidence changes the slope of the land? Farmers! Do you have land that never drained well? Or is salting up? Are you getting old, and not sure what to do with the farm?
Put together a plan to take some tens of acres that diverted from these rivers out of irrigated farming. Ask for the State to fund conversion to intentional groundwater recharge or seasonal wetlands. Ask for what you want. Landowners, do you want to live on the grounds (not irrigating) until you are ready to leave? Do you want your workers to be trained for the land’s new function? Do you want your lands to be part of research with a university? Or a county park? Or converted to solar power generation? Ask. Any cooperative partnership to retire irrigated lands to help meet these instream flows would be met with open arms and probably grant funds.
I understand that the local districts have to bluster and fight these instream flow requirements. I think it is good to have this fight. If the laws protecting fish flows aren’t ever used or don’t hold up, there’s no point in having them. But I predict these recommended instream flows will be upheld.
If so, local water districts, how do you want change to come to your district? Suddenly, with no thought of what comes next? Land prices crashing; bankruptcy determining who leaves and who stays? Or is there anything you want (recharge lands, habitat to grow some damn fish so the regulators don’t always try to solve fish problems with flow, land for carbon sequestration, solar power generation)? Is there anything that would make this bearable for landowners (life tenancy, slow transition times, re-training their people)? If there is, put together a plan and ask for everything you want. You would be shocked at how willing the State would be to support an affirmative proposal to convert land to help meet these instream flows.