All of ’em. I’ll speak for all the agencies right now.

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.


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16 responses to “All of ’em. I’ll speak for all the agencies right now.

  1. Tim McSweeney

    Really interesting post. Let’s see what happens.

    On Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 6:47 PM, On the public record wrote:

    > onthepublicrecord posted: “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 no” >

  2. If only people were rational actors, it would all be so easy…

  3. Brad

    As a non-agency, non-ag person and non-Valley resident with nothing more than an interest that we don’t kill off every salmon bearing river in our state, I have to admit this post makes perfect sense to me. We don’t have to keep every acre in the Valley in production to try to feed the world at the expense of every other species that depends on the water flowing from the Sierra, which includes people in Urban areas. One thing California can give the farmers more easily than all the water they want is cash. I fully approve of my taxes being used to take acres out of irrigated ag production and put to other uses. And I’d damn sure rather see acres of solar panels making kilowatts of electricity than acres of thirsty nut trees that suck up kilowatts running the pumps it takes to get water to them—a non-sustainable dying proposition in many respects.

  4. caroleekrieger

    All of the salt laced, selenium tainted lands over the Corcoran Clay could be retired and converted to lucrative solar farms generating something California and the world really needs…clean sustainable energy. Retiring these marginal lands from irrigated agriculture makes so much sense. Doing it to meet flow standards upholds the laws of California on many levels. Maybe the time is now!!

  5. Larry

    Great post with wonderful ideas. Now we’ll see who is open to making change a positive.

  6. Are they making any more land gentlemen?? I see short-sightedness.

    • Uptown Girl

      .. What is “land gentlemen” and will a solar energy facility somehow destroy the land and real estate with the solar panels floating in air then?

  7. Prior to diversion of the water this acreage was not in production and we had a viable fishing industry. California citizens did not have much voice in the decision to allow large agriculture interests to to create this disaster – it’s time to reverse this wrong.

  8. Julie

    The need for continuous flows keeps the river water warmer and is actually “one” of the killers of salmonids. When the rivers used to dry in patches and the bedrock pooled, the salmon could over-summer in the cool pools and reproduce. Now, the constant stream has raised the overall temperature and there is die-off. “water-in-the-river” does not solve fish reproduction. Have you ever wondered what else eats the salmonid besides non-native species that have been brought in? It’s not all about the flows…just too simple and too easy to kill the farmers, ask a scientist who is not paid for by the state and all of the special interests and you might hear some things that might make you think twice about your long held assumptions that it’s all about the constant flow! Most rivers I know of dry in patches every summer, it makes common sense. Most brush is burned out of forests due to fires started by lightning strikes and the wildlife benefits. Human pressure on our lands, rivers, forests, etc are “one” of the killers of salmonids. Why not move the folks in CA out of the desert and the LA basin because they are using water that would not be there if we didn’t move it there for them. Who gives them priority and guaranteed us of water? Where does their food come from? What is sustainable? Probably a combination of being better stewards of the system.

    • As some have noted, Californian science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Kim Stanley Robinson are always talking about terraforming Mars. Perhaps that’s due to the experience of growing up in southern California suburbs? More than any other state, California’s been terraformed to become livable for industrial civilization.

      California won’t work without this huge system of dams, aqueducts, and pumps, not matter how sub-rational their actual design is. Yes, the Sacramento River was (and at some point will be again) a great, flood-prone river. Unfortunately for us Californians, a rewilded California, where river flows aren’t diverted to feed huge industrial farms, ranches, and cities, probably would only support perhaps a million people, possibly two million, more likely 50,000. Where do all those surplus people (that would be me, probably you too) go? Detroit?

      At this point, we’re stuck as part of a horribly complex, badly thought-out government-industrial complex that will break down if not constantly tinkered with. And the consequence of a huge breakdown would be *bad,* not just for us, but for native species (you really think hungry and/or desperate people obey environmental laws?). We’re also stuck with at least a couple of centuries of climate change, if not the 100,000 years of changed climate we’re currently barreling towards. We’re in a position where we can’t restore lots of native species to their former habitat, especially in the Central Valley and coastal southern California. The best we can do is to try to save some in “life boat” preserves, try to sneak some of them into the suburbs and native gardens and habituated wildlife, just to give them a chance. Sooner or later this great, clunking terraformation experiment that is our state will collapse and shatter, and it would be nice to give at least some of the species that were here before it a chance to recolonize in the aftermath.

    • Your assertions about stream flow and wildfire causes seem to contradict what I am told by a wide variety of scientists.

      As far as stream flow, humans need flow into the Delta too since lack of flow out to the ocean would allow salt water into the pumps that supply water to cities and farms.

  9. jaylund

    This is a time for thoughtful compromise. Neither agricultural nor environmental ideals have a reasonable hope of being successful in the long run, even if they win in the short term.

  10. dzetland

    There’s an easy mechanism for this (assuming funding, rather than eminent domain), i.e., a “reverse auction” where districts or — better — farmers compete to offer the lowest price to take their land off irrigation (they can stay with rain, of course). This brings the volunteers forward to get paid and minimizes fighting. (I can talk more on this to anyone ;)

  11. Well written and provocative. Still, agribusiness interests will trump these notions. I would go so far to say the entire market chain, from production inputs to the fork and table-chain employs 25% of California’s population when you include tractor parts, golf clubs, lawyers, bankers, insurance, refrigerators, trucking, processing, booze, Cheerios and farm fuels. That’s a whole bunch of pay checks and stockholders, with all the attendant financial statement messengers that prefer the status quo, enjoy the tragedy of the commons.
    With such success however, removing a significant portion of irrigated agriculture in the West (we don’t want it all to just shift to Colorado and Arizona) must include CAFE-style regulation of irrigation efficiency and nitrogen use efficiency over all the rest. Very doable. Very profitable. Very intellegent. We need to evolve incentivized.

    • onthepublicrecord

      My prediction, based on what I’ve seen of the climate change predictions, is that about 3 million irrigated acres in California will be retired. That’ll happen no matter what we do, because the water won’t be there and cities will get tired of conserving when they can change laws instead. My only question is whether it’ll happen in an unplanned and brutal way, or in a planned and possibly less brutal way.

  12. This commentary is on the points made by OTPR regarding the current window of opportunity for policymakers and regulators to really look at supporting utility scale solar development on drainage impaired farmlands in the valley to meet our future water and energy needs. Currently what is holding up more than 10,000 MW’s of solar development in the San Joaquin is political willpower, more transmission, and a long term commitment to seeing solar developed in the central valley. The Westlands Solar Park is building more than 700 MW’s in next 5 years with thousands of MW’s more in the pipeline to meet California’s renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals while also retiring thousands of acres of drainage impaired farmland. Over the last 6 years there have been countless reports, studies, articles and blogs published that support why CA should be developing solar in the valley…

    Click to access smartfromthestartreport12_print.pdf

    …And if there is political will hundreds of thousands or more acres of drainage impaired farmland can be retired and converted to solar to meet our environmental, water and renewable energy goals. This is a win-win-win for CA and the central valley communities as we plan for where we will get our water and energy in a post climate change world.