California Lawsuit Over Water for Farmers

Tacy CalliesCalifornia Corner, Water

California
Drip irrigation using well water has become the standard method for watering citrus in the dry areas of Southern and Central California. While it conserves water, it does not provide enough water to replenish the underground supply, as is now mandated by the state. Supplementation with flood irrigation using water brought in from the rain-rich northern part of the state mitigates this shortfall and can eliminate the overdraft of groundwater.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has filed a lawsuit to stop the federal government from increasing water deliveries to California farmers, including growers in the citrus regions of Central and Southern California. The increased deliveries are needed to comply with new state requirements to improve groundwater recharge efforts.

The increased deliveries came about by changes in biological opinions. Biological opinions are documents issued by federal or state environmental scientists that provide a scientific analysis of an ecosystem. The opinions are used to determine whether and what kind of protections are needed for endangered species. The new opinions from the federal government indicated that more water could be released without endangering rivers.

According to the lawsuit, the biological opinions that were prepared by the federal agencies were inadequate. The state claims it lacks the needed safeguards to protect species and habitat in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds.

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“As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not destroy it,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

The lawsuit is just the latest in the ongoing war of words between Newsom and President Trump. In February, Trump signed a presidential memorandum supporting more water development and delivery in California. At the President’s direction, the agencies involved increased deliveries, prompting the lawsuit from the California governor.

“President Trump gave the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce clear direction to move forward and provide water to California’s communities and farms,” said David Bernhardt, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

In response to the governor’s lawsuit, the secretary said, “Our team of career professionals did a great job using the best available science to develop new operational plans for the coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The governor and attorney general just launched a ship into a sea of unpredictable administrative and legal challenges regarding the most complex water operations in the country, something they have not chartered before.”

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Len Wilcox

Correspondent at Large for Citrus Industry Magazine and AgNet West