Aug 4, 2014

Kevin McCarthy: Coming together for water for our community

PORTERVILLE RECORDER | August 2, 2014

Water is the lifeblood of our community. Unfortunately, we are now seeing thousands of acres of once-productive farmland sitting fallow and citrus trees being ripped out of the ground from a lack of water. The images are crushing, but the real life impacts are more far reaching.

This drought will not end until Mother Nature blesses our state with precipitation, but Federal and state laws and regulations have exacerbated this situation and will continue to do so until meaningful changes are made. For instance, of the limited water that is moving through the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, some of it is going to wildlife refuges instead of Tulare County communities. This is what current law requires.

Furthermore, because of environmental protections for future migrating salmon – yes, for future migrations – the Federal government will not move any additional water that may be in the Central Valley Project (CVP) through the Delta to eastside and westside communities in the Central Valley.

This means the Bureau of Reclamation has begun first-ever releases from Millerton Lake to farmers along the San Joaquin River, based on seniority and contractual obligations. Normally, this water goes to Porterville, Tulare County, and other eastside Valley communities through the Friant system while the San Joaquin River farmers get water through the Delta, which of course is not happening.

That is why I asked Valley water managers, including the Friant Water Authority, to develop a plan to get our farmers and communities the water we desperately need. The result – the 2014 CVP Ag Communities Emergency Relief Water Allotment working proposal, which was developed by our water managers and contractors.

This proposal would make available 200,000 acre-feet of water from Shasta Lake, currently projected to have up to 1 million acre-feet in it by September’s end, to the Central Valley. This water would be divvyed up primarily between the Valley’s eastside and westside.

This is not a long-term or comprehensive solution to the drought, but with our farmers facing a zero percent water allocation, every drop counts. If implemented, this proposal gives Friant the ability to use this water or make transfers to potentially free up water in Millerton Lake for our farmers and communities in Tulare County.

After achieving consensus between Central Valley CVP water districts, the onus is now on the federal government to act on it since the law gives federal and state regulators the final say on implementation. That is why I have already asked the Bureau of Reclamation to work with Central Valley CVP water districts to refine and implement this proposal, and have personally relayed to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell this week the need to act on this proposal immediately. The sooner they act, the sooner we can move water through the Delta so our communities can once again use Millerton Lake water.

Unfortunately, this current debacle is another example of why we should not leave our fate to the whims of federal or state regulators. This is why I worked with Congressmen Nunes and Valadao to pass the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act earlier this year. This bill rebalances priorities to put people before fish and allows more water to move throughout California to communities when the rains return.

The Senate finally passed a long-overdue water bill, and now discussions have begun on a solution. As the legislative process continues, refining and implementing the 2014 CVP Ag Communities Emergency Relief Water Allotment working proposal is something that ought to be done quickly to provide some relief.

Our communities are running out of water and people’s livelihoods are on the line. Action is required, which is why I am pursuing all options – legislative and regulatory action. As Porterville’s and eastern Tulare County’s representative in Congress, be assured I will continue to work to get our local communities the water we so desperately need.

Kevin McCarthy is the representative of California’s 23rd congressional district.