Department of Interior Seeks ‘Action Plan’ to Deliver More Water to California Farmers

In a memo to the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asked for an action plan to “maximize water deliveries for agriculture” in the Central Valley of California. The action follows a recent move by the California State Water Resources Control Board to reduce exports of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta to support fish populations, while reducing deliveries to some farms and cities, including the Central Valley.

The memo sets up a challenge between control of federal and state water resources in California. BOR has threatened to sue California if the plan to reduce exports is made final. And if water deliveries to agricultural interests increase, the residents of southern California are likely to face shortages.

Secretary Zinke’s memo asked for an action plan in 15 days that would outline plans for increasing water deliveries, constructing water storage, reassessing legal opinions, and preparing legal and legislative options.

In addition to highlighting the challenging dynamics between water supply and food production in California, the move by California officials could also result in more pumping of groundwater in an area where subsidence and groundwater overdraft is already a problem.

NGWA will submit a letter to BOR officials, urging groundwater recharge to be a part of the action plan during discussion of water storage. The Groundwater Foundation 2018 McEllhiney Lecturer Todd Halihan, Ph.D., P.Gp., is presenting one of his lecturers on this water shortage issue, “The Future of Water: Data or Instincts?”

NGWA Government Affairs Director Lauren Schapker will discuss the California challenge and the issue of the water-energy-food nexus during a webinar taking place on September 6 hosted by the American Geophysical Union.