Western Governors’ Drought Forum in California highlights impact of drought on agriculture

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MEETING SUMMARY: Read WGA's complete report on the meeting.

MEDIA COVERAGE: Read this Associated Press story and listen to additional reports on KQED and Capitol Public Radio.

The third workshop of the Western Governors’ Drought Forum examined the challenges facing agriculture during a period of drought. Following are some highlights of “Drought Impacts and Solutions in the Agricultural Sector,” a two-day meeting (Nov. 13-14) at the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. The workshop was organized by the Western Governors' Association (WGA) for the Chairman’s Initiative of WGA Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.  (Here's the final agenda and a list of attendees.)

Cal Sandoval SmileGov. SandovalOpening Remarks: California Gov. Jerry Brown, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval

Governor Sandoval

  • “Drought is the new normal. We have to plan for variability in water supplies, not just reference historical flows and assume that we will have the same median flows going forward."
  • "These farmers (in Nevada) … they come to me and they feel really helpless. They don't know what to do. And their livelihood is at stake."

Cal Brown Smile TalkGov. BrownGovernor Brown

  • “Our state is incredibly engineered in the way that we have constructed our lives and resources together. Our lives are so highly engineered, and to move forward we need to embrace that fact, not turn away from it, by enhancing the nature of our engineered water resources and utilizing them as effectively as possible.”
  • "The drought will test our imagination and our science, our technology and our political capacity to collaborate."

Roundtable: What is Drought? A Slow-Moving Disaster through the Lenses of Agriculture, Water Management and Environment 

  • Kelly Redmond, Regional Climatologist, Desert Research Institute: “The same sequence of events happening in nature can have very different consequences for Cal Kelly RedmondKelly Redmonddifferent sectors. For example, an irrigated farm may be right next to a dry-land operation geographically, but economically they could be in completely different situations due to drought.”
  • Jason King, State Engineer, State of Nevada: “There are so many components to successfully dealing with drought, but some of the most important include fostering a culture of conservation, keeping policy flexible enough to move water from wet to dry efficiently through transfers, and improving technology to utilize alternate sources of water.”
  • Jared Blumenfeld, EPA Region 9 Administrator: "There is finger-pointing between agricultural and urban interests. The goal should be to make urban and ag understand it is a shared problem."

Roundtable: Drought Impacts in Agricultural Sector

  • Karen Ross, Secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture: “Irrigators that utilize surface water allocations need to be planning their water supplies at least two or three years in advance. Most importantly, they need to be identifying opportunities to buy or store additional water.”
  • Cal Audience WaycroftRichard Waycott, Almond Board of California Paul Wenger, President, California Farm Bureau Federation: “Water conservation efforts work, but what we have done through conservation policies is assume that we can conserve our way out of drought. If conserved water isn’t banked into a rainy day supply, then all that you have done is create room for future demand.”
  • Lynn Hettrick, Deputy Director, Nevada Department of Agriculture: “Given the losses to evaporation and canal leaks, it is easy to point fingers and claim that water for agriculture is economically inefficient in terms of value added, but that is a very dangerous approach to take when you are talking about food supply.”
  • Chris Kraft, Western Dairy Association and Dairy Farmers of America: "We have done such a good job in agriculture ... (but) we are starting to hit the wall on our ability to sustain increased food supplies. Drought is part of what is bringing that to bear."
  • Bryce Lundberg, VP for Agriculture, Lundberg Family Farms: "I'm concerned whether the water market will solve water problems. It is a short-term tool, not a long-term plan. California needs more water, not just improved sharing. We need to add more water into the system."

Case Study: Cross-Agency Collaboration in Addressing Record Drought

  • Chuck Bonham, Director, California Department of Fish & Wildlife: “We need to treat drought like we would an oil spill. It is a real-time disaster requiring a crisis-driven command control response from agencies.”
  • Pablo Arroyave, Deputy Regional Director, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: “As agencies, we have an obligation to not only educate each other, but also to educate all of our customers.”
  • Chuck Bonham: “Through agency collaboration we were essentially searching for the least-worst alternative for the highest number of Californians.”
  • Mark Cowin, Director, California Department of Water Resources: "We got behind the curve very quickly last year, and we found it hard to catch up. This was part of the turning point I talked about earlier: Getting out front with facts."
  • Read more, download a case study document

Cal Room Shot

Roundtable: Needs and New Frontiers for Data and Analysis

  • Richard Howitt, Professor Emeritus, UC Davis, Center for Watershed Science: “The problem is, most people don’t know what the going price for water is now or what the projected price will be next year. It is difficult to establish transfers when there is no clear resource to determine prices.”
  • John Andrew, Assistant Deputy Director, California Department of Water Resources: “There are three or four storms a year that make or break California’s water supply. We need to better understand when they will likely occur and how they impact snowpack, groundwater recharge and soil health.”
  • Daniel Fullmer, Western Project Coordinator, National Young Farmers Coalition: "In my research in agriculture, I have found that the most innovation is not in irrigation technology, but in soil health."
  • Jay Famiglietti, Senior Water Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology: "The GRACE Tellus Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment can observe drought from space … It allows for spatial mapping and mapping through time.  It can see trend lines and the amount of water being lost, including surface vs. groundwater."

Cal Laird SeriousModerator John Laird, Secretary for California Natural Resources


Rountable: Technologies and Innovative Approaches

  • Keith Horn, Senior Director of Grape Management, Constellation Wines: "The data we gather in the vineyard is historical, for the most part. The question is how to look forward. Weather forecasting is key."
  • Damien Pearson, General Manager, North America, Rubicon Water: “Long-term water availability is governed by the volume of precipitation captured and stored. In periods of extended dry, the precise management of stored water for maximum beneficial use becomes a very high priority.”
  • Bill Phillimore, Executive Vice President, Paramount Farms: "Land Grant Universities used to figure out how to translate science to useable form for farmers; they have gotten away from making science relevant to decisions on the ground."
  • John Diener, President, Red Rock Ranch: "This year, we ony only farmed 50% of our acreage, but we received plenty of water for that acreage because we planned for that from the beginning."

Roundtable: Policy Approaches  

  • Tom Birmingham, General Manager, Westlands Water District: "Because of changing environmental rules and policies from federal agencies, today the largest single user of water in the Central Valley is Fish and Wildlife Service ... some 43% of California water goes to irrigated agriculture, 11% to cities, 46% to environmental use."
  • JJ Goicoechea, Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Council and Eureka County, Nevada: "Diamond Valley Basin is drastically over-appropriated. Difficult decisions are coming because 60% of consumptive use in that basin must go away ... I have a warning for other states: drought is coming and the sooner you can get ahead of it the better."
  • Oscar Gonzales, California State Executive Director, USDA Farm Service Agency: "Seven federal agencies meet weekly to leverage federal resources. There's a realization that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work."

Read and download the agenda and a list of attendees. Learn about other Western Governors' Drought Forum meetings here. Don't forget to consult the Western Governors’ Drought Forum online resource library to find a collection of best practices, case studies, resources and news about drought.

The Western Governor’s Drought forum is being conducted in partnership with NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System. .

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