During Congressional testimony on Monday, Friant Water Authority CEO Jason Phillips shared preliminary findings from a forthcoming economic report on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Phillips calls the new insights “nothing short of catastrophic.”

Up to 1 million acres of productive farmland will be retired, UC Berkeley Professor David Sunding concludes in the report. That is up from the 750,000 acres projected in 2019 as the more likely scenario by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Up to 85,000 jobs will be lost each year, with 45,000 of those being farmers, farmworkers and others ag roles. The unemployment rate will increase by 4% for the region, which is already among the highest rates in the state, and rise to as much as 12%. Wages will take a $2-billion hit.

Annual farm revenue losses will be $7.1 billion. The valley’s lowest-income communities will take a disproportionately large share of these impacts, Sunding summarizes. Phillips emphasized these impacts will happen “every single year in perpetuity to Californians in an area of our state that cannot afford it.”

Phillips told Agri-Pulse in October the study will “be a sobering reminder of how dire the situation is. But it will help us make our case for sure.” Phillips is helping to lead an initiative called the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley, which commissioned the study. It plans to soon release the full economic report with a new draft of water policy recommendations for the state.

Agricultural blogger Dan Wright reports the committee shared the draft study and policy recommendations on Jan. 23 with the governor’s cabinet, several legislators and two congressmembers.

Asm. Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, was likely one of those lawmakers and found the report provocative. Ahead of that meeting, he pummeled the Department of Finance with several questions on SGMA during a budget hearing, asking if the regulation would tip the state into an economic recession.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose chief of staff likely handed him the report, delivered an impassioned declaration of support for the valley during a PPIC luncheon interview on Wednesday.

"I care deeply about the folks in (the San Joaquin Valley),” he said. “It's not just 'big ag.' There are real human beings whose lives are being torn asunder because of the scarcity of water... When we talk about fallowing land, those are real people with real lives… You don’t destroy a community that was built over hundreds of years.”

Newsom went on to say that both CalEPA Sec. Jared Blumenfeld and Natural Resources Sec. Wade Crowfoot care deeply about the environment and “ think it’s right to reach out to ag and work with these guys," adding: "The world is changing, and we have to change with it.”

The groundwater regulation will begin to be implemented for the most critically overdrafted basins on Feb. 1. 

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