Prominent urban water districts have joined a Central Valley coalition in lobbying the Newsom administration for major infrastructure investments.
In a letter to Gov. Newsom and legislative leaders, the organizations ask for a $6.5 billion appropriation in the next budget cycle to bolster drought and flood resilience. The state must “avoid a calamitous water shortage and subsequent environmental and economic degradation” by improving water management and increasing conservation and storage, among other measures outlined in the letter.
The request comes as water rates in coastal cities have increased as much as 141% since 2010 and as the state paid down $900 million in water bill arrearages last year.
Many of the funding proposals overlap with those of the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley. The letter demonstrates how the blueprint is expanding its efforts to bring farmers together with environmental groups, drinking water advocates and local municipalities to develop a comprehensive plan for the valley’s water challenges.
The proposal would bump up spending on repairs to conveyance canals to the same level Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger proposed in SB 559 last year. Another $1.25 billion would support shovel-ready projects that bring new water supplies to the valley.
The letter also includes a request for flood protection investments. This comes as a state agency issues a new flood protection plan for the Central Valley that finds as much as $30 billion is needed to protect California’s farmlands. That is nearly double a 2017 estimate.
The aging flood protection system desperately needs updates to address climate change, storm damage, deferred maintenance and subsidence. According to the report, agriculture-based communities could be significantly impacted by extreme flood events, and such disruption during the growing season could impact national and international food supplies.
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As the drought deepens, the Northern California Water Association anticipates about 370,000 acres of farmland will go fallow in the Sacramento Valley this year. But it is not yet certain how much of that will be rice fields.
According to the California Rice Commission, “specific impacts on the rice planting season won’t be known until late May, at the earliest,” and long-term drought impacts remain unclear.
“What is certain is this historic drought has made our rural rice farming communities and our wildlife more vulnerable,” said commission President and CEO Tim Johnson in a statement. “Our rice mills, dryers and suppliers will undoubtedly feel the effects of the drought this season.”