Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on Friday that suspended permitting regulations for diverting stormwater for groundwater recharge. According to Newsom, the order is “making it simple to redirect water” to take advantage of intense storms. Despite efforts to streamline the process in recent years, the permits often take more than a month to process due to endangered species reviews.
The governor was careful to uphold habitat and wildlife protections and to not alter water rights. Farmers also cannot spread water onto dairy lands, fields with recent pesticide applications or lands with vulnerable infrastructure. The land must have been in agricultural use within the last three years as well.
Farmers like Don Cameron, president of the State Board of Food and Agriculture, immediately began filling on-farm reservoirs to gradually spread over fields in the coming weeks.
The order was in response to reservoirs like Lake Oroville releasing flows to make room for runoff. Several rivers in the San Joaquin Valley and along the coast reached flood stage over the weekend. A levee breach in Monterey County flooded the town of Pajaro and neighboring farmland late Friday, prompting hundreds of evacuations in the farmworker community.

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Water associations and farm groups praised the action. California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said it is helping to protect life and property and is an important step in bringing aquifers into balance. Environmentalists called it another handout to big ag.
Last Wednesday the State Water Resources Control Board approved a federal request to divert more than 600,000 acre-feet of water from the San Joaquin River. The excess water is boosting wildlife refuges, underground storage and recharge. Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno applauded the action, saying “we must do all we can to prepare for the next dry spell.”
The added snowfall at upper elevations has led to the largest snowpack ever for the southern Sierra Nevada, with 244% of average for this time of year.