1 Million Acres in California Could Be Fallow Due to Water Rule

Battle for Water Weathering The Storm 032520

More than one-third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits are produced in California, according to the state’s department of food and agriculture, Growers, who have faced water and drought problems in the past, say there’s a bigger scare ahead of them, which could potentially jeopardize production and leave more than 1 million acres fallow.

Spring is an important time for crops in Fresno County, Calif. Even though much of the county is considered a desert, growers produce more than 350 types of crops in his highly productive area.

“We rely upon a water supply coming from outside of this immediate area to be able to feed everything we see around here,” says Ryan Jacobsen, the CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau Federation.

Some of the water Jacobsen depends on for his almonds comes from the snowpack on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which hasn’t been much. The statewide snowpack is at 46% of average as of late February. Nearly half of the state is under a moderate drought compared to one year ago.

However, those water issues could be more significant because of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which was signed into state law and went into effect this year. SGMA is a 20-year state plan designed to manage California’s groundwater resources.

Some believe SGMA will take away viable cropland in California.

Jacobson’s area is fortunate enough to have surface water available, but every operation faces unique challenges.

“It’s going to force farmers to either try to find other ways to bring in additional water supplies or [they have to] tremendously cut back in some areas of their usage of groundwater,” Jacobsen says.

Much of the agricultural industry believes SGMA will put more pressure on growers to leave land fallow or take it out of production.

“There could be anywhere from 500,000 to about 1 million acres fallowed because of SGMA,” says Roland Fumasi, a senior researcher with Rabo Research.

Grimmway Farms is considered the largest carrot producer in the world. It’s president, Jeff Huckaby, says its location in Kern County, Calif. is ideal.

“Kern County is the hub for carrots in the entire nation,” Huckaby says.

However, SGMA is impacting carrot production and acres.

“We have growers in every water district,” Huckaby says. “Some are saying, ‘Hey, I’m probably not going to have a lot of extra acres to grow carrots in the future.’ [They say they] have a lot of trees or vines they need to protect. [They say if they do get cut, they] have to take care of those first.”

Even though SGMA pertains to groundwater, the whole water situation is complicated, even when it comes to surface water. California has both a federally controlled and state-controlled surface water system. In many cases, they actually share infrastructure.

There are several pending lawsuits over water laws. The state of California is suing the federal government to prevent implementing its Biological Opinion to change water laws.

“[We are talking] old science, obsolete studies and overbearing regulations that had not been updated in many, many years,” said President Donald Trump during an appearance in Bakersfield, California.

Environmentalists and others say water needs to be managed with these different rules to not deplete supplies and product endangered species, such as native fish.

Some farmers allege they’ve implemented changes in the past and it hasn’t made a difference to help those endangered species. Growers, in some of the most productive land, hope the act does not swallow water supply or their production.

“When you look at acreage and volume we do; it’s feeding the entire nation,” Huckaby says.

Growers say there needs to be more and updated infrastructure to store water in an effort to make SGMA less painful.