California Water Rights Series: Episode 3
California’s Water: The Delta
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Crisis: How we all depend on it, How water restrictions are hurting ag, and How you can help
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is one of California’s main sources of fresh water. The lush estuary provides a significant portion of drinking water for 29 million of the state’s residents—approximately 74 percent of all Californians. It provides irrigation water for more than 4 million acres of the state’s farmland. It’s also home to hundreds of plant and animal life, including the Delta Smelt.
Protected by the Endangered Species Act, this tiny, silver fish is at the heart of a heated legal battle. For more than 40 years, environmental and agricultural groups have fought over protecting the Smelt, restoring the Delta ecosystem, and growing food for the state’s growing population.
Environmentalists say the fish’s survival is an essential indicator of the delta ecosystem’s health. As a result, the state has placed court-ordered pumping restrictions on landowners to minimize harm to native fish and other species.
Those restrictions have created stark financial challenges for local farmers and ranchers, who argue the burden placed upon them is untenable.
Officials estimate the California population will exceed 52 million by 2030 and reach nearly 60 million by 2050. The question is: Where will the water (and food) for all these people come from?
Water restrictions have created severe hardship for ranchers and farmers
According to agriculture industry blog The Packer, “Drought conditions and tightening regulations on groundwater pumping are putting California’s San Joaquin Valley growers in a vise and forcing them to fallow many acres now, and likely thousands more in the years ahead.”
“I think a very serious question will be how much of that acreage ever comes back,” Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers, said in the article.
To put that into perspective, it takes about an acre of land to feed one person for a year.
A 2020 study conducted by the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley found that, over the next 20 years, the water restrictions placed on valley farmers will result in $7 billion loss to annual crop revenues. It will also lead to job and salary loss totaling $2 billion every year, primarily among low-income communities.
Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley is deeply invested in working with state legislators and policy makers as well as representatives from other water and environmental groups to rework the pumping restrictions put in place by the Sustainable Groundwater Mitigation Act (SGMA).
Earlier this year, the organization and a coalition of other water stakeholders sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom urging the state “to act swiftly to protect its residents and businesses from the threat of droughts and floods” by including $6.5 billion in the 2022-23 budget to strengthen statewide drought and flood resilience.
How you can help California agriculture
- Stay up to date on regulations, policy decisions, and other news that impacts the Delta’s future:
- Support Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley’s efforts to solve the water crisis by visiting https://waterblueprintca.com/take-action/.
Without an adequate water supply, we won’t be able to continue to grow a third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the country's fruits and nuts, not to mention billions of dollars in meat and dairy products.
The long-term sustainability of the Delta and our state’s freshwater supply is a top priority of California ranchers and farmers and should be for you too. The first action step you can take is easy: share factual information with your family and friends. Will you join us in supporting and fighting for the cause?