Several industry leaders recently expressed agricultural water concerns to California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis. After touring Fowler Packing’s facility in Fresno County, Kounalakis participated in a roundtable discussion with industry members. Representatives from the California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA), Western Agricultural Processors Association, California Citrus Mutual, and others were all in attendance. Congressman Jim Costa also participated in the discussion. CFFA President Ian LeMay said it was a beneficial meeting, where issues related to drought and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) were highlighted.
“She understood the severity of it and the difficult decisions that are going to be made. She understood that we as growers feel that the state has a significant role to play,” LeMay explained. “They can’t just legislate this new law and then not have a responsibility on infrastructure, on trying to create efficiencies within water transfers. I think she understood that and saw that that is a huge opportunity for the state to make needed investments so that we can fortify our water infrastructure system.”
While familiar with drought conditions, California growers are now having to navigate a lack of water as SGMA requirements come into effect. The issues of consistency and permanence were two important factors brought up during the discussion. A lack of stability in water supplies makes potential investment in new trees and vines difficult for farming operations. LeMay said SGMA “is going to have some severe ramifications and force growers to make decisions that they haven’t had to make in the past as they maneuver through the next 18 years as SGMA is implemented over the 20-year mandated period.”
The industry representatives brought up the need for investment in infrastructure as being a critical component of mitigating the impact of drought years. Maximizing the value of limited water supplies will be vital for keeping the agricultural industry strong in the years ahead. Along with water concerns, the discussion also included the topics of trade and labor. Kounalakis indicated that she would return to the Central San Joaquin Valley to continue the dialogue moving forward.
“Overall, it really was a great first meeting with the Lieutenant Governor,” said LeMay. “What was refreshing in our conversation with the Lieutenant Governor was she had some experience to reflect on with regard to many of the challenges that face the industry.”